How Is This Happening?

Some Observations and Thoughts from the Westside Road Diet Battles

Unfortunately, too many people see our allies as the bad guys. Is there anything we can do to change this? Photo: Vision Zero Network Los Angeles
Unfortunately, too many people see our allies as the bad guys. Is there anything we can do to change this? Photo: Vision Zero Network Los Angeles

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting the Mar Vista Farmer’s Market with my seven-year-old son. Seeing a group gathering petitions for Restore Venice Boulevard’s demands that the road diet on Venice Boulevard be immediately ended, I turned off to go in through the side. Earlier in the week, a tweet condemning the person who wrote the weird, racist flyer that was the last straw for a friend and neighborhood councilmember was misinterpreted as being a condemnation of everyone who opposed the road diet. I’m sure I phrased it poorly, but my attempts to clarify had fallen on deaf ears. A lot of people involved in the Restore Venice Boulevard Movement were convinced I, a Board Member of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, had called them all assholes.

So, I tried to sneak around to get into the market without incident. I failed, and ended up in a shouting match with a woman I didn’t recognize in front of my kid. While I can certainly hide behind the shield of “she started it,” it wasn’t my proudest moment. I’ll spare you all the details, but this person and I have communicated over email and have put the issue behind us and (I think) we’re both chalking it up as a misunderstanding and a teachable moment.

But after the incident, I’ve been pondering, “How did we get here?” My profile in Mar Vista has been pretty local to my involvement at my kids’ school until I joined the Neighborhood Council. It’s one thing to get yelled at by the crazed radio hosts John and Ken. It’s another thing altogether to notice you’ve been transformed from the “guy that programs bike-to-school events” to some sort of nefarious person pushing a radical agenda to mess up people’s commutes.

I have a few ideas on things we can all do, as advocates for safe streets and healthy communities, to move towards a more civil debate and help to spread information that might break into the media silos many people have built for themselves.

1. Recognize that any change to an existing street involves a trade-off, and will not be viewed as a win for everyone. The sad reality is that we’ve inherited a transportation network that was built to move as many cars as quickly as possible. Any changes to that reality will be met with resistance, as people experience longer commutes. Even if the change isn’t that drastic, or returns to its original time over the long haul, the perception is that the change is causing people to lose precious time with their family, or friends, or pets, or whomever.

It’s been a strategy for years to focus on the long-term gains that reconfiguring streets will bring to a community. One of the first things that we can do to recognize that, for many people, the long-term gain is a nebulous future. Right now, their commute time has been increased. That sucks.

A quick corollary to this point is that cut-through traffic increasing on parallel streets after a diet is often a terrible side effect of road diets. WAZE and other apps that help people “avoid traffic” has done a great disservice to people trying to make city roads a safer place by encouraging people to cut through residential streets. It just so happens that a disproportionately high percentage of these commuters want to treat these local streets as though they are the major roads they used to drive on.

2. Don’t mock people who say something at public meetings because it sounds dumb/heartless. Instead, try to gently correct the record. At the meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council where we voted to continue to support the road diet, one speaker commented that one death every two years along the one-mile stretch that’s seen a lane reduction didn’t sound that bad. While this comment sounds horrific, consider how television viewers are bombarded with stories almost daily about the traffic death of the day and how many people that speak at these meetings aren’t professional speakers. Instead of criticizing, we should set the record straight. If you do the math and Los Angeles experienced one death every two years per mile of road, that would be 3,250 road deaths a year, a far higher number than the ghastly 263 deaths experienced on L.A.’s streets in 2016.

3. Don’t Feed the Trolls. I’m not saying don’t engage with people online, but it’s usually clear pretty early in a conversation when someone wants to have a discussion versus someone that wants to score points or have an argument on the Internet. Winning battles on Twitter or Facebook usually doesn’t translate into any sort of policy win or changing any “hearts and minds.”

In the same vein, remember the Internet can be forever. Even deleted posts on social media that might have felt good in the moment can come back to haunt you. And if you think that “winning” a fight online against a troll is a good feeling, it’s an even better one to get said troll out of your life by ignoring or blocking them. Trust me.

