What You Need to Know Before This Week’s Pico-Olympic Meetings

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When I first read that the Los Angeles Department of Public Transportation was holding public meetings this week on a revised Pico-Olympic Plan, I got nostalgic.  Covering the battle between the community and the city over the plan to remove rush-hour parking, restripe the roads and retime the signals was the signature story back at StreetHeat, the precursor blog to  LA Streetsblog.  As a matter of fact, most of the links below are to Street Heat stories that were brought over, which hopefully explains some of the issues with layout and image quality.

This morning, the LADOT released an outline for their "new" Pico East-Olympic West plan in advance of pulbic meetings this week.  There is one large change, instead of five lanes going in one direction and two in the other, the new plan has three going in each direction with extra room to create turn lanes.  Signal progression will still benefite people going in the "preferred" direction.  However, since a lot of the community was freaking out about the parking changes, I'm willing to predict the battle isn't over.

The "revised" plan for the boulevards would remove street parking at rush hour and convert the parking lanes into travel lanes.   After signals are re-timed there will also be greater priority given to vehicles traveling on one of the four lanes.  In typical fashion, the words "pedestrian" or "cyclist" don't appear anywhere in the summary.  Of course, it probably wouldn't aid their cause to mention that their plan would make the roads completely inhospitable to non-motorized transportation and a barrier for people foolish enough to try crossing the street on foot.

However, a lot of issues still remain with the new plan.  There's no mention of the lawsuit that forced the environmental review process of which these meetings are part, no mention of the impact the plan would have on traffic patterns on the local streets that connect or run parallel to Pico and Olympic Boulevards nor even a good explanation of any alternatives being considered.  Complete Streets?  Express Bus?  Anything?  And what about Councilman Rosendahl's demand that City Planning be involved in the creation and study of the plan?

As you may imagine, the history of this project is long and complicated.  To make it easy for new readers to follow and for veterans of the Pico-Olympic controversy to get caught back up, I've broken the story into six episodes.

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

A long time ago, in a country far-far away, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was on vacation and fell in love with the idea of turning Pico and Olympic Boulevards into one-way mini highways to alleviate congestion.  He brought the idea with him back to Los Angeles and suggested it for the Pico and Olympic and immediately created a panic in the community

Businesses feared that lost parking would hurt them, residents thought the plan would actually reduce automobile mobility for locals, environmentalists who understood the idea of induced demand argued the plan would bring more traffic and air pollution and pedestrians and cyclists viewed the seven-lane one-way streets as basically walls that would block them from traveling from one side of the street to the other.

The plan was sent back to the drawing board by Mayor Villaraigosa.

Episode 2: Attack of the Clone

After months of effort, the LADOT came out with a new plan in December of 2007 that embraced Yaroslavsky's belief that increasing thru-street capacity was the best way to alleviate congestion on these two boulevards.  Relying on a traffic study completed on a Jewish Holiday, the LADOT unveiled a plan that would not turn either street into a one way street but would create a "preference" for eastbound traffic on Pico Boulevard and westbound on Olympic Boulevard.  This way, the LADOT addressed the least important of the community concerns, making it possible for residents to go in either direction on their boulevard of choice.  All of the other issues remained unresolved.

In a show of the esteem in which they show community involvement, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the new plan via press conference flanked by Councilman Jack Weiss and transportation officials.  When his community basically freaked out, Weiss ducked every opportunity to explain his support for the plan or reconsider his support.

Following a packed, angry, house at a City Council Transportation Committee meeting, Villaraigosa sent the LADOT out to basically get yelled at for a couple of hours at a time.  From these meetings a consensus arose from the community that it had to do whatever it could to defeat the proposal.  Also, a new figure rose in opposition to the plan, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who did his best to hear both sides of the issue but ultimately sided with the community that would be directly impacted by this capacity enhancement-without-widening plan.

Farther South, Councilman Herb Wesson also expressed concern about the plan, so basically Weiss was opposed by Councilman to the east and west of his district.

Episode III: Revenge of the LADOT

With two of the three City Councilmen whose districts would be impacted by the plan opposing it, the LADOT struck a bargain with Wesson to cut the plan off at his district.  Thus, only Weiss and Rosendahl's districts remained in the plan before it went to the City Council.  With rumors floating that the plan was a "Done Deal" the Council actually rose up and tabled the plan until further study could be done.  An aggressive Rosendahl said he could support the plan only if the Department of City Planning was involved in the plan's creation.

Stung by the Council's rebuke, Villaraigosa basically ordered the plan forward anyway claiming the Council had no right to weigh-in on a restriping plan.  The Westside Chamber of Commerce and other community groups went to court after Rosendahl was shut-out of city negotiations.

Episode IV: A New Hope

Unsurprisingly, the courts ruled that the city needed to show some sort of plan and environmental review for a project that would add hundreds or thousands of new cars to the streets every hour.  The community celebrated the death of the "Done Deal."

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

However, the city wasn't done yet.  City officials surprised many people when they ordered the kind of study that was required by the court last summer.  The funding for the study swept through the Council, with even Rosendahl offering support since the plan would now embrace a "joined-at-the-hip" relationship between LADOT and City Planning.

Now the LADOT will hold hearings on their preliminary findings to garner community feedback.  Since the plan still has many issues as outlined above, there's still at least one chapter left to be written.

Episode VI: Return of the Public Meetings

The script is yet to be written but it will begin with these public meetings:

Westside Jewish Community Center
April 1, 2009
6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
5870 West Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Temple Beth Am
April 2, 2009
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Stoner Recreation Center
April 7, 2009
6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
1835 Stoner Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90025