Two Camps Have Formed on Wilbur Ave. Road Diet, LADOT Compromise Plan Kept Under Wraps

In August, bike lanes and a road diet came to Wilbur Avenue. The controversy is still going strong. Photo: Joe Linton

Late last year, Councilman Greig Smith and the LADOT convened a four-part Wilbur Working Group to address the concerns created when the LADOT re-striped Wilbur Avenue last August.  The “new” Wilbur features two mixed-use traffic lanes, two bike lanes, and a turning lane.  The “old” Wilbur had four mixed-use traffic lanes.

After three meetings of the working group, a compromise proposal was shown to the working group earlier this month.  While the Neighborhood Councils will be voting on the plan later this spring, the final plan is being withheld until the Northridge and Porter Ranch Neighborhood Councils can convene a joint meeting where LADOT will present the proposal and the Councils will vote.

The process for “approving” the plan is a little confused.  At this point, no meeting has been scheduled as the Councils don’t want the politics of the race for an open City Council seat in the area to play in to the vote.  Once the meeting is scheduled, with both Neighborhood Council’s in attendance, what vote decides whether the diet goes or stays?  Is it a majority of the present Council Members?  What happens if each Council has a different vote?

As for the proposal itself, a rendering [PDF] based on photos taken of the plan at a meeting of the working group show that the compromise cuts a half mile out of the diet, from Chatsworth to Devonshire, which should alleviate some of the automobile congestion concerns. Basically, for this half mile, the road returns to a four-lane road, but the bike lanes remained which was a “ground rule” for the working group and a promise to the bike community from Smith

The document linked to above was not drawn to scale and features two sketches.  The one on the left represents the LADOT’s compromise plan.  The one on the right is the artists’ own idea and includes more traffic calming in the area that will be “re-widened” to four lanes.

However, there may not be much room for compromise between those who favor, and those who are opposed to the diet.  “There are two camps,” explains Mel Martinez, the President of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, “One wants the street to remain how it is now, and the other wants it to go back to the way it was before.  They’re both pretty dug in.”

And the two sides have not had a problem making their voices heard.  Supported by a team of bike advocates, Paul Kirk led a team knocking on doors to gauge the support of the people living adjacent or near to the road diet.  The response was, from over three hundred homes, was overwhelmingly supportive of the road diet.   234 homes (77.7%) support the road diet and current striping of Wilbur; 53 homes (17.6%) are opposed, and the rest were either undecided or didn’t wish to comment.

The diet is so popular in the area, because it works.  Anecdotally, residents report a drop in vehicle speeds of an average of 20 miles per hour from an average speed in the fifties to an average speed in the thirties.

From 1999 – 2008 alone there have been more than 200 serious collisions in the area covered by the diet. Police do not take reports and file paperwork for fender benders and slight collisions.  In this same time period five people died.  While crash stats aren’t available from August until now, residents report that the number of crashes is much lower along the two mile stretch that has undergone the diet.

On the other side of the issue, over 150 residents attended a Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council in October with then-LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson.  Robinson apologized for the lack of public outreach and assured the audience that the buck stopped with her.  Martinez reports that, “ I can’t tell you if there was anyone in the audience who was in favor of how the lane were re-striped.”

Meanwhile, drivers report a fifteen minute backup for parents attempting to drop off their students before, and pick up their students after, school.  Backups such as this aren’t just annoying, they also create a dangerous situation as exasperated parents in automobiles pile in to an area where pedestrian students are less-visible than adults and more likely to dart in the street.

As for next steps, a committee of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council will discuss the compromise proposal at a March 1 meeting.  Martinez couldn’t say for certain if the final plan would be available at that meeting.  When the joint Neighborhood Council meeting is scheduled, Streetblog will let you know and provide full coverage.

  • Oh God, the humanity! A 15-minute backup to drop your kid off at school in a private car. What is the world coming to?!

    There is no other viable nor safe means of getting your kid to school! We all know that. Let’s be realistic and remove all amenities for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially around schools, as there is no other safe or viable way of getting kids to and from school.

  • We need more “anti-dart” education for the children of Los Angeles. Many of them dart with such regularity that they eventually get killed by car drivers doing their due diligence to drive well above the posted speed limit in school zones.

    When this many responsible motorists are involved, these dart-kids must be trained to respect the freedom and mobility of motorists. Cars are our future! Not darts!

  • I’m not slowing down for any so called “homeowners” or “local residents” when my taxes paid for these roads!

