Wilbur Road Diet Debate Reaches Its Conclusion, Again
The heated debate over the Wilbur Road diet is back in the news as Councilman Greig Smith has asked the LADOT to move forward with a compromise proposal that it presented to a joint meeting of the Northridge West and Porter Ranch Neighborhood Councils last month. The Council’s had sent representatives to a “Wilbur Working Group” who helped LADOT devise the compromise, however neither the communities that wanted Wilbur returned to its faster design of yesteryear nor the community that applauded the calmed traffic was happy with the compromise.
Thus, at the joint meeting, the two Neighborhood Councils “rejected” the compromise by a vote of nine in favor, three opposed, and seven abstentions. For purposes of this debate, the “abstentions” were counted as “no” votes. However, the Neighborhood Council’s role was advisory to Smith’s office’s role, which is advisory to the LADOT’s plans for the road.
Some backstory. Last August, the LADOT re-striped Wilbur Avenue for 2.3 miles between Nordhoff Street and Chatsworth Street and put the street on a road diet in response to safety concerns. The four lane road was shrunk to a road with two travel lanes, a left hand turn lane and two bicycle lanes. The diet became a battleground pitting the drivers who use the street against the people that live on the street with the city’s bicycle community playing a secondary role. The faceoff culminated at a contentious and raucous community meeting that ended with the vote to reject a compromise proposal crafted by LADOT and the Wilbur Working Group.
The compromise plan will return half of the road diet to a four lane street, with the bike lanes remaining. The original diet stretched for 2.8 miles, and under the compromise plan 1.3 miles of the plan from Chatsworth Street to just South of Devonshire Street. There will be no changes to the current street configuration from Devonshire Street to Nordhoff Street.
Smith’s office confirmed my suspicion that they viewed the 9-3-7 vote as a 9-3 vote in favor of the compromise plan noting, correctly, that the reason for the seven abstentions is that the majority of those abstaining wanted Wilbur returned to a four lane road. That option was never on the table as the LADOT and LAPD each contended that the diet was necessary for safety reasons. Even in the areas that will be re-striped to four lanes as part of the compromise, the four lanes will be more narrow than last year’s configuration to maintain the bicycle lanes. To their credit, Smith’s office announced early in the process that removing the bike lanes was not an option, despite his personal preference to return Wilbur to its four-lane configuration.
Of course, compromise plans aren’t popular, and Don Ward at Safe Streets Northridge has already questioned what the point of the whole “community process” that Smith praises in his most recent statement on the Diet, if the Councilman was going to reject the final vote:
9 months ago Councilman Smith set forth a process to engage the community because, as he said, the LADOT did not. The fact is that, after 4 Wilbur Working Group meetings, 1 town hall meeting, and a lot of citizen volunteer work, the LADOT only ever presented ONE option to the Wilbur Working Group at the second of 4 long meetings. The plan was eventually REJECTED by both “for” and “against” public voices on the matter at the joint PRNC and NWNC town hall meeting including a rejection by the voting body itself. Had Smith actually shown up to his own meeting perhaps he would have known the dismay from all camps first hand.
From an engineering standpoint, the concern with the compromise plan is that it will just create a new bottleneck for traffic south of Devonshire where the lanes narrow to two. Smith’s office responded that in that area there is a more dense residential population that will benefit from the slower traffic of the diet and will utilize the on-street parking created by the diet while the area north of Devonshire is more sparsely populated in the area adjacent to the street.