4. Media bubbles are real, and it leads both sides of an issue to have different facts. It’s true of presidential elections, it’s true of local debates about road diets. We see this as the conditions on Vista del Mar for most of the day. They see this as the condition when they are using the road for their rush hour commute.

There’s no easy answers to what will “win” a public debate on a road diet or other change to the transportation network towards the goal of creating a safer, more equitable, and cleaner transportation system. But, by taking the time to understand and recognize the point of view of the people who disagree with us is a worthy endeavor that I believe will bear fruit in the long-term.

  • Tyndon Clusters

    Erik, you must have failed math in school. 18 x 100,000 = 1.8 million. The lawsuit cost the taxpayers of LA 9.5 million to settle. Lets say you are off by 300% and it costs 300k per crosswalk, that’s still a 4 million dollar saving
    If basic math is challenging for you, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously on matters requiring much more thought, like transportation issues for example.

  • And if you think that lawsuit settlements and infrastructure funds come from the same funding sources, you may have failed government and law in school. Mind you that was the cost of the hardware. There are then traffic studies and outreach that must be done in order to install such hardware, all of which take time, time the city did not have.

    The issue appears to be solved if the Coastal Commission has approved, and no lawsuit is filed to return the parking back to City of Los Angles property.

  • Chris A.

    Mr Newton, in a Streetsblog article on February 13, 2014 about the Lincoln Boulevard Bridge Enhancement project (“City Begins Process of Improving Lincoln Boulevard Bridge Over Ballona Creek”), you wrote the following: “When trying to decide whether or not the City of Los Angeles is serious about becoming a safe and inviting place to walk or ride a bicycle, it’s easy to look at the largest projects, such as MyFigueroa! or the Hyperion Bridge re-design, or the statistics. But, its equally important to look at some of the smaller projects that can improve mobility for all road users in an area, such as the newly announced project to improve the Lincoln Blvd. bridge over the Ballona Creek.The LADOT and Councilmember Mike Bonin are enthusiastically promoting The Westside Mobility Plan (WMP), a collaborative effort between the councilmember department, and community groups. The plan includes a project to turn the bridge, a major choke point for any cyclist or pedestrian moving north or south on Lincoln Boulevard, into one more hospitable for all road users. The Lincoln Bridge Mutli-Modal Corridor Plan would widen the surface design of the bridge without increasing the structure’s footprint into the Ballona Creek. On Wednesday, the WMP received approval from the City Council Transportation Committee to begin public outreach for the proposed project to get community feedback before moving the project to the design phase.”

    Mr Newton, can you advise as to what “public outreach for the proposed project” ended up getting done? Also, the Council file you linked to in that article refers to the fact that the “Lincoln Bridge Improvement Feasibility study” had just been completed. Your article refers to the study but doesn’t offer a link to it. Can you please do so now? Thank you.

  • Tyndon Clusters

    OK, considering you’re a condescending doosh, it will be a pleasure to debunk your ignorant drivel on the VDM changes and the “traffic studies bla bla” you just wrote.

    First, you are so misinformed about why those changes were made on Vista Del Mar. So let me correct your vast collection of distortions on this matter.

    Traffic studies WERE done vis-à-vis VDM and those studies were referred to Bonin’s office in 2013 where they died and were ignored. Brian Gallagher, LADOT senior traffic engineer had made recommendations that were not followed up on. Gallagher, when deposed for the Larsen lawsuit, acknowledged that, as far back as 2013, he had made specific proposals to reduce dangers along Vista del Mar based on the long history of pedestrian accidents and fatalities. Then the Larsen kid was hit by a taxi crossing VDM and the city was sued.

    Let the attorney spell it out for you:

    Court Purdy, a lawyer for one of the pedestrians whose deaths is held out as calling for these changes, stated that the traffic changes are not dictated by the settlement his law firm won in the 2015 death of Naomi Larsen, 16.