    Besides, when my SUV is going 50mph, I pollute less!

  • Bob Davis

    May I suggest the “Free-Range Kids” website? It usually includes items about the problems of parents driving and leaving off their children at schools, and advocates such “old school” ideas as kids (gasp!) walking or (oh my!) bicycling to school. A few months ago I was taking photos of a long-abandoned rail right-of-way in Monrovia and was pleased to see a plethora of youngsters going home using two feet instead of four rubber tires.

  • Aaaaghhh! Free range kids! No!!!

    I have seen the Obama-care free range UN black helicopter chicken eggs at the store. Now they want our kids?!

    The anti-christ is coming!

  • Carlton Glub

    J B-A is really on his game today.

  • Don Ward

    The amount of shenanigans being employed to stack the vote, to stack the committee and the timing of it all is quite maddening.

    The re-striping committee appointed by each NC president featured exactly zero people living on the street itself. After going door to door along the entire two mile stretch I gathered signatures from nearly every house stating that the residents would like me appointed to the committee to represent the residents living on the street. I brought these signatures to Greig Smith’s office where I was flatly denied entry to the meeting by Mitch Englander himself. At one point I had to pull out my driver’s license to prove that I had a residence on Wilbur. I was still turned away. 2 days later Mitch called me, apologized, and invited me to the next two meetings.

    I and others asked repeatedly some very simple requests of Mitch Englander at the committee:

    What is the cost of re-striping the street and design?
    “it’s within budget”

    What is the budget?
    “it’s not known”

    What is the voting process? How will the vote go down?
    No answer.

    Then, an email came from a Porter Ranch NC person that the joint vote would be held at the next Porter Ranch meeting at the regularly held Porter Ranch meeting and location.

    Now it is being proposed that the joint vote be a combined vote, rather than each NC voting on it’s own, and that the votes be secret as to who votes what. Is that even legal? Can an NC hold a secret vote???

  • The NC has no statutory power to decide a thing. If the councilman says their opinion is what he’ll base his orders to city staff on, then you have a straight up political fight.

    So, mock and protest the NC in public. Go to the council office and let him know that you are going to go full bore negative PR mode on his office for this b.s. How many constituents is he prepared to ignore and piss off?

    If the Porter Ranch people have more pull with his office, you have bigger numbers from the citywide livable streets movement and bike people as well as your immediate neighbors that signed the petition.

    There are so many ways to raise awareness, and raise the profile of the issue: blogging about it, holding rides and street parties, clocking car speeds, publishing crash data, asking why the school with the long wait doesn’t make more amenities for kids to walk or ride a bike to school, and the list could go on.

    If it comes down to physically blocking the trucks coming to paint over the bike lanes, I believe you’ll have the PR advantage.

    I think it is time to make some funny stickers and t-shirts and prepare to mock the NC that wants to kill the bike lane.

  • Do some t-shirts with a car crashed into a pole: “Keep Wilbur Avenue Dangerous”.

    You can do a series of them, with people being run over, houses being crashed into, and other dangerous looking iconography, a broken bottles with “XXX” dangling in the hand of a driver swerving on the road, a picture of a knife or a snarling dog.

    Doing a video PSA would be awesome.

    I would be happy to loan any of my kid-hauling bikes for that effort.

    “Keep Wilbur Avenue Ugly” – attribute this to Mitch Englander or the councilman via a voice bubble and a picture of the guy thinking this thought.

    Everyone’s property values went up because the street is now a better place to live, and the Porter Ranch people want to depress home values in the middle of this economy?!

    Here is another idea: photoshop a freeway onto Wilbur Avenue and come up with a pithy statement on a freeway sign. Councilman D.Bag presents “Porter Ranch Freeway to the 20th Century”.

    You get the idea.

    Enough mockery and these clowns will be frothing over more than they already are. Any miscarriage of justice they hope to provide you with is only fuel for your fire. The end game is a straight up political contest between the few who drive and control the NC and the many who own homes and don’t have as much pull with the councilman’s office. Do some basic community engagement (as you have been), and PR work, and I don’t see this group of nose-in-the-air speed demons being much competition.

  • They key is really Don’s time and resources to commit, since the upper hand is so easy to grasp using a bit of marketing and basic public outreach. His opponents have decided to freeze him and his neighbors out – that was their biggest mistake if Don has the time and community connections to counter their moves. Keeping him out of discussions, after he had gone to so many of his neighbors, was a clear line being drawn in the sand by the other side.

