L.A. Anti-Road-Diet Conspiracy Trolls Trying to Go National

Keep L.A. Moving pushed against the Mar Vista Venice Boulevard road diet, which remained in place as data showed safety gains.  Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Keep L.A. Moving pushed against the Mar Vista Venice Boulevard road diet, which remained in place as data showed safety gains. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Advocates, alert: “Keep L.A. Moving,” a small, vindictive group of well-heeled westsiders with little regard for the safety of L.A.’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents, is now pushing its disinformation to a national audience -or, at least, attempting to – by rebranding itself as “Keep The U.S. Moving.”

The origins of their outrage lie in safety improvements in the affluent coastal L.A. neighborhood of Playa Del Rey (PDR). In 2017, the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) implemented about four miles of road diet safety improvements. Although the immediate impetus for the improvements was a lawsuit over the death of 16-year-old Naomi Larsen, area residents had long asked to see speeding behavior curbed on local streets.

The road diets served their purpose, but entitled Westside drivers, many of whom live outside the city of L.A., were appalled at the minor inconvenience a slower rush hour imposed upon them. At meetings, drivers chanted, “Give us our lanes back!”

Keep L.A. Moving soon surfaced in the summer of 2017, filing a lawsuit to restore PDR streets to their original condition. Its leaders got appointed to a PDR street safety task force, where they aggressively shouted down data-based analysis in favor of subjective accounts of business hardships. More adamant social media trolls wondered aloud if the life of a pedestrian or cyclist here or there wasn’t a reasonable trade-off for a faster commute.

There were also undercurrents of anti-government resentment and xenophobic beach community nativism. After the lawsuit, meeting disruptions, and a threat to recall the local City Councilmember (a campaign that ultimately failed miserably), the city undid the road diets.

Keep L.A. Moving’s John Russo – via Peter Flax Twitter

KLAM leadership includes co-founder and “Chief Analytics Officer” John Russo, a Playa Del Rey engineer. KLAM Chief Executive Officer Karla Mendelson lives outside Los Angeles, in neighboring Manhattan Beach. She advocates for unfettered car access to L.A. streets while pushing to preserve “car-free neighborhood […] walkstreets” in her own city.

This group would certainly not be the first to put their own convenience above everyone else’s needs.

In 2015, another anti-road-diet group, Fix the City, sued the city over its multi-modal Mobility Plan 2035. Their central complaint was that the city “want[ed] to make driving our cars unbearable by stealing traffic lanes from us on major streets and giving those stolen lanes to bike riders and buses,” and that, “…not all of us — in fact, very few of us — have the luxury of being able to ride to work on a bike or bus.”

Much like Keep L.A. Moving, the well-to-do residents behind Fix the City had the “luxury” of being able to speak of mobility in terms of convenience and choice. Too many of their fellow Angelenos, on the other hand – by virtue of their lower-income status and the disinvestment in their communities – have precious few options for how they move around the city. They are in desperate need of basic protections and pathways that will allow them to travel safely. Yet these kinds of frivolous actions elevating the voices of those who already have every advantage make that nearly impossible.

Fix the City helped embolden councilmembers to nix the bike lane planned for Central Avenue, one of the most heavily bike-trafficked streets in the city and a lifeline for riders of necessity.

And now, Keep L.A. Moving – emboldened by their success in undercutting Playa Del Rey street safety – is spreading their message to other communities.

The group stoked resistance to Mar Vista pilot safety improvements, though those road diet upgrades heeded the safety data and were recently made permanent. KLAM also amplified criticism against a proposed road diet for a dangerous section of Temple Street in central L.A. The upgrades were eventually scrapped and replaced by watered-down non-diet measures. Facing this backlash, LADOT hit the brakes on the meager list of planned Vision Zero road diet projects throughout the city.

It is no coincidence that these groups target Vision Zero, one city initiative that formally, albeit imperfectly, prioritizes disadvantaged communities.

The road diet backlash hit South Central L.A. particularly hard. Not even a horrific series of deadly hit-and-runs that marked the beginning of 2018, including the loss of 22-year-old Frederick “Woon” Frazier, or the rallies Frazier’s family and friends, have held succeeded in getting LADOT to budge on road diet implementation.

But KLAM was not satisfied and worked to spread harm outside the city of Los Angeles. In northeast L.A. County, Keep Pasadena Moving rallied drivers to shout down a road diet proposed for Orange Grove Boulevard. In nearby Orange County, Keep Tustin Moving blocked planned downtown revitalization walkability improvements. Russo even inserted himself into Seattle anti-bike lane efforts after the local group’s moms don’t bike tweet went embarrassingly viral.

In December, safe streets advocates staved off KLAM’s latest campaign. L.A.’s quasi-governmental Neighborhood Council Coalition was set to approve a sweeping anti-road-diet motion but instead approved a neutral statement calling for community engagement on road diets and other traffic calming measures.

KLAM now has copy-and-paste rebranded itself as “Keep the U.S. Moving.” Their national Facebook group, with a whopping 42 members today, is managed by Russo and Keep Waverly (Iowa) Moving’s Matthew Schneider.

As bicycle advocate Peter Flax has noted, KLAM’s work seems to thrive best in closed-door conservative echo chambers, like Nextdoor and closed Facebook groups. From there, they work to seed aligned broadcast media, including right-wing radio, where their claims are not questioned. When their dubious assertions, for example “[road diets cause] more accidents, more pollution, more gridlock, heavy traffic,” are actually aired in public debate, or studied using actual real world data, they just don’t hold up.

