“Keep L.A. Moving” Organization Files Lawsuit Against Playa Del Rey Street Safety Improvements

The lawsuit exhibits include plenty of shots like this of cars backed up on PDR streets. Image via KLM lawsuit
The lawsuit exhibits include plenty of shots like this of cars backed up on PDR streets. Image via KLM lawsuit

A group calling itself “Keep L.A. Moving” (KLM) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the Department of Transportation (LADOT) over recent safety improvements in Playa Del Rey.

In June, responding to numerous traffic deaths and a couple of high-profile lawsuitsLADOT installed several road diets on PDR streets: Jefferson Boulevard, Culver Boulevard, Pershing Drive, and Vista Del Mar. Responding to public criticism of the project, LADOT retooled portions of the safety improvement projects. In July, LADOT added back a lane on Culver Boulevard, then reworked turn lanes to improve traffic flow in central PDR. After securing County beach parking, LADOT announced it will restore travel lanes on Vista Del Mar starting August 21st.

KLM filed their lawsuit [PDF] yesterday. The lawsuit asserts that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), that LADOT’s General Manager approved the projects without sufficient evidence, and that the process was flawed with a lack of notice and a lack of opportunities to provide input. The lawsuit alleges numerous adverse impacts: worse commute times, increased air and noise pollution, more car accidents, streets made “exponentially unsafe,” delayed emergency response vehicles, misappropriation of Measure M funding, censorship, impaired tsunami escape routes, an “inevitable and imminent” decline in area property values, and even a “serious national security risk” due to “severe gridlock” on Sepulveda Boulevard at LAX.

The lawsuit requests a restraining order and injunctions to “restore Vista Del Mar, Culver Boulevard, Pershing Drive, and Jefferson Boulevard to their original condition, pending such further environmental review, and until this action can be decided on its merits.” With most of Culver car lanes already restored, and Vista Del Mar set to be restored to four lanes later this month, it appears that an injunction would only impact the rest of Culver, plus Pershing and Jefferson.

KLM’s lawsuit and press release reveal a bit about the recently-formed non-profit organization. Listed as director and Chief Executive Officer of KLM is Karla Mendelson, a Manhattan Beach resident, who advocated to preserve “car-free neighborhood… walkstreets” in her city.

Reviewing the lawsuit text, it includes exaggerations:

  • The lawsuit states that “[LADOT implemented safety improvements on Culver Blvd], making Culver extremely dangerous, and causing tremendous traffic jams at almost all times of day and night.” Despite lawsuit photo exhibits including plenty of daytime photos of cars backed up on PDR streets, no documentation shows those (likely non-existent) tremendous late-night traffic jams.
  • The lawsuit states that “City officials have engaged in a campaign of misinformation, name calling and race bating [sic], claiming that the aforementioned changes were made for ‘safety’ reasons…” The misinformation is apparently asserting, as Federal Highway Administration research has shown, that road diets are a proven safety measure. It is unclear what name-calling or race-baiting city officials have engaged in. (It is not too difficult, though, to find some anti-safety-project comments that fall into thinly-veiled opposition to non-beach-resident, presumably non-white, access to Playa Del Rey beaches. One commenter on an earlier SBLA story wrote: “…the night time traffic at Dockweiler Beach has had their fair share of violent or weapon related issues and also includes minimal attendees from the local beach communities, including Playa Del Rey. Rather, the main users of Dockweiler are from communities inland that are well known for lack of lawfulness.”)

