Silicon Beach Fights Plan to Reduce Car Lanes and Add Bike Lanes

Vista del Mar used to have two lanes in each direction. Now it has one. Residents say the change has adversely affected their commute times — though at, say, 11 a.m., when this photo was taken, the street is fairly empty.EXPAND
Vista del Mar used to have two lanes in each direction. Now it has one. Residents say the change has adversely affected their commute times — though at, say, 11 a.m., when this photo was taken, the street is fairly empty.
Hillel Aron

Los Angeles City Hall's policy of building bike lanes and eliminating car lanes for the purpose of getting cars to drive slower (thereby making streets safer) has met more and more resistance. Two years ago, Silver Lake erupted into a near civil war over Rowena Avenue's "road diet" — a project that changed the street from two lanes in each direction to one. Detractors said it caused a serious bottleneck in traffic. More recently, City Councilman Paul Krekorian called into question a plan to add bike lanes and reduce car lanes on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood.

Now there's a growing backlash against an ambitious road diet plan in Playa del Rey, the sleepy little beach neighborhood near LAX that's recently been dubbed "Silicon Beach" for its proliferation of tech startups. The city plans to eliminate car lanes on four Playa del Rey streets to make the streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and, in the case of Vista del Mar, people parking their cars and crossing that street to go to the beach.

The Vista del Mar road diet was recently completed; whereas the street used to have two lanes in each direction, it now has only one, with diagonal parking on the east side of the street. Some local residents are incensed. Susanne Madden, whose husband is a doctor at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills, says it's added 20 minutes to his morning commute. She says for other locals, it's added nearly an hour.

"It has caused a nightmare for everyone that commutes to their jobs," Madden says. "It’s hurting families, punishing hard-working people who are just trying to get to work."

The Playa del Rey road diet plan's Vista del Mar reconfiguration was recently completed. The rest of the plan is still underway.EXPAND
The Playa del Rey road diet plan's Vista del Mar reconfiguration was recently completed. The rest of the plan is still underway.
Courtesy City Councilman Mike Bonin's office

Last week, Madden helped start a Change.org petition titled "One-Lane Madness in Playa del Rey," reading in part:

Reducing major arteries like Vista del Mar, Pershing, Jefferson and Culver to one lane each way will be absolutely disastrous. The traffic going to and from work is virtually intolerable now; reducing lane capacity is nothing short of lunacy.

The petition, which now has more than 2,300 signatures, got a boost from tech entrepreneur Peter Pham, who not only signed the petition but tweeted his support:

Chris Sacca, a recently retired venture capitalist who was not only an early investor in Twitter and Uber but was also a guest star on the TV show Shark Tank, tweeted his disgust for the road diets:

A spokesman for City Councilman Mike Bonin said, in an email, "The councilmember has been speaking with leaders in L.A.'s tech community during the past week and is going to continue gathering input from them, as well as neighbors and other stakeholders in the area, to look for ways to continue to improve the projects as the pilot phase for these projects moves forward."

Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Gillman says the lane closures were something that residents wanted.

"We’ve been working with the community for a couple years, and these are the improvements people have been asking for," Gillman says. "We did these things because of the safety reasons. It is a pilot program, and we’ll take another look at it at some point in time."

Playa del Rey resident and wetlands activist Marcia Hanscom loves the changes. She says Vista del Mar was a seriously dangerous street.

"Most of the time there was like a freeway going through our little beach village," Hanscom says. "You were taking your life into your hands trying to walk across the street."

Hanscom says the road diet only affects traffic during rush hour and that commuters who are driving through the area can take the 405 freeway or Sepulveda Boulevard. She's started her own Change.org petition in support of the road diet. So far, it has only 323 signatures.

Madden says she has a theory for why that petition isn't gaining traction.

"There’s a handful of supporters who think traffic is dangerous," Madden says. "They tend to be people who bike or are retired, and tend to make whatever trips they make not during rush hour." Despite data that suggests the Rowena Avenue road diet reduced traffic collisions, Madden and others remain skeptical that road diets actually work.

"The idea that you can legislate recklessness and stupidity by making everyone drive at a snail's pace is crazy," she says.

The Department of Transportation, by the way, has stopped using the term "road diet." It now prefers the phrase "road configuration." Says department spokesman Gillman: "No one likes to go on a diet, right?"


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