    “All my clients ever wanted and all they requested was to make the roadway safe for beachgoers and pedestrians. How the city has decided to do that is up to them and was not dictated by the lawsuit,” Purdy said. “It certainly would have required public input to do it in the way that makes the roadway safer but still ensures that commuters have available means to get to and from their jobs.”

    For Bonin and the City of Los Angeles, the sudden implementation of the changes seems to be related to the pedestrian deaths of Larsen and Michael Lockridge and their legal ramifications. Both deaths stemmed from accidents occurring well over a year ago and around midnight, well outside commuting hours.

    Larsen’s family sued after she was struck by a car in February 2015 and the City of Los Angeles settled in April for $9.5 million. Her family’s suit, filed in July 2015, alleged that Larsen died from injuries suffered after she was struck and flung 150 feet by a taxi around 12:15 a.m. Feb. 22, 2015, while crossing an “unmarked crosswalk” amid “zero lighting” at Vista del Mar and Ipswich St. in virtual darkness. A friend in her group had her ankle run over, the suit says.

    “Safe Streets for Playa Del Rey” originated in part with an August 2015 questionnaire to which Bonin received just 133 responses.

    This was just five months after the tragic accident that claimed Larsen’s life. Yet Larsen attorney Court Purdy points out that Vista del Mar improvements weren’t even mentioned in Bonin’s August 2015 questionnaire.

    “Why it wasn’t on there, I never got an answer,” Purdy said.

    Purdy said Bonin had long known of the dangers along Vista del Mar and failed to fix them. The December filing included a September 2016 letter to the City of Los Angeles in which Purdy wrote that Bonin in 2013 personally took a bus tour of proposed Vista del Mar improvements and said Bonin was aware of the deadly problems on Vista del Mar and the City’s failure to fix them:

    “The fact that the recommendations of the LADOT’s Senior Engineers to make this roadway safe for pedestrians has been abandoned by the City and Mr. Bonin’s office is of primary relevance in this matter and falls directly on Councilmember Bonin’s lap. In short, he was personally aware of this particular accident pattern, the proposal of Brian Gallagher to get the funding to fix that dangerous conditions [sic] and of the City’s failures to do so resulting in more pedestrian injuries and of the resulting and wholly unnecessary deaths of Naomi Larsen and Michael Lockridge. Mr. Bonin has championed pedestrian safety in his District but has seemingly forgotten this project which in 2013, was a ‘High Priority’ to fix.”

    Just weeks after the filing, Los Angeles reached a provisional settlement with Purdy that was officially approved for $9.5 million in April.

    According to attorney Purdy in the interview, given all Councilmember Bonin and other LA officials reportedly knew about the dangers—before and after the Larsen and Lockridge deaths—he was surprised to hear the LA councilmember suddenly proclaim Vista del Mar “an emergency safety crusade.”

    “I thought they took unnecessary credit for something that should have been done 20 years ago,” Purdy said. “Let’s not pretend that this wasn’t a huge cancer that everybody knew and nobody did anything about it until we sued them

    Erik, let me spell it out for you and all the road diet biker Nazis, Bonin settled this suit to avoid the deposition the lawyer had scheduled where he was going to be questioned about his liability in this fiasco by not implementing the changes his own traffic department issued years ago. The lawsuit was settled and voila, 4 months later the road diet was implemented to cover Bonin’s backside. Then to cover the true nature of what the reality was, he got you and the other bike nuts to shill for these “safety” schemes.
    Next time you get used like this, ask Bonin for some lube.

  • Thanks for the extra crispy name calling, certainly beats some of the other stuff I’ve gotten this week. Bonin settled the suit? Really? Bonin is the city attorney? Again, VdM wasn’t a road diet, and it wasn’t a bicycle project.

    Hopefully, Bonin and Garcetti will do the smart thing and file to vacate and close the road since it really doesn’t have any reason to exist anymore between Imperial and Napoleon. Since it isnt a state highway, it has no funding from the gas tax and there’s no property tax revenue coming from Surfridge anymore.

