They want LA to master the powerful car to make the streets safe. Will the drivers follow?
In the city where the car is king, activists are pushing to claim strips of the largest boulevards for cyclists and walkers.
Their fight took place in Griffith Park, where streets were recently closed after a cyclist died. It spilled out along the steps of City Hall where the defenders staged a die-in. And now he could head to the polls in a vote that will test the will of traffic-weary Angelenos to go on a so-called road diet to make the streets safer and the air purer.
Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott paved the way this week for an Election 2024 initiative that is accelerating the city’s ambitious traffic plan to create hundreds of miles of more walkable and bikeable streets by putting it in implement each time the roads are repaved. The Los Angeles City Council must now decide whether to send it to voters or pass it outright.
As it stands, the 7-year-old city plan is reworking some of Los Angeles’ most historic boulevards, adding bike lanes, building wider sidewalks, planting more trees and creating crosswalks for pedestrians. more visible. Originally intended to be carried out over 20 years, the document offers a guide that can be modified over time to adapt to changing needs, according to planners. But the plan has been bogged down by bureaucracy between city departments, lawsuits and a lack of political will in the face of many drivers who say it will cause more congestion by removing traffic lanes.
The city has only achieved 3% of its actual targets, says Michael Schneider, a software entrepreneur who heads the advocacy group Streets for All, which spawned the plan.
“We spent years using data, trying to be nice, being persuasive, trying to get the city to do what it said it wanted to do, but it didn’t so worked out well,” Schneider said. “We needed a nuclear option. The city wasn’t going to voluntarily do what it said it wanted to do.
If approved, the initiative would allow any resident to sue the city for non-compliance, creating a headache for council members who are already receiving complaints from some residents about the bike lanes. And he could only be overthrown by the voters.
Cities around the world have redesigned the role of cars, closed streets, created more room for cyclists and pedestrians, reduced parking needs for new projects. The changes come as road deaths have reached record levels across the country and the effects of human-induced climate change are becoming more real.
“I think this will be the biggest change in Los Angeles since they started making plans, because for the first time they will have to actually implement their plan,” Schneider said. “There’s a whole history going back to the 1960s in Los Angeles with all these big projects just gathering dust.”
But anything resembling road diets has historically caused uproar in an area plagued by traffic.
After a teenager was killed near Dockweiler State Beach, the city rushed to eliminate a traffic lane only to reverse its course in 2017 amid a wave of opposition due to traffic jams on the road . On the west side, a bike path that obstructed Venice Boulevard divided many in the community. And in Eagle Rock, neighbors fought over a planned bus lane that will reduce part of Colorado Boulevard to one lane.
“If you remove vehicle lanes, you create traffic jams,” said Mike Eveloff, board member of the nonprofit Fix The City. The group successfully sued Los Angeles over its mobility plan, requiring an extensive outreach plan to accompany new projects for 10 years. “This will lead to even more lawsuits against the city. There are no disclosed fees. This represents a “hidden” tax.
Eveloff said he used to enjoy riding a bike, but not anymore. “The infrastructure is incompatible with cars, bikes and pedestrians sharing the same space.”
Like many advocates, Schneider argues that the city’s car-centric culture views cyclists and walkers as an afterthought, and that’s deadly.
In the first six months of this year, 78 pedestrians were involved in fatal accidents, compared to 56 in the same period in 2021. If the pace continues, it will exceed the records reached in 2017 and 2019 when this number has reached 136. So So far this year, nine cyclists have been involved in fatal collisions.
A lifelong cyclist, Schneider, hailing from the world of tech startups, has taken a disruptive approach to his activism. But longtime mobility advocates fear his effort is a quick fix that could create more inequality in underserved communities. Proponents point out that even the process of paving streets can tilt toward wealthier people who have the time or ability to lobby for street work.
“For those of us who work in transportation justice, our transportation decisions always have consequences, and too often we label them as unintended or unintended consequences,” said Tamika Butler, former director executive of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. and a doctoral student at UCLA, “when in reality, if the process had been more fair or if people had thought more about fairness, these results would not be so surprising, and in fact, they might have been intentionally ignored”.
She singled out projects like the Sixth Street Bridge, which was hailed early on as a beautiful infrastructure project that would connect the historic Eastside to downtown, but later revealed the need for public parks and more buildings. public transport options.
Still, the move has sparked buzz among other defenders long frustrated with Los Angeles’ inaction. Schneider’s hot-headed approach forced town hall to pay attention. And it has won the support of dozens of neighborhood councils, mobility advocates and some business groups.
Schneider’s political action committee, Healthy Streets LA, raised nearly $1 million, mostly from three wealthy donors: arts district developer Yuval Bar-Zemer and real estate developer Todd Wexman, both members of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Board of Directors, and hedge fund manager Aaron. Sosnick. All are cyclists.
Wexman supports this effort because he said the city was ineffective in improving mobility.
“People should feel safe walking or cycling in the city,” he said. “With more bus lanes and other improvements, the public would use public transport more frequently and we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions”
With that possibility of a ballot measure looming, Council Speaker Nury Martinez presented a counter-proposal, approved by City Council earlier this year. She asked the city attorney to similarly create an ordinance that would incorporate the mobility plan into regular street maintenance.
His effort goes further in several ways: he seeks a work plan that prioritizes low-income, transit-dependent neighborhoods, adds a local hiring program, and institutes more coordination between departments that tend to be compartmentalized. Advocates and municipal officials have long denounced the slow pace of municipal projects that often have to be approved by multiple departments.
“We need solutions that work because road violence continues to rise, disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color,” Martinez said. “There is no doubt that this is a question of fairness. However, to resolve it, we cannot rush a quick fix that could lead to even more disparity. We need to have a systems approach that looks at how we deliver infrastructure and who we deliver it to.
Martinez’s approach has won support from a few mobility advocates who fear that pushing the initiative forward without a plan could exacerbate inequalities in the city..
“Streets For All has done an impressive job of pressing City Council to answer a question we’ve all had for a long time. Why are our streets and sidewalks so dangerous, so seedy, so inaccessible? But we need to understand the implications of the ballot measure,” said Jessica Meaney, executive director of Investing in Place.
Meaney points out that unlike other big cities, Los Angeles doesn’t have a transparent capital plan, so it’s not always clear what street projects will be funded and when.
“There has to be a slowdown. We need an implementation plan. The only thing that the mobility plan does not have are lists of projects with budgets, with the cost of the projects, their scope and the schedule. ”
Martinez’s effort begins to answer those questions and, if passed, could roll out when the ballot measure is expected to pass.
For his part, Schneider supports Martinez’s effort. But he also wants his measure to pass the council or pass the voters. He warns that Martinez’s plans could all be turned upside down if another regime steps in and reworks them. Canceling the ballot measure would require a majority of voters.
“We want a little more protection than just being at the mercy of the city council,” he said.