By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
IN LOS ANGELES, YOU KNOW the conversation has died when anyone starts talking about traffic. It's idle chatter for commuters, because what can anyone do? Angelenos think of traffic the same way Chicagoans think of winter. If you don't like it — move.
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According to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute released last year, Angelenos spend an extra 72 hours a year in traffic due to road and freeway backups and slowdowns. That's the most time wasted by motorists in any U.S. city.
At Los Angeles City Hall, officials including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have long floated the idea of a possible one-way plan for Olympic and Pico boulevards to move traffic between the Westside and downtown — but they didn't plan for the reaction from the city's powerful fiefdom overseers, the 15 members of the Los Angeles City Council. Now, just days away from a virtual ribbon-cutting to gradually turn Olympic and Pico into rush-hour minifreeways, Villaraigosa faces a hobbled vision — and a possible lawsuit.
"It's a joke, what they're proposing!" declared Councilman Bill Rosendahl on talk radio. He represents the far Westside's District 11, an increasingly isolated sector whose gridlocked residents face long delays even in off-rush-hour times.
Villaraigosa's plan, which essentially turns the two huge boulevards into one-way streets, originated with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his "Olympic-West, Pico-East" proposal. He envisioned making Pico and Olympic into one-way thoroughfares by banning street parking in the curbside lanes during peak hours and providing a "contra-flow lane" in the other direction just for buses and emergency vehicles.
As originally planned, the 14-mile route would run through Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, and through Los Angeles City Council districts 1, 5, 10 and 11. But immediately, the idea ran into trouble. Santa Monica refused to participate, making the route much shorter, starting at Centinela Avenue instead of at the ocean.
Then on February 5, when Villaraigosa presented his three-phase plan, he ran into a buzz saw of City Council fiefdom politics. He wanted to ban street parking on Pico and Olympic during peak traffic hours starting March 8, and by April he wanted to synchronize traffic lights on Pico and Olympic to favor east-west travel. (Phase three — after a promised careful evaluation of the first two phases — was supposed to include actual restriping of lanes and the addition of more westbound lanes on Olympic and more eastbound ones on Pico.)
But City Councilman Herb Wesson of District 10 wanted to carve his district out of the venture, just as Rosendahl did. Both were fighting to save the existing parking in the curbside lanes of the two boulevards, where shoppers use blocks and blocks of city-laid street asphalt for local parking.
Speaking on Larry Mantle's Air Talk show on KPCC, Rosendahl huffed, "Give commuters maybe five to six minutes, at the expense of my businesses and my residents?"
Going by the councilman's prediction of time saved, Villaraigosa's plan to reinvent local surface streets and save cross-town commuters about six minutes works out to around 26 hours a year, or an extra day not spent in your car.
Normally, opposition from two of the most affected Council members would have ended things, because City Hall is run like 15 separate council fiefdoms. Wesson could have his Wesson-istan, and Rosendahl could have his Rosendahl-uzbek. But to the surprise of the Council, Villaraigosa on February 14 announced through spokesman Matt Szabo that the Council has no jurisdiction over parking and streets. That's mayoral turf.
In a press release, Szabo wrote that the mayor was going ahead, "based in part on community feedback received over the past nine months." But the mayor's plan wasn't as bold as it sounded. The Centinela-to-downtown route was now going to be a Centinela-to-Fairfax route, halting at the border of Wesson's district.
Now, just one week before the first phase of the plan is to be set in motion, the mayor's revisions include only two cities — L.A. and Beverly Hills — and two City Council fiefdoms — District 1 and District 5. The length has been slashed in half, to 7 miles.
A spokesman for Mike's Bikes, which opposes the changes and is one of many businesses that will lose its street parking, voiced the skepticism of many along Pico and Olympic, calling the odd compromise "like softcore — what's the point? If they're going to do it — do it."
Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents District 5 on the traffic-choked Westside and supports Villaraigosa's edict, comes across as defensive and loath to discuss it. Asked by the Weekly if he favors the plan because he must also brave the increasingly impossible east-west commute, he responded, "Why are you asking that? What's your angle?"
Thanks to Wesson-istan, the route is now expected to attract downtown-bound traffic heading east along Pico Boulevard, then bring it all to a halt at Fairfax Avenue at the edge of Wesson's district, in an area known as Little Ethiopia. The cross street in Little Ethiopia, Fairfax, is a narrow single lane, chronically gridlocked and barely crawling much of the day — and soon to be filled with cars that have been funneled eastward on Pico, only to find that the one-way route abruptly ends at Fairfax.
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