In a few places the lawsuit is outright inaccurate:

  • “LADOT thereafter populated neighborhood forums with outside, paid supporters to make it appear that local residents were overwhelmingly supporting the projects.” LADOT records should be able to show who LADOT paid, if anyone other than LADOT staff, to populate any forums. Some friends of Streetsblog would probably love to get paid by LADOT to attend forums.
  • The lawsuit states “On Pershing, the bicycle path, which literally just stops in the middle of Playa Del Rey (earning it the name ‘the bike path to nowhere’) is cut off by dedicated right turn lane on westbound Pershing onto Westchester Parkway; ever [sic] vehicle that turns right onto Westchester must go directly through the westbound bicycle path (emphasis added.)” In truth there is no bicycle path on Pershing Drive. There is only a bicycle lane. Contrary to the assertion that the bikeway is cut off at Westchester Parkway, it connects to existing bike lanes on Westchester Parkway and continuing south on Pershing.
  • The lawsuit goes on at length about “misappropriated Measure M funds.” It quotes the official ballot argument measure language, clarifying that the official summary mentions neither road diets nor bike lanes. The lawsuit then states (original in underlined bold) “Measure M funds were, in fact, used for all of the aforementioned changes to Vista Del Mar, Culver, Jefferson, and Pershing, among others, and the almost weekly changes that have been made to Vista Del Mar since the initial changes were made.” Measure M funding could not have been used for the initial safety projects implemented in June, because the Measure M sales tax only went into effect on July 1.
  • A footnote claims that an LADOT-sponsored thesis report found that “not only did the road diets fail to decrease the rate of severe and fatal injuries on even one of those streets…” Though that report did show reduced severe and fatal crashes on one L.A. street: Lorena Street.

The LADOT and the office of Councilmember Mike Bonin declined to comment on pending litigation.

  • Tyler Doe

    Good. Mike “Bonehead” Bonin is done. Piss off a hundred thousand people. Career over.

  • calwatch

    It does raise an interesting question, since EIRs regularly condition all sorts of traffic improvements as part of their project approvals. Does it mean that those EIR-required changes are set in stone and cannot be changed at all? Generally no, since many times EIRs call for roads to be widened or modifications to be made to be signals which are wholly outside of the project’s jurisdiction and cannot be forced on them. Did Playa Vista pay for the improvements caused by the project? There might be a case there if they wasted their money on mitigations that did not last, but if the city made the changes I would argue they have the right to determine the appropriate traffic patterns in their jurisdiction.

  • sheplerwill

    There have been 27 accidents in the corridor in 10 weeks. The changes have very clearly made the road less safe. Of course, any basic study of road diets shows that they increase accidents. There are plenty of solutions that are not punitive to 95% of road users. As recommended by the lawsuit, the roads should be returned to the previous state, studied and discussed. Let’s find a functional solution.

  • Vooch

    the war on cars is very real. It’s coming to your city. Watch these horrifying video examples of what happens when the anti-car zealots take over.

  • mthashp

    I had to stop reading about halfway through, since this drivel was clearly written by and for cyclists. The author didn’t attempt to disguise their bias. Later, nerds.

  • mthashp

    And you’d likely lose that argument, too.

  • Nada Mach

    There is indeed a bike path that runs through the beach, alongside Vista
    Del Mar, and then goes along side Ballona Creek into downtown Culver
    City. The other part of the bike path goes across Ballona Creek and goes
    through parts of the Marina. These bike paths are much safer than those that are “painted” on city streets, as they are completely separate from the streets. Why do people keep forgetting these wonderful bikeways?

  • Jesse

    I read the whole article but I stopped halfway through this comment, since it was drivel because there are no points indicating bias in the article. Later, jocks.

  • Fred Davis

    No one has forgotten about these wonderful bike paths. They are in
    constant use, get on your bike and go have a look. As wonderful as they
    are, they simply don’t always go where one needs to go all the time.

  • Joe Linton

    Fred is right – the beach and Ballona Creek bike paths are highly used, and don’t connect to all the destinations where cyclists go. (Your comment is kind of like me asking – why are all these drivers complaining about Vista Del Mar – don’t they know that there is a completely separate roadway called the 405 Freeway nearby? Why do VDM drivers keep forgetting the wonderful 405 Freeway?)

  • Joe Linton

    There have been a lot of assertions (by you, in the lawsuit) that “accidents” have increased. I think that the metric that we need to look at is the rate of deaths and serious injuries (not just whether more or fewer fender-benders are happening.) It’s possible for the road to be safer, while still having plenty of (minor) collisions. Also – if the road really is unsafe (if there are are still too many crashes), then perhaps this points to a need to add more traffic calming to get drivers to slow down even more.