Like climate change deniers, these “Keep Moving” groups deny data-based studies showing that speed kills and that road diets work.

KTUSM makes the Trump-like assertion that “road diet proponents use manipulated or outright false data and misapplied studies.” The villains in their conspiracy playbook are “high-density developers” and “highly paid consulting firms” because “bike lanes make a good smoke screen for the real agenda: Money” – that is “federal money” for street projects “based on the ‘Living Streets’ initiative.” Wait until they hear about federal highway funding!

Behind all their crackpot assertions is the empowerment of drivers in well-to-do communities. These ideologues push for unfettered driver access at the expense of safety for all road users, particularly those who have the fewest mobility choices available to them and who are most at-risk to harm. The “right” of this handful of disgruntled drivers to speed is costing the lives of tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, this is a double whammy to low-income communities of color, whose residents continue to die at higher rates. And as Rutgers’ Charles Brown points out, minority communities overlooked for road diet safety improvements “receive enforcement” instead.

Editor’s note: Streetsblog does not want to provide a forum for traffic safety denial efforts. But we feel it is important that safe streets advocates nationwide be aware of what anti-safety advocates are plotting. Streetsblog acknowledges the important work of writer, bicyclist, advocate Peter Flax for tracking many details in this story.

  • OR_biker

    Except the data doesn’t back them up…

  • myisland

    If I had a horse or a horse drawn buggy I would ride down the streets often just to remind people that the roads are for everyone not just for cars.

  • VincentL

    The first paved roads were made for bikes.

  • LinuxGuy

    Which data is wrong?

  • OR_biker

    The majority of data shows that the pro-car people are wrong. Even for those that don’t believe in man-made climate change, cars are responsible for enormous health care costs (both from crashes and pollution). Most road diets have actually improved the nearby businesses, contrary to what their opponents spout. And places that have worked to extensively limit where cars can go in their cities have seen huge benefits from lower emergency services costs, lower maintenance costs, higher quality of life of the population, and cleaner/healthier air.

  • LinuxGuy

    Crashes are caused by poor engineering and predatory ticketing. If there is more congestion, due to road diets, how does that extra pollution help anyone? How about the extra stress, is that good? Time wasted? Cars wearing out faster? Want to save the planet? Set 85th percentile speed limits, time the traffic lights better(and use sensors), take out needless stop signs, and prevent recycling companies from dumping stuff into landfills.

  • Joe Linton

    LOL on “crashes are caused by… predatory ticketing”!!! Where did you get that conspiracy theory?!?

  • Dave

    Los Angeles, like many cities has just plain run out of room for cars. The city’s symbol is killing it. I grew up there, moved away in 1978 when in my twenties. I remember trolley buses as a small child. A few years later I was a back seat passenger when my father taught my sister how to drive on a freeway. We were on the Santa Monica freeway the first week it was open. Their conversation was all about how this was overkill, a waste of money, there’d never be enough drivers to need it………………………………forty years later my sister spent a few years as a limo driver. Never got near the Santa Monica without water, a snack, and a book for the long stretches of going nowhere in gridlocked traffic.
    Get the fuck over it, Los Angeles, embrace everything other than cars. The county and city should learn to love Karl Marx in their housing policies–the horrible commutes are fed by the stone fucking failure of free market housing policies. California in general and LA in particular need tough and aggressive rent control as well as hard, finite limits on the selling price of all properties. It also wouldn’t hurt to move forward with traffic calming, bus rapid transit–partly to pre-empt car use!–do whatever wlll work to make driving unappealing.

  • Dave

    Sort of like American Indians’ immigration policies.

  • Dave

    Yes, please explain that one!

  • OR_biker

    Right?! I will say, he has a point on some of the other stuff, but he fails to consider scalability (which all that share his viewpoint do). Timing lights and removing certain stop signs can help to an extent in the short term, but eventually you run out of room and it ends up creating more issues down the road, so to speak. That’s where we’re currently at; 40,000 people dying every year and worsening congestion because previous designs were only made with an eye towards moving cars more quickly. We’re hitting those limits and some of us are seeing the flawed logic and the collateral damage that thinking causes, but others just continue to ignore the costs and think a bit of engineering to kick the can down the road a little is all we need, not realizing we’ll just end up back in the same place but with even less options/resources to try to fix it.

  • LinuxGuy

    It was shown many times, one example being in Australia when speed limits were set low and cops strictly ticketed. It was called speedometer fixation, as people looked how fast they were going continuously, not at the road. Decades of data further shows that low speed limits lead to more crashes everywhere. There are many reasons why.

  • Kill Uber

    Accurate in this specific case, but the Wallaby comment is complete nonsense.

  • Robert_Ore

    This is perfect.

    Want to reduce the number of sick people in hospitals?

    Reduce the number of hospitals.

  • Joe Linton

    Getting people out of their cars (more physical activity, fewer car crashes) would be a better way of reducing the number of people in hospitals

  • Robert_Ore

    Agreed Joe.

    We could remove the automobile from the roads and get people up and moving; no downsides.

    We’d be less dependent on foreign oil. More exercise would lend to less obesity, we’d be overall healthier for it. Better for the environment and slow down global warming. Fewer automobile deaths. Less congestion going to work.

    And no one believes they have a right to drive: it’s a privilege.

    You could rip up those roads and really go on a diet, and see immediate results. You’d actually be saving lives (rather than ban other things that are only political lip service).