Westchester Playa Neighborhood Council Votes Against PDR Safety Projects

At last night's meeting, Playa/Westchester NC's David Voss arguing against LADOT's Playa Del Rey safety improvements. Photo by Marcia Hanscom
At last night's meeting, Playa/Westchester NC's David Voss arguing against LADOT's Playa Del Rey safety improvements. Photo by Marcia Hanscom

At a standing room only meeting last night, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa voted to approve a letter calling to “immediately reverse the lane reductions in Playa del Rey.” The letter was approved mostly as proposed, but opposition to the Pershing Drive road diet was removed.

Responding to traffic deaths and lawsuits, the city Transportation Department (LADOT) installed four road diet upgrades to PDR streets: Jefferson Boulevard, Culver Boulevard, Pershing Drive, and Vista Del Mar. After criticism, in July, lanes were added back on Culver. LADOT announced it will restore travel lanes on Vista Del Mar starting August 21st. Last week, a backlash group filed a lawsuit pressing to restore PDR streets to their original condition.

At last month’s meeting of the Westchester/Playa council, the board approved a motion to form a committee to study the recent road diets. This month, with two votes against and one abstaining, the board approved a rambling four-page anti-road-diet letter addressed to City Councilmember Mike Bonin. The letter charges that the road diets cause “increased commute times,” are “turning streets into parking lots,” and generating “cut-through traffic.” The letter makes the following assertions:

  • “[Road diets have] significantly increased and oppressive traffic congestion, travel time, and collisions at all times of day”
  • “Local business is suffocating… We share their [businesses’] dire concern that the perception of Playa del Rey as a destination for business and pleasure is being permanently and irreparably damaged with every passing day”
  • “We need more law enforcement to reduce the severity of this problem, not fewer traffic lanes.”
  • “The impact on commuters is very real as demonstrated by their expressed outrage on social media and in every outlet on which they can find a voice from radio to newspaper.”
  • “Instead of bike lanes” in Playa Del Rey, the city should “make the Ballona path safely accessible to Playa Vista residents. If designed correctly, it would provide a safer, and more relaxing bike ride to the beach. Many helpful suggestions from the community have been made to achieve this accessibility goal instead of bike lanes through the wetlands at a fraction of the societal and economic cost of increased commute times.”

Last night’s meeting was recapped by Katie Clarke, an advocate for safer Playa Del Rey streets, as follows:

Around 90 people spoke on the record, and I’m pleased to say that it was evenly divided. In fact, they had (by my rough count) about 6 speakers not from the direct area, so I would say our representation was even a little stronger. We also had about double the amount of letters submitted supporting our cause. At the end, the letter was approved for sending with the removal of Pershing.

That seems like a defeat, but please keep in mind that this was not a binding decision, but purely the neighborhood council’s recommendation to our councilman. We put the talking point “overwhelming opposition” to bed by showing up in force. I’m proud of the points we made and that we went about it in a classy way. We didn’t resort to booing, jeering, or creating a spectacle. Yes, I, the pregnant lady, got booed. Yes, they had a guy dress up in cycling gear and then rip off his shirt to reveal his orange tee. He also danced. True story.

I’m also excited that there were faces and names supporting our cause that I haven’t met and haven’t seen online.

Though Neighborhood Councils give the city important feedback on critical issues, the letter is essentially advisory, with no binding power to direct LADOT, Bonin, or the city to follow any of the council’s asks. LADOT and Councilmember Bonin have committed to continue to listen to feedback and to review data to evaluate the project’s success in achieving safety goals.

Road diet bike lanes recently being installed on Pershing Drive in Playa Del Rey. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Road diet bike lanes being installed on Pershing Drive in Playa Del Rey in June. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In other Playa Del Rey safety improvement commentary, the non-profit Los Angeles Walks published an article critical of the city’s retreat in conceding to motorist pressure to add back deadly car lanes on Vista Del Mar. From L.A. Walks:

Since their implementation, the three safe streets projects in the 11th District have each been the recipient of a furious and frequently vicious backlash. Public meetings regarding the roadway reconfigurations have not been civil or constructive, and have at times devolved into the open mocking of concerns for the safety of people walking and riding bicycles. Some of the loudest opponents of the Playa del Rey projects, from South Bay cities like Manhattan Beach, have been impervious to the argument that they have prioritized safety near their own homes, but regard their commuting time as more important than safety in other people’s neighborhoods.

In response, Bonin’s office has attempted to meet critics halfway. The Los Angeles Times said the agreement between Bonin’s office and Supervisor Janice Hahn had been called a “win-win” that would satisfy commuters and beachgoers, but the fact remains that a safe road redesign is being abandoned to cater to the loudest and angriest voices in the room.

The “win-win” solution on Vista del Mar is reminiscent of what Los Angeles has tried for decades — a solution in which the very presence of pedestrians is seen as a problem that needs solving. Instead of making walking safer, we try to address safety by removing the walkers. History has shown that not only is this approach disruptive to the community, it also will never be fully effective. People will still walk across Vista del Mar, whether they are going to Vista del Mar Park, or walking from their home to enjoy a day at the beach, or for whatever other possible reason. The lack of lighting, lack of crosswalks, and low-visibility conditions from fog will still make it dangerous to cross, or walk along, a de facto speedway, but reverting Vista del Mar to its previous configuration simply ignores the existence of these people so South Bay commuters can resume speeding through the neighborhood.

[…]

In the long term, we will be pushing the City to create a permanent pedestrian facility on the west side of Vista del Mar, and to make sure that extra roadway space will not merely be left to encourage unsafe driving speeds. We are also hopeful that the task force Councilmember Bonin has announced to examine the community-supported Safe Streets for Playa del Rey Initiative will provide an opportunity for more productive conversations to take place. We believe that it is of paramount importance that design elements intended to protect pedestrians be protected throughout this process.

Read the full article.

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