Rowena Avenue Forum Reveals Significant Common Ground

Silver Lake's half-mile Rowena Avenue road diet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Silver Lake’s half-mile Rowena Avenue road diet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In 2012, Ashley Sandau was walking across Rowena Avenue and was hit and killed by a motorist. Then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge spearheaded efforts to make Rowena safer. The city Transportation Department (LADOT) implemented a road diet on Rowena. The street had two travel lanes in each direction. These were reduced to one travel lane each direction, plus a center left turn lane and bike lanes. LADOT studies have found that post-diet Rowena supports roughly the same volume of cars as pre-diet, but does so with reduced speeds and fewer collisions.

A group of Silver Lake residents are frustrated with the Rowena road diet and urging the current Councilmember David Ryu to undo the safety improvements. Road diet opponents have a website and petition, and have attracted the attention of the L.A. Times.

Last night, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council held a town hall meeting to discuss the Rowena road diet. The event was held at Ivanhoe Elementary School. Approximately 200 people attended.

Attendees initially directed questions to a panel of city representatives – LADOT, plus police and fire representatives – plus pro- and anti-road diet leaders and Councilmember Ryu’s Chief of Staff. The questions were mostly fielded by LADOT, represented by engineer Tim Fremaux, who stressed that the diet was a proven safety measure intended to slow speeds and make crossing safer, with bike lanes that “do not connect to anywhere” just “icing on the cake.”

After the questioning, the meeting shifted to public comment. While there were certainly vocal road diet opponents expressing comments, the sentiment ran about two-thirds in favor of the road diet, with many Silver Lake residents expressing that they do bike and walk, and do want to make the neighborhood more conducive to these modes.

While one couple that live on Rowena described the post-diet street as a “living nightmare,” most commenters expressed that Rowena had been improved and could be made even better – more of a commercial village “more like Larchmont.” The largest quantities of critical comments were mostly not focused on Rowena Avenue itself, but on cut-through traffic impacting nearby parallel streets, especially Angus Street to the south, and Waverly Drive to the north. One Angus resident decried that calming Rowena had “pushed millions of drivers onto our street.” 

What was perhaps most remarkable was the unanimity in opposition to scofflaw drivers. While there was opposition to the road diet, there was practically no criticism of cyclists or bicycling. There was, however a constant chorus against the high volume of drivers not stopping at stop signs on Waverly and Angus, some of which were added by LADOT to address post-diet spillover. Numerous speakers implored LAPD to step up enforcement; others were critical of apps including Waze that foster increased cut-through traffic.

Matlock Grossman (center in blue shirt) reads his comments at the Rowena Avenue forum. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Matlock Grossman (center in blue shirt) reads his comments at the Rowena Avenue forum. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Some of the pro-diet sentiment was best expressed by 11-year old Silver Lake resident Matlock Grossman, who has been riding his bike to school since he was seven and has already experienced his share of driver harassment. Grossman stated:

Clearly there are motorists out there who not mature enough to share the road without having the rules painted on the road to show who goes where. The road diet by design is meant to slow down cars because – motorists are the problem.

Even if there are zero bicyclists taking advantage of the bike lanes, it doesn’t matter. The road diet effectively reduces collisions and the statistics prove this.

Stop bullying and victim-blaming the pedestrians and bicyclists as being the problem.

If motorists acted towards women, or another group of people, the way you act towards cyclists, people would be horrified by your hateful words and violent actions.

I don’t understand why driving a car makes you think you’re more important than someone else. You’re not.

It’s whiny entitled behavior you wouldn’t tolerate from a kid, why should I tolerate it from adults?

Councilmember Ryu’s representatives promised that there would be further dialog and engagement as they determine the city’s next steps for Rowena Avenue.