The mayor's announcement last week that the city plans to make Pico and Olympic boulevards kind of like one-way streets is almost good news. Kind of.
The problem: Despite the good intention, the proposal is utterly underwhelming.
In case you missed it, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's proposal earlier this year to transform Pico and Olympic into one-way streets will not be done by the city. Apparently, one-way streets are just too radical for Los Angeles. Instead, city officials announced that in the future the city may just may restripe the streets so there are more lanes going east on Pico and more going west on Olympic. That way, they'll be kind of like one-way streets. But before the city takes the step and, whoa, wouldn't that be a drastic one? the city would synchronize traffic lights so that traffic going east on Pico and west on Olympic would be favored. And parking would be eliminated at least during rush hour.
Synchronize traffic lights and eliminate rush-hour parking on arteries? Geez, shouldn't that have been done back in Jack Webb's time? The idea of restriping the streets to make them kind of like one-way streets is OK, but even the pledge to make that modest change is mushy and conditional.
Let's stop here for a moment to remember our situation. Los Angeles is the king of gridlock, the blue-ribbon incubator of slow-motion commutes. Forbes magazine last summer compiled a list called "America's 12 worst traffic traps," and no city had more than two on that list. Well, except, of course, Los Angeles, which had four, including the No. 1 nightmare (yes, it was the 405-101 interchange).
Ask any business person in town about their top impediments to doing business here, and most will mention traffic somewhere toward the top. Time is misspent, fuel is burned and meetings not held because of chronic traffic jams. Traffic is L.A.'s defining problem and alters the way business is conducted and lives are led.
This is a world-class problem. So where's the world-class call to action? Where's L.A.'s version of the Manhattan Project? The challenge to go to the moon and back? The shock and awe campaign? (OK. Bad example.)
Instead, last week we got a token of a response that illustrates the lethargy that attends the traffic issue here. Gosh, somebody might not like making two entire streets one-way thoroughfares, so we'll make them kind of like one-way streets. Maybe.
To be fair, last week's announcement is something good, one step in the long march. And the City Council last week made moves to create a bigger, longer-term traffic plan. But the former is a small response and the latter a late response to what is an immense problem that has long needed urgent attention.
I've said it before: Synchronized traffic lights, more left-turn signals and a dozen or more one-way thoroughfares real one-way streets would be fast and fairly cheap ways to improve traffic flow in Los Angeles. Such moves would be a start not a solution or an end but a start toward easing the problem. Bigger, more comprehensive and more expensive changes could come later. That's where a Manhattan Project would come in.
And I've said this before: Until the community insists that their elected leaders take command of the traffic issue, apparently nothing much will ever get done. Other than a couple streets that someday may act like one-way streets. Kind of.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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