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.