  • I’m not going to get in a protracted back and forth on this, I’ve sent you the statement from the Council Office (which I’ll post at the end of this) and have communicated on their behalf that they are working on getting a newer, and easier to follow, diagram. As mentioned before, the outreach for the project that is coming is partially funded by the Council motion that the Preven’s misunderstood. Here is the statement from the office taken off “Pacific Palisade News” on Facebook:

    The story entirely misrepresents the basic facts of the Lincoln Boulevard Enhancement Project.

    The story makes the odd statement that: “The ‘widening’ will accommodate the addition of dedicated bus and bike lanes and will in fact have a net effect of lowering the bridge’s overall vehicle capacity; in other words, it will slow traffic for motorists.”

    That simply could not be further from the truth.

    The Lincoln Bridge Enhancement itself would remove the existing bottleneck on Lincoln between Fiji Way and Jefferson Boulevard in the Southbound direction where Lincoln Boulevard narrows from three lanes to two just south of Fiji, then opens back to four lanes south of the bridge. The proposed project does not reduce vehicle lanes–just the opposite. It would add an additional lane on Southbound Lincoln Boulevard. Additionally, it would create sidewalks where none exist today and would add space for bike lanes–all while expanding this section of Southbound Lincoln Boulevard for cars.

    The project is part of the Westside Mobility Plan, launched by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. It is aimed at reducing congestion and enhancing safety along Lincoln Boulevard and on other Westside corridors. There is currently no funding or timeline for project construction. The City is in the very early environmental and design stage, which is an open and public process. Public hearings–required per CEQA and demanded by Councilmember Bonin’s office–will occur in the future. Dates have not been set; we are very early in this proposal. Our office will keep residents informed of any and all hearings and opportunities to weigh in on this plan.

    We’re not sure how the authors came up with such glaringly inaccurate information, but we hope that Palisades News can stop this flow of misinformation.

  • Chris A.

    Why are you refusing to share a link to a document you wrote an entire article about?

  • Chris A.

    You say that nobody is proposing a road diet, becaue under the proposed plan there “would still be two lanes in each direction.” The problem with your argument is that the current arrangement is not two lanes in each direction. It’s two southbound lanes, true, but it’s THREE northbound lanes. That’s a total of FIVE lanes, so the project reduces motorist lanes from five to four, which makes it a road diet.

  • Tyndon Clusters

    You’re an unhinged bike loon. Thanks for personally manifesting the idiotic extremism that will ultimately seal the doom for bike lane advocates. Garcetti is a wimp. Once the citizens recall Bonin if he goes through with the changes, Garcetti will fold like a cheap suit as he has higher aspirations and having a city recalling him next doesn’t look good on the resume.

    You pedantic ass, of course the city attorney settled as city officials are his clients. In representing THEIR interests, of course he settled. Why? To avoid even more of a payout once the city (Bonin) was shown to be libel for ignoring clear, advanced warnings of the problems on VDM.

    Interesting how you totally gloss over the issue and move on to property taxes and the absurd notion of closing down VDM. Must be a Trump voter.

    Again, Bonin uses you loons for his own ends. And you are too smug, dense and stupid to realize it.

    And thanks for the quote. “Hopefully, Bonin and Garcetti will do the smart thing and file to vacate and close the road since it really doesn’t have any reason to exist anymore between Imperial and Napoleon. Since it isnt a state highway, it has no funding from the gas tax and there’s no property tax revenue coming from Surfridge anymore.”
    This will be going to a lot of the Bonin foes who already have been skeptical of the true intent of the bike lane bozos. This proves their point.

  • Brian Howald

    I don’t need to google it; I own a hard copy of that day’s paper. Since I could not find annual traffic fatality numbers for Los Angeles despite hours of searching, using my “elite” educational skills, I requested annual data from the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (CHP-SWITRS) for the years 2010-2016.

