UPDATE: This article has been changed to reflect that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has cancelled the open house previously scheduled for Saturday, July 29. A spokesperson for the LA DOT says the cancellation is due to the recent decision to add car lanes back to Vista del Mar.
For months, pressure has been building on Los Angeles City Hall to scale back its ambitious policy known as "road diet." As the Weekly reported in June, the road diet calls for building bike lanes and eliminating car lanes for the purpose of getting cars to drive slower, thereby making streets safer. The current focus of the policy — and the attendant controversy — is on Playa del Rey, the Westside neighborhood near LAX also known as Silicon Beach for its plethora of tech startups.
The road-diet measures have made Playa del Rey and its environs more pedestrian-friendly for residents and a traffic headache for scores of motorists commuting back and forth from the South Bay to the Westside who cut through the area to avoid the 405 freeway. Some locals claim the lane reduction has added as much as an hour to their morning commute.
It started in May with the redesign of the beachfront Vista del Mar. Then in June the city followed through on a plan to restripe an additional four streets in the area — Culver, Jefferson and Venice boulevards and Pershing Drive. Again, the plan called for more bike lanes and fewer car lanes as part of what city officials call the “Safe Streets for Playa del Rey Initiative.”
City Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district covers the Westside, has been a staunch supporter of the projects, and he has been getting grief on social media and AM talk radio since they took effect in May. “Under the auspices of making the roads safer, a lot of us believe that the real agenda is essentially to harass drivers out of their cars and into public transportation or onto bicycles, which is not a practical reality for most people,” said Doug McIntyre, host of McIntyre in the Morning on KABC.
Opponents have gathered thousands of signatures on a petition against the “One Lane Madness" and raised more than $21,000 to “Fight L.A. Gridlock." An L.A. Fire Department captain in Mar Vista recently said that the measures to reduce car traffic flow have created problems for fire trucks responding to emergency calls.
The latest critique came on July 19 when a marketing professional and Bernie Sanders delegate from Playa del Rey named Alexis Edelstein launched the website RecallBonin.com. Edelstein claims to have raised $10,000 in funding for the recall in the past week. "We're going to run a full-fledged campaign around this, and the message is that traffic is the symptom and Mike Bonin is the cause," Edelstein says.
Yesterday, Bonin announced an effort to alleviate car congestion on Vista del Mar. The city will move the parking spaces from the east side of the street down to Dockweiler Beach, making room for the two lanes in either direction to be restored. In the video, Bonin says the street redesigns have always been a work in progress: “I said at the time that we were going to evaluate those projects and listen to community feedback, and I meant it.”
It is the second concession in a month from Bonin on the road-safety projects in his district. In June, he heeded calls to restore the second lane on the eastbound side of Culver Boulevard. But Bonin's statement yesterday was far-reaching by comparison, and critics can't help but mention that it occurred a week to the day since the launch of the long-shot campaign for the councilman's recall. Many of the online comments have been supportive of Bonin's decision.
In an email statement, Steve Barkan, spokesman for Bonin, says the election results showed the vast majority of Bonin's constituents approve of his job performance, and he called the recall a distraction. "Mike's job is to represent his constituents' interests and values, and not to be distracted by alt-right shock-jock radio hosts and by supporters of his election opponents, who have been calling since the minute polls closed on Election Day for a recall that would cost the taxpayers of Los Angeles a ton of money.”
Additional changes to Silicon Beach's road diet appear likely. As part of the same video statement, Bonin announced the creation of a task force incorporating an array of supporters and detractors to evaluate the effects of the other projects, including agencies from incorporated areas of the county like the cities of the South Bay.
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By bringing his critics into the fold, Bonin may head off whatever momentum the recall effort has gained. It was already going to be an uphill battle: Bonin was re-elected in March to a five-and-a-half-year term, winning by a margin of 70 percent. To get a recall measure on the ballot, #RecallBonin forces would need to gather the signatures of nearly 27,000 registered voters in the district, which is 15 percent of the total electorate.
At a crowded and contentious meeting on July 11, the Mar Vista Community Council approved a motion to keep the road-diet project in place while city officials continue to gather data for a future evaluation.
“Through official channels, comments at meetings and letters we’ve received, the response has been pretty evenly split between people that love it, people that hate it and people who just want to see the project completed all the way through so they can see the results,” says Damien Newton, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council and former editor of Streetsblog L.A.