For 37 years I have been a citizen activist in the area of traffic and transportation. I have lost count of the number of special committees that I have been appointed to or volunteered for. I've seen it all, and heard it all, when it comes to the community trying to solve the problem of massive gridlock on the Westside.
I recently attended the first community meeting on the proposed one-way street concept for Pico and Olympic boulevards that calls for contra-flow lanes and no left turns during rush hours. The meeting was called and chaired by Councilman Jack Weiss. The councilman is to be congratulated on how he chaired the meeting and guided it through the question and answer period. Allyn D. Rifkin, the writer of the preliminary paper on the concept, also is to be congratulated on his presentation. But that is where the compliments stop.
That's because the NIMBYs were there, and they seem intent on scuttling the one-way idea.
For 37 years I have heard the NIMBYs use the same arguments to stop solutions. The most popular argument made at the meeting was that Olympic and Pico boulevards would become freeways. "Freeway! Freeway!" It was a chant repeated over and over again. Just as the same chant was used to reduce the Santa Monica Parkway from five lanes in each direction, including a bus and carpool lane, to three lanes in each direction, which was what we had before we spent $110 million (including the cost of the railroad right of way).
The next thing we heard at the meeting was the need for mitigation on neighborhood streets, especially North/South neighborhood streets. (Such mitigation typically inhibits cars from driving into the neighborhoods.) But neighborhood street mitigation leads to more gridlock on the main streets. The people who suffer the most are the people who can't get to their homes on those neighborhood streets. Ask the people who live in Cheviot Hills.
Has anyone noticed that the one thing the Westside lacks is good North/South roadways? When you do find a major roadway, say Beverly Glen going north, what do you find? Traffic mitigation, which reduced this roadway to one lane in each direction. Beverly Glen carries a great deal of the Century City and Beverly Hills workers home to the San Fernando Valley and vice versa.
Oh yes, then there was one of my favorite canards: If we increase the capacity of Pico and Olympic, more cars will come to fill up the increased capacity.
The claim is basically correct. But God does not clap his hand and fill the roadway with previously nonexistent cars. The cars come partly from other roadways, thereby reducing the stress on those roadways and partly from the growth in population.
If the experts are correct, in the next 20 years we are going to add a city the size of Chicago to Los Angeles County. A great many of those people are going to work on the Westside, but they are not going to live on the Westside. Did you know that the Westside today has about 60,000 fewer jobs than downtown, and downtown has every rail line feeding into it while the Westside has zero?
Ideas and questions
We need a combination of activities to deal with this growth. The subway is one, and the Expo line should be put on a fast track. Eight years is too long to wait. Others: Rapid buses (but not dedicated bus lanes, which are going to be a disaster), feeder bus lines and more express buses that run on longer schedules. The last express bus out of Century City is 5 p.m. That is a stupid time for the last bus to leave.
At the meeting I asked the question to which no one had a good answer and that was: "What if we do nothing, just like we have done for the last 37 years?" Yes we have tweaked the system and we have put in turn lanes and synchronized traffic lights, though I have trouble finding those synchronized traffic lights. But the fact is, we have done nothing.
With all the good and bad ideas and questions asked at the meeting, never once did any one raise the basic facts of life. (The facts of life: Westside streets were not designed to carry traffic from UCLA, Westwood, Century City, etc., as well as increased traffic to and from the Valley. And any government action to lessen gridlock will benefit the many but will inconvenience the few.) Until this city and its leadership lays out the basic facts of life, there will be no meaningful solutions developed to deal with gridlock on the Westside. It is never going away. The question is, can we hold the line so it doesn't get worse?
By the way, I don't know that this idea making Pico and Olympic one-way streets with contra-flow lanes will work. But it is worth exploring.
Harold L. Katz is a partner in a CPA firm and a citizen activist. He lives on the Westside.
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