    According to the official reports (traffic crashes within the City of Los Angeles), here are the numbers:

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

    I’d like to claim that my “elite” education also taught me Latin, but unfortunately only Spanish was available at the LAUSD and NYCDOE schools I attended. I, however, did watch the West Wing as a child, and learned a thing or two from Jed Bartlet via Martin Sheen. “Post hoc ergo propter hoc,” literally “afterwards, therefore because of,” is a common logical fallacy that assumes that because one event follows another that somehow the first event caused the second. While possible, it is also possible that confounding factors are also responsible for the second event.

    In order to strengthen your claim that Vision Zero street changes caused the increase in deaths, you’d need to compare fatality numbers for streets where changes occurred with streets where no traffic calming measures have been implemented. Given that most of these measures have only been implemented recently, there is likely little data so far, but you are welcome to try. Please, let me know what you come up with.

  • Tyndon Clusters

    Gee, you should be a Trump spokesman for all your dissembling. Since you have an elite education, then look at this year so far, a 23% increase. Then look at 2013 to 2015, we see declines. Then when you and your fellow elitist nitwit road dieters implemented your “vision” we have two years of huge increases. True, correlation does not imply causation, so lets give you a real world empirical data driven example that explodes your naivete. Look at the number of accidents before and after the recent road diet in Vista del Mar and PDR. “We’ve documented 27 accidents in two months,” notes Playa del Rey resident and KeepLAMoving Chief Analytics Officer, John Russo. “That’s an astounding increase of 132 percent over the previous average of just 11.6 per year.
    So, I just proved it to you that empirically when using a controlled experiment using the exact same roads, your foolish vision zero is a total failure
    I guess your next comments will be #FAKE NEWS right Mr. Trump? Since I destroyed the whole basis of your argument, the least you can do is state “hmmm, you’re right”.

  • Brian Howald

    Issues with your post:

    · You are reading trendlines from statistical noise. I suggest reading this book to understand your error:
    · You are using the numbers from an interest group who has an obvious stake in the issue instead of gathering it from unbiased sources, like CHP-SWITRS.
    · Even if that data were correct, you are placing too much weight on crashes occurring immediately after a road configuration is changed rather than waiting six to 12 months for more accurate data.
    · Even if that data were correct, you’re conflating crashes with fatalities. Vision Zero is meant to reduce fatalities, not crashes. If more non-injury crashes are the cost of saving lives, so be it.
    · You keep calling crashes, “accidents.” Unless you know for a fact that not one of those incidents was caused by negligence, you can’t factually call them, “accidents.”

    Also, I’ll be sure to let my LAUSD teachers know that they gave me an elite education. They’ll be so thrilled.

  • Not so much as for bicycle use, but for economic realities. You should read the work of Charles Mahron (who just got published in National Review), and his observation that the road network in much of the USA will have to shrink due to fiscal constraints:

  • Tyndon Clusters

    Erik, there is no fiscal restraint when we have a trillion dollar defense budget to raid. And when boomers have to decide whether to rebuild Kabul again or see their blood pressure meds go sky high, the DoD will finally be trimmed and all that money will be put to better use, like rebuilding our infrastructure.

  • Tyndon Clusters

    Thanks Trump, I knew you would use #FAKE NEWS as your excuse. First, you gainsay the 43% and 23% increase in accidents AFTER you loons put in the road diets because it doesn’t square with the Garcetti lies, then you want real data on the same streets to see the affects and when given THAT EXACT SAME DATA YOU REQUESTED, you go into Trump mode. “FAKE NEWS”, bad data, etc. Then, its ‘well, uh, um, ah….lets see in 12 months time”. Go phink yourself man. You MUST be a Trump voter since you are so close minded and immune to plain facts.

    Then the crème de la crème is this obfuscation by you “Vision Zero is meant to reduce fatalities, not crashes”
    You blithering idiot, fatalities HAVE INCREASED THE LAST TWO YEARS as well.
    I give up. Cling to your ignorance and the next time you see our President distort truth, just smile as you are as big of an ahole as he.

  • Brian Howald

    If Russian bots are taking an interest in Vision Zero efforts in Los Angeles, we are all in over our heads.

  • Chris A.