  • Brian Howald

    · Accident implies that all parties were performing all actions legally and attentively. Speeding, other aggressive driving, inattention, failure to yield, make something not an accident, but rather willful negligence.
    · Your claim that “any basic study,” a phrase that camouflages personal biases as common sense and comes nowhere near academic analysis, is not supported by the data. Here’s one study, conducted by the Federal Highway Administration: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/humanfac/04082/
    · Traffic fatalities in Los Angeles were up 43% in 2016 compared to 2015, and yet an awareness of that public health problem escapes mention in all statements by opponents of traffic calming. You’ll have to explain to me how the convenience of drivers takes precedence over life.

  • Brian Howald

    I’m certainly a nerd, though I don’t think riding a bike has anything to do with that. I blame my parents…and LAUSD.

  • Jody

    It’s actually a quantifiable question: how many accidents were there on Culver, out of PDR, in the month before the road diet and how many were there after? The follow on to that is how many accidents were there in the same period the previous year. You can then break out the severity of the accidents from there.

    Given how much traffic slowed after the diet, if you are proposing still further reductions in speed to eliminate any remaining accidents, I think it’s far more intellectually honest to just advocate banning cars from city streets. That’s the calmest streets will get, it would lead to the greatest reduction in car-people injuries and death, as well as allowing unfettered bike access everywhere. It would also collapse the economy of Los Angeles, but at least people would be safe and uninjured.

  • Jody

    But fatalities in LA dropped in the previous cycle. 242 in 2014, 224 in 2015, and 260 in 2016. Year to year, there’s variability in any data set, with a trend established only over a longer collection of years. What evidence do you have this wasn’t a regression to the mean, or that, given the increase in population year-to-year, more people driving in Los Angeles better account for the increase in traffic deaths?

  • Brian Howald

    I’ve spent hours looking for these numbers, and sadly, they’re hard to find. You’re right about there possibly being noise in the numbers, but without a consistent methodology, it’s hard to compare the numbers given by one source with the numbers given by another.

    I saw this article (http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20170330/pedestrian-traffic-deaths-rise-nationwide-but-fall-in-california), claiming 242 *pedestrian* deaths in 2014 and 224 in 2015, but the numbers don’t make sense. That doesn’t compute with the LA Times story in April reporting a ~43% increase (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-2016-traffic-deaths-20170403-story.html). If there were 260 last year, then there were 182 in 2015 (260/1.43 ~= 182).

    The city’s Vision Zero Plan (http://visionzero.lacity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/VisionZero-LosAngeles.pdf) claims 201 traffic deaths in 2013 and has a table with serious injuries and fatalities, but no way to see exactly what those numbers were and then, only up to 2013.

    The best resource I could find is the table at http://visionzero.geohub.lacity.org/ that shows the breakdown for fatalities and serious injuries by victim’s transportation mode (pedestrian, cyclist, motor vehicle occupant, motorcycle operator). The numbers are largely down from the early 2000s, but without the data from 2016, which was claimed to be a big jump from 2015, we have no way of knowing.

    I’ve requested annual reports of traffic crashes from the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Reporting System for every year from 2010 onward, but they will take a day to generate. I’ll see what I find once I can parse those myself.

  • Matt

    He was just re-elected with over 70% of the vote. He’ll be in office for another 5+ years. He isn’t going anywhere.

  • joe student

    You also have to provide some time. With a major road change, there will be an increase in collisions in the short term as people initially continue to drive the way they did previously. A new stop sign or stop light can cause collisions in the short-term as drivers aren’t paying enough attention to notice them.
    This is why the study was supposed to last a few months, to provide normalcy in the study area before collecting data. Then you start looking at the number of collisions, Type of collision, the violation category, the seriousness of the collision (fatal, serious injury, injury), etc. Then you compare it to the same month from the previous year within the study area.

