When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hired San Diego Planning Director Gail Goldberg in 2006 to take over L.A.'s Planning Department, he hailed her as a visionary whose "City of Villages" planning model would transform Los Angeles into a cluster of livable neighborhoods each built around "great streets" with attractive streetscapes and vibrant sidewalks bustling with pedestrian foot-traffic.
As one small part of this big picture effort, the Planning Department invited West Los Angeles community leaders and business owners to a "Community Plan Workshop" on Nov. 5. At the workshop, a consensus was reached that Pico was the neighborhood's prospective "great street"; that people wanted to see more pedestrian traffic of the sort that the new Landmark movie theaters, local restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream parlors had begun generating; and that the neighborhood sorely needed more public parking.
Not surprisingly, no one said "Let's make Pico a one-way thoroughfare with no street parking so that the businesses and restaurants will close down, pedestrian foot-traffic will vanish, the neighborhood's character will be destroyed, and residents will have to drive in circles to get anywhere."
But less than two weeks later, the mayor held a press conference to unveil his "Olympic West, Pico East" plan, which would make Pico and Olympic "sort of" one-way thoroughfares by, among other things, removing street parking to add travel lanes and forbidding left turns on most cross streets. Local businesses and community groups have joined forces opposing the plan, and Century City commuters will be shocked to learn that the plan's many turn restrictions are designed to force them to take Pico all the way to Crenshaw Boulevard in order to access the Santa Monica (10) Freeway to go east and take Olympic all the way to Centinela Avenue in order to access the 10 to go west.
When Century City's 100,000 daily commuters look to circumvent these turn restrictions to access the freeway more directly, they will have no better option than to cut through a maze of quiet residential side streets. How could Goldberg and the Planning Department have signed off on this? They didn't. They weren't even consulted.
How much can you increase the speed of traffic on a street like Pico before you discourage pedestrian foot-traffic? How inconvenient must you make parking before businesses and restaurants shut down? How much commuter traffic must cut through residential side streets before a neighborhood ceases to be "desirable"? How inconvenient must we make local driving before a neighborhood ceases to be "livable"? How much traffic will be created when doomed local businesses give way to high-rise housing developments? These are exactly the sorts of questions that Goldberg and the Planning Department would shed light on and they are questions that the mayor and DOT did not even consider before rushing to the press with this "Look, we're doing something!" one-way proposal.
I agree that something needs to be done about gridlock in Los Angeles. We need to accept that growth will continue. We need to be open to change, to think outside the box, to take bold action but this particular bold, outside-the-box plan would simply create many more headaches than it would cure.
When the city considers any proposal to relieve gridlock on city streets, the Planning Department must be involved to ask the difficult questions that weren't asked here and to remind the folks at DOT that there is no point in improving traffic if we destroy the character of our neighborhoods in the process. Once upon a time, way back in 2006, this was how the Mayor himself had asked that it be done. As Goldberg noted in a June 2006 interview, "One of the things that was very important to the mayor was that we have a process here where transportation and land use planning are intimately involved from the beginning of all planning processes."
We need to commit to Goldberg's model and give it time to take root. We need to commit to redrafting Community Plans, not scrap them mere weeks into the process. We need to promote our businesses on Pico, not wipe them out. We need to nurture our great neighborhoods, and not treat them like luxuries the city can no longer afford.
Mister Mayor, most of all, we need to commit to a vision of a "City of Villages" so we won't have to live in a "City of Disastrous, Short-Sighted, Traffic Fixes."
Kevin Hughes is a business litigator with the law firm of Tisdale & Nicholson LLP in Century City and is president of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Association.
Dispelling Some of the Myths About the 'Olympic-West, Pico-East' Plan
In 2008, the typical Angeleno will spend the equivalent of two entire workweeks stuck in traffic.
This time costs us dearly. It's bad for families. And it's bad for business.
We know that meaningful movement on traffic is going to take a new commitment to support mass transit in the Southland. It's going to require that we change our habits and adopt a new willingness to leave our cars in the driveway. Most of all, it's going to take time. We just won a repeal of the federal ban on funding for a Wilshire Subway, and I am committed to leading the fight for the long haul.
In the short term, the city is doing everything possible to improve the flow of traffic on streets and corridors around Los Angeles. We're synchronizing every light in Los Angeles, and this year we won $150 million from the state to complete the job. We've banned rush-hour construction. We've deployed traffic officers at our busiest intersections. We're installing more left-hand turn signals.
And in November, we announced "Olympic-West, Pico-East," a smart, safe and innovative way to ease traffic flow on a pair of our busiest cross-town boulevards, which, if successful, will serve as a model for the rest of the city.
"Olympic-West, Pico-East" is a three-phase project that will affect the seven-mile stretch of both streets between La Brea Boulevard and Centinela Avenue. Phase 1 ensures consistent rush hour parking restrictions along Olympic and Pico, and boosts enforcement efforts of parking rules by L.A. Department of Transportation officers. Phase 2 alters signal timing to allow commuters to move more quickly along Olympic heading west and Pico heading east.
After evaluating these initial steps, the city
plans to re-stripe these boulevards in the third phase of the project, adding more westbound lanes on Olympic and more eastbound lanes on Pico.
Our instruction to drivers is simple. By
driving west on Olympic and east on Pico, commuters will be able to significantly reduce the time it takes to traverse the city.
According to a Department of Transportation study, travel speeds westbound on Olympic Boulevard would be improved by as much as 31 percent and eastbound on Pico Boulevard by 45 percent. That means commuters will spend less time facing stop-and-go traffic or enduring the slow crawl of cars clogging the I-10 freeway and most major streets.
Not 'One Way'
Communities and businesses have voiced understandable concern about this initiative. Allow me to dispel some of the myths.
Unlike a previous proposal, "Olympic-West, Pico-East" does not turn Olympic and Pico into one-way streets. It takes into account concerns about high speeds and aggressive drivers. The posted 35-mile-per-hour speed limit will remain unchanged. And we're stepping up enforcement of traffic laws on these corridors.
We're taking steps to protect the neighborhoods along the route. The initiative limits left turns onto residential streets from Pico and Olympic, reducing cut-through traffic.
We're making parking rules rational. The current inconsistent parking restrictions create dangerous bottlenecks at major intersections, force commuters to constantly change lanes, and increase the risk of accidents due to swerving vehicles. The "Olympic-West, Pico-East" parking measures will ensure that all restrictions remain consistent and clear, that traffic officers enforce these rules for the benefit of local businesses and residents, and that commuters can travel to work safely.
The concerns of the Westside community have not fallen on deaf ears. My office has worked and will continue to work with business owners and neighborhood council leaders to address their concerns, preserve the character of the Westside, develop viable parking alternatives and implement this project in a safe and efficient manner.
Angelenos have confronted the plague of traffic congestion and extended commutes for far too long.
We're pursuing a broad, wide-ranging and comprehensive strategy combining short-term and long-term approaches. Ultimately, this effort will require the input, ideas and innovation of elected officials, neighborhood councils, business leaders and concerned residents. It will take cooperation, collaboration and commitment on the part of every member of our city community. Most of all, it will demand fresh ideas and a willingness to embrace change.
Working together, we can get L.A. moving again.
Antonio Villaraigosa is mayor of Los Angeles.
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