    How is the public to interpret your refusal to answer the question above? You are the moderator of the conversation, so we know you’ve seen it. If you’re keeping silent because Mike Bonin’s office has encouraged you to, then you have no integrity as a journalist and should resign from Streetsblog. Do you really think people won’t find out?

  • Sleepy Brown

    Actually the arterials were not designed around the streetcar lines, streetcars did run down many arterials, but the street system was not designed around them. I have been amazed at how well this city moves so many cars so efficiently for quite awhile now, and I have actually researched on how it was accomplished. These streets did not just spring up out of thin air, there were many fights and battles to get them. Just getting the sidewalks installed was a great accomplishment, it was a struggle too. From the street lighting, the street widenings, the sidewalk installations, the era of the freeway construction, it was all hard fought battles for this city, so it’s very bizarre for it to end up this way where some people ae deliberately fighting to install bottlenecks, which from the getgo was something that this city has always tried to avoid.

    Here is the master plan from 1940:

  • Sleepy Brown

    I attached the Los Angeles Master Plan to my last reply and forgot to explain it, so I’ll attach it again, but this time with an explanation.

    If you read through it, it contradicts basically everything you’ve said, as I previously stated in my comment below, no, the arterials were not built along the trolley lines, the trolley lines followed the arterials. The Master Plan states in the 1920’s Los Angeles was a maze of interconnected tiny roads, and to get to point B from point A you would have to take many streets with several turns, todays El Serrano is an example of that, and it was a very inefficient way to get around.
    The city planners thought ahead, unlike you people, and realized that the city was growing, and for it to prosper, a system had to be made to move people around as efficiently as possible. If you read it you will see that they included cars. pedestrians, busses, bicycles, rail, just about everything but horses. They started by passing ordinances that prohibited people from building up to the property lines along the streets, making 20 foot easements as old buildings were slowly replaced with new ones, so that by the time that the 1940’s and 50’s came around, all they had to do was align the arterials and pave the easements. When you use your GPS today, that is why as you drive down Sunset the GPS starts counting down for you to turn onto another street, but when the countdown finishes, it opens back to Sunset, the street was aligned by swallowing other streets.
    So all in all, yes, it was almost genius how the planners came about and came up with a system to move so many people so efficiently, and it’s almost criminal at what you people are doing to sabotage their work. Read the plan, and stop with the road diets.

  • Sleepy Brown

    When roads are narrowed, yes traffic slows, it slows to the point where it backs up, and in todays world most people use GPS in their cars and the GPS notices the backups and starts directing drivers onto the back and side streets, which were not designed to carry heavy traffic loads as the arterials are, resulting in an even more dangerous situation as children oftentimes play on those back streets. I’ve read that this is already the situation in Silver Lake, so I would say that the road diet is a horrible idea.

  • Sleepy Brown

    Well, it looks like driverless cars are coming up on the horizon and car ownership is supposed to plummet. I read in some of the new skyscrapers downtown that are under construction they are building the parking structures with flat horizontal levels instead of making them pitched like they usually do so that the structures can be converted to other uses as car ownership drops, so all of this convo just may be mute.

  • MaxUtil

    That document is interesting, but I don’t know what it has to do with trolleys and arterials. Several of LA’s main arterials (like Santa Monica, Venice Blvd, Figueroa) were originally trolley lines. Auto roads were built around them only later and the trolley tracks became medians, turn lanes, etc. But whatever. My point is that Los Angeles is not some brilliant implementation of a long range master plan. It is a city that has grown and changed and continues to do so.

    Road diets are not “the answer”. They are one small tool that can improve the situation in certain locations. Like all large, growing cities, LA struggles to provide a fast, well functioning transportation system. The city has basically been prioritizing autos over all other concerns for decades and we now have a system that doesn’t serve anyone very well. It is difficult, slow and dangerous to travel anywhere in the city at most times of day and continues to get worse. When implemented well, road diets tend to smooth traffic flow while making the area safer for other road users. Like any other tool, if used badly, they won’t help.