  • Joe Linton

    I would certainly advocated for car-free streets – not necessarily everywhere all the time, but I think more walk-streets, chokers, CicLAvia events, play streets, etc. would make a lot of sense for L.A.

  • Jody

    How so?

  • Joe Linton

    For one example, I worked to make the first CicLAvia event happen in 2010.

  • DrunkEngineer

    Just to be clear: it is some random guy in your group claiming 27 accidents, that isn’t an official figure (“‘We’ve documented 27 accidents in two months,’ notes Playa del Rey resident John Russo.”)..

  • mthashp

    I want chocolate ice cream. I want pudding. I want, I want, I want. Throw a tantrum already, Fred.

  • mthashp

    Why don’t we just pay off Bonin to eliminate lanes on the 405, too? You cyclists are so effing entitled.

  • mthashp

    Of course you would.

  • mthashp

    No one cares what you did 7 years ago, Joe.

  • Brian Howald

    Here are the crash fatality numbers for Los Angeles from 2017-2016 from the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Reporting System:

    2010: 182
    2011: 157
    2012: 196
    2013: 200
    2014: 197
    2015: 184
    2016: 254

  • Has LA switched to VMT yet? There will be nothing but sweet justice when the EIR shows that taking out even more lanes is warranted to achieve those goals. But even with LOS, the City should collect enough data to make the argument that including the bikeways improves traffic flow which improves LOS.

  • No, the City (or other applicable agency) is free to not follow what is suggested by the EIR if they want and it’s not clear that a lawsuit would actually solve that.

  • Joe Linton

    No switch yet

  • Jody

    So last year is either an outlier in the data set, the product of a change between 2015-2016, or an earlier change whose effects weren’t seen until 2016.

    We have a mean of 195, and a median value of 196. If you remove that outlier value, the mean drops to 186. If you include the outlier, there’s a 28% or so increase from 2015. If you exclude it, there’s a 6% or so decrease between 2014 and 2015.

    There were 9.8m people in LA County in in 2010 and about 10.2m in 2016. What’s amazing is that adding that many people over 6 years doesn’t do much for traffic fatalities.

    Year to year, we haven’t had a major increase in traffic deaths. We had a 28% rise between 2015-2016, but we don’t know yet if that’s a one year variation or the the start of a trend. I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude we have a county wide emergency on our hands.

  • Brian Howald

    The numbers were for the City of Los Angeles, not the county, so only 4 million people now and fewer in the earlier years, but the Your analysis is otherwise correct.

    We cannot know until the end of 2017 or later if 2016 was an aberration. However, where I disagree with you is that I believe that the number of fatalities is itself an urgent public health problem, increase or not. Increase or not, no one should be dying or be seriously injured in traffic, which is the basic premise of Vision Zero. However, this a difference in values, not numbers, and thus cannot be resolved by data.

  • Jody

    First, I believe those are county wide numbers. Venice had 1 fatality 2016. If LA City had 254, there’s a huge traffic problem in LA City vs. the Venice neighborhood.

    Second, by what definition are you concluding this is a “public health emergency?” Under statutes, a Public Health Emergency is “…an emergency need for health care [medical] services to respond to a disaster, significant outbreak of an infectious disease, bioterrorist attack or other significant or catastrophic event. For purposes of NDMS activation, a public health emergency may include but is not limited to, public health emergencies declared by the Secretary of HHS [Health and Human Services] under 42 U.S.C. 247d, or a declaration of a major disaster or emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act), 42 U.S.C. 5121-5206).”[3][4]”

    Car accident rates have remained fairly steady — and minor — in Los Angeles for 6 of the previous 7 reporting cycles, with 254 deaths still “minor” in a count of 10.2m people.

    The fact that car deaths have averaged 196 over the last seven years in a county of 9-10m people is pretty freaking amazing.

  • Brian Howald

    They’re not county numbers. I specifically requested city numbers for the custom reports. I’ll respond to the rest of the post when I’m not watching North by Northwest.

  • Frank Kotter

    The 405 was designed, built and maintained for the exlcusive use the automobile. Your comparison is without much thought and even less merit.