  • The LADOT does not use data to draw its conclusions. It’s conclusions are already drawn up, and it uses data to reinforce them when confronted by the public and elected leaders.

  • Don Ward

    It’s true I could have done a lot more than I have. I’ve done a lot of canvasing and passing out flyers across several Sundays. It does take a lot of time especially with work commitments and so forth… I’ll make a final push for the joint meeting. There is a lot of support for the road diet but these are people who also work and have lives and don’t have a candidate for office running around rallying people, promising a fix to a bunch of angry drivers and a growing community faced with more and more need for exit channels for their traffic.

    Even getting appointed to the NC was a chore. Since the summer, when I started attending the meetings, there have been 3 open slots on the board that they’ve been asking people to join. So, I applied for a seat on the neighborhood council months back, was delayed appointment for a couple months and then finally appointed. Meanwhile 2 others were appointed quickly in the month I’ve been on, I assume, to neutralize my vote coming up on the Wilbur issue.

    After debate and questioning I managed to convince the board to support putting a “no cost” crosswalk in at Mayall / Wilbur with the re-striping. Unfortunately this crosswalk will become a finishline for the drag race that starts at Devonshire heading south if the LADOT plan becomes a reality. Just check the diagrams above. We need a crosswalk not a finishline.

    The LADOT doesn’t want it and there is absolutely no support from Englander. 185 people signed petitions for it.

  • Don Ward

    All right Josef… I got the heck off my Duff and started a Safe Streets Northridge Blog….

    It’s totally new and rough but my first entry is an open letter to Tom Johnson, NWNC president. http://safestreetsnorthridge.blogspot.com/

  • Re. Josef Breay Ali’s comments:
    Kids walking or riding bikes to school? Where have you been these past years? You have no little kids anymore do you? The bikers are more important than our kids? More important than people who have jobs, getting to work on time after dropping them safely at school? Bikes are your priority?
    We ALL pay taxes. You’re not the only one, Josef. Yes, cars are our future, as you said. That’s why we motorists outnumber bikers, we are the majority. Little kids and most older people can’t ride bikes in the streets, we need cars for our transportation.
    We are happily excited that the subject of changing Wilbur back to the way it was is at least being discussed. We drive Wilbur many times a week and are disgusted with the long lines of cars. Sometimes I feel like we’re on the freeway (no, not really THAT bad).

  • Don Ward

    Northridge is poised to become a college town. As I understand, part of the “Northridge Vision” project includes CSUN increasing it’s student capacity by 10-15k…. If this is the case, traffic will only get worse in the area unless we can offer options other than cars as a way of commuting. In every college town the world over, students ride bicycles. We should be pushing for that in our college town of Northridge.

    I used to ride my bike to CSUN everyday and it was great to get that exercise. In fact I rode a bike and took the bus to school most of my life and as the cliche goes… my parents walked on their hands 6 miles, uphill in both directions through the snow… Why are we depriving this generation of it’s bragging rights to their kids? The bike lanes are for EVERYONE. I see elderly people riding bikes and kids riding bikes and there are more of them as Wilbur becomes known as a safe bike route.

    Wilbur is a residential area with 3 schools not a block or two away on either side and 40mph speed limit that has increased from 30mph over the last 2 decades. This dividing of the community needed to end and the LADOT did the right thing. Wilbur now has far more civilized traffic. If the commuters want the 4 lanes back then we could have stop signs at Mayall, Superior and Prairie. Smarter thinking is to encourage sustainable transportation options like walking and cycling. I like the bike lanes not only because I’m an avid cyclist, but simply because I can take the trash out without fearing for my life from speeders racing around each other.

  • M. Bensonhurst,

    You ask a lot of questions? Hoping that your asking questions calls into doubt my assertions, facts, and rationale for my beliefs?

    I have a child? She is very young? Cars are our future?

    ??? So many questions! ???

  • Re. Josef Bray Ali’s comments:
    Kids walking or riding bikes to school? Where have you been these past years? You have no little kids anymore do you?

    Kids do not ride their bikes to school, because our street are dangerous due to to many speeding cars on the streets and lack of amenities to ride a bike or walk to school. The solution? According to you: driving them everywhere. That makes sense! It also makes it easier to have obese and diabetic kids. Two-fer!

    We ALL pay taxes. You’re not the only one, Josef. Yes, cars are our future, as you said. That’s why we motorists outnumber bikers, we are the majority. Little kids and most older people can’t ride bikes in the streets, we need cars for our transportation.

