On August 20, at the ironic request of Councilmember Gil Cedillo, the Los Angeles City Council adjourned in memory of 84 year-old Korean War Veteran, William Matelyan. Matelyan was crossing North Figueroa Street at Avenue 26 last month when he was struck and killed by a car. This area of North Figueroa was approved for a road diet in the 2010 City of Los Angeles Bike Plan. Road diets are proven safety measures that make streets safer for all.
A Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was prepared by city staff and released in January of 2013. The report showed a series of road diets and bike lanes throughout Los Angeles would have “no significant impact” on through-traffic time. The EIR traffic studies included the North Figueroa Project between San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard.
After the extensive EIR work, the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) was on the verge of implementing the North Figueroa road diet, until it was delayed last year by newly-elected Councilmember Cedillo. Cedillo later indefinitely delayed the safety project, citing safety concerns. Cedillo’s supposed safety justification appears to be based on the unsubstantiated testimony of selected police and fire officers. Officers cited possible emergency response vehicle delays, though their statements are at odds with actual LADOT traffic studies.
Before Cedillo blocked the project, construction had appeared imminent. Based on similar projects throughout the city, it is clear that construction would have been completed by now without Cedillo’s interference.
The diet would have reduced the number of through-traffic lanes for much of North Figueroa, and would have added buffered bike lanes for 5.1 miles between San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard. The city’s traffic studies showed this would lead to slightly reduced average traffic speeds, making the street safer for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. LADOT calculated that the peak delay along the road diet would be less than a minute of delay for motorists.
When asked to comment on the street’s safety on Facebook, Cedillo spokesperson Louis Reyes answered that “Having researched the issue with our staff, that corner has not been slated with any type of prior planning. We are in the process of having LA DOT look at this dangerous intersection. ”
Whether Reyes is unaware of LADOT’s EIR, or forgetting the highly-publicized battle to improve North Figueroa safety, or whether the office is just stating that slowing down traffic to make streets safer for all road users isn’t a safety improvement is not known.
On Twitter, Cedillo remains defiant, stating that “…there are no comprehensive LADOT studies on Figueroa that exist. We are doing them now.”
Though the city already spent a great deal of time and money on its EIR, nearly entirely focused on car traffic, Cedillo is apparently doing another study. The new “comprehensive” studies are being conducted in-house by Cedillo Special Projects Deputy Sharon Lowe. Lowe was the facilitator of the meeting at Franklin Middle School on the road diet, famous for Cedillo’s nearly-hour-long soliloquy thanking his staff and friends.
Cedillo’s office is also quick to point out that Lowe also staffed the previous, pro-road diet, Councilmember for the district.
It is unclear whether Lowe’s comprehensive study will expand on LADOT’s extensive car traffic studies to include such factors as pedestrian and cyclist safety. The comprehensive study is being prepared by Cedillo’s political office staff, instead of by LADOT engineers. This seems to point to a continuation of Cedillo putting narrow pro-car politics above quantifiable safety measures.
While Cedillo is politicking, North Figueroa traffic violence fatalities and injuries pile up.
That the July crash that killed Matelyan was deemed “an accident” is further indictment of Cedillo’s filibustering of traffic safety improvements along Figueroa Street. While the cause of the crash, be it the car moving too quickly, reduced sight lines by parked cars, or something else, is unknown; the Cedillo-delayed North Figueroa road diet would likely have improved the dangerous condition.
The only description of the crash that killed Matelyan is available on Google Cache from LA1 News. Streetsblog has cut-and-pasted the description for when the cache expires:
Matelyan tragically died at 12:30pm on July 22, 2014, after complications resulting from being hit by an automobile earlier that morning. Matelyan had just gotten off the phone with local pastor Jesse Rosas prior to his accident. Rosas had agreed to pick Matelyan up later in the day in order to take him to a church service. A half-hour later, Matelyan was hit by a car while crossing the street. Rosas estimated during his podium time speech at the service that Matelyan had crossed Figueroa for his morning ritual of coffee at the Yum Yum Donuts near Avenue 26 when he was accidentally hit.