Los Angeles: The City Of Whining About The Car

los-angeles-freeway-helicopter-1There was something very strange about the Los Angeles City Council debate on the day they adopted the Mobility Plan 2035.

On August 11, the council was rushing to pass a 20-year plan that called for removing traffic lanes on busy streets to make room for 300 miles of protected bike lanes. Councilman Mike Bonin told his colleagues how much safer the roads would be once traffic was slowed by the lane reductions.

“Only 5 percent of those hit by a car going 20 miles per hour die,” Bonin said. “Over 80 percent of those who are hit by a car going 40 miles per hour die.”

You don’t typically hear an elected official arguing for slowing city traffic to 20 miles per hour. And then the council members began to hint that the plan wasn’t binding on anybody.

“Every particular project will need to be vetted by you, in your district, with your constituents,” Bonin told his colleagues.

“This is a concept,” council president Herb Wesson said. “If you choose to vote on this today, it will not be put in place tomorrow.”

They called it “a vision statement,” and “an aspirational document.” And then the truth came out.

“This is a document that also helps us get a lot of money from somewhere else,” Bonin said. “This is a document that can help us get active transportation funds from the state. This is a document that can help us tap into cap-and-trade funds because it will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a smart thing to be doing.”

Sacramento has more than a billion dollars available for projects that reduce greenhouse gases, money that is pouring in from new fees on gasoline and diesel fuel that began on Jan. 1. The cash goes into a fund for politicians to hand out to anything green, or greenish.

And that’s why officials have turned Los Angeles, the city of the car, into the city of whining about the car.

“We have for too long been wedded to the single-occupancy vehicle,” Bonin intoned.

But how many people in Los Angeles want to divorce their cars?

A test is underway in Northridge, where Reseda Boulevard between Parthenia and Plummer has been declared one of the city’s “Great Streets.” It’s now the site of L.A.’s only protected bike lanes.

“People love it,” City Council representative Mitchell Englander said, “it’s brought back new vibrancy to an area that didn’t have that.”

Mayor Garcetti says the Great Streets initiative aims to create “transformative gathering places for Angelenos to come together.” So in addition to the bike lanes, the Reseda Boulevard sidewalks were given a paint job and some outdoor furniture.

But on a recent afternoon, no one was transforming or gathering on the new streetscape. The scattered furniture — yellow benches, chairs and tables styled to suggest a 1960s living room — sat empty and grimy, facing the traffic or turned toward the gritty storefronts, bolted to a sidewalk that had been painted to look like flagstones.

And on that afternoon more cyclists were riding on the sidewalks than in the protected bike lane. Alex, a CSUN student who said he rides a bike to get around the neighborhood, said the sidewalk is much safer, because cyclists in the bike lane can too easily be hit by cars near the corners, where the right-turn lane and bike lane overlap.

In a shopping center on the southeast corner of Reseda and Nordhoff, people sat at outdoor tables having coffee or dinner, and no one had anything good to say about the new street design.

“I hate it, it’s made traffic worse,” said one Northridge resident. Another said it was “much more dangerous” with parking spaces to the left of the bike lane leaving drivers to open their doors into the traffic.

Left turns into the shopping center are now illegal, so customers have to go around the block and drive north on Reseda to be on the right side of the street. “Who’s going to do that?” said a restaurant manager. “Everyone just makes an illegal left turn or goes somewhere else.”

A few yards away, customers were lined up for handmade ice cream sandwiches at a new store called Cream.

“I’d like to put in some benches,” said co-owner Mario Ramirez, indicating the walkway between his store and a row of parking spaces. “People seem to gather here.”

The early test results are in: People don’t want streetscapes and bike lanes. They want parking and ice cream.