    Young people and old people cannot legally drive cars, so this is sort of a non sequitor, no? The taxes you pay are a matter for the electorate and their representatives to decide on, not me. Mitch Englander and his buddies have decided they don’t like that system, and have chosen to exclude local people in favor of the bike lane from the discussion on whether to keep it or not. Sounds fair!

    We are happily excited that the subject of changing Wilbur back to the way it was is at least being discussed. We drive Wilbur many times a week and are disgusted with the long lines of cars. Sometimes I feel like we’re on the freeway (no, not really THAT bad).

    I too am disgusted at the long line of cars! I think you shouldn’t drive so god damned much!

    Regarding Wilbur Ave, I’d prefer it was returned to the way it was earlier as well:

    http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics26/00032914.jpg

    In conclusion, herpa derpa derp to you good sir!

  • bawbert

    @M. Benson

    I remember being a kid not so very long ago. I rode my bike to Nobel (one of the schools that contributes to the traffic on Wilbur). I took a variety of routes as it wasn’t the shortest commute ever. The one route I refused to take out of a desire to stay alive was Wilbur.
    I will also add that I probably would have been over 200 pounds by high school if I hadn’t ridden every day.
    I still ride. Sometimes just to the store and back, sometimes to Santa Clarita and back, even further every once in a while. I rode Wilbur before it was re-striped and it wasn’t the worst I’ve ridden (The Old Road going through the 5/14 interchange has the blue ribbon for that one) but it was not pleasant to say the least.
    I, too, pay taxes. The difference is that when I ride a bike, I’m contributing a fraction of the wear and tear that a car does.
    I drive for work, because home remodels necessitate a certain amount of tools that would be unwieldy on a bike. But I do not mind the re-stripe at all. My reason: I have no desire to die because of a (*@%ing commute. I leave earlier if I need to take Wilbur.
    Now, I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 28 years and I can’t begin to count how many accidents I’ve seen in the Wilbur/Plummer intersection. How many people have died there in the last 28 years? How many SHOULD die there in years to come? Have YOU known any of them personally? Perhaps you have some unspoken desire to contribute to the body count?
    When I drive Wilbur now, or ride it (because, maybe this needs reiteration, I do both), I feel a modicum of safety that I’ve never felt there before. It would be nice if that lasted a while.
    Take Tampa, or ANY OTHER STREET IN THE VALLEY. Seriously, there’s no lack of options for your morning commute. Or, *gasp* wake up ONE WHOLE MINUTE EARLIER.
    If you are unable to do any of these suggestions, then frankly you are a foolish person who is unwilling to alter their lifestyle in the slightest, even in the name of public safety. You’d rather more people be exposed to unnecessary danger than to inconvenience yourself.
    But maybe I have you pegged all wrong.

  • Carl LaFong

    Hey Josef: Get a life!! Or a new prescription for your meds.

  • Palmer Woodrow

    “Everyone’s property values went up because the street is now a better place to live, and the Porter Ranch people want to depress home values in the middle of this economy”

    Ha, so now we get to the fraud and lies at the heart of this matter. Yes, how dare people drive through MY neighborhood! Never mind the fact that, the minute I leave home, I’m driving through THEIRS.

    It’s time for the rest of the city to reject these insufferable attempts to destroy taxpayer-owned streets to create de-facto gated communities. Same thing goes for speed bumps, marked “15 MPH” when the speed limit is at least 10 MPH higher than that.

    Here’s an idea: If you hate living in the city so much, DON’T MOVE HERE. This “traffic-calming” crap is simple theft, theft of taxpayer-owned road capacity and worst of all, TIME. And who has produced a study proving that INCREASED CONGESTION leads to INCREASED SAFETY?

    What happens when the whole city is shut down at the whim of people who don’t want to be here in the first place? So WE get to pay for their mistakes?

  • The dude abides

    @Palmer woodrow

    Great name! But I think you logic is misguided. Everyone that uses the streets is a taxpayer not just you. Sure you may prefer speedways as streets instead of walkable communities, but I think a majority of taxpayers who live in Los Angeles can find some common ground on how their steers should be used. I actually moved from the car centric valley and it’s unoriginal suburbia architecture for downtown. But to suggest people move if they don’t like it is not productive and quite frankly a simple minded argument because you really can’t justify you opinion. The so called theft you mention is really the theft of street space that has long been given and abused by the car centric big business mentality. GM and oil companies own you, and for that you should be ashamed.

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