Anyone who lives or works on L.A.'s Westside knows that traffic is an equal-opportunity torturer. So, I was really hoping that the candidates vying for the City Council seat in District 11, which includes this traffic-choked area, would have some clever ideas about how to fix it.
Instead, what I heard from the four candidates when they gathered at a forum to discuss this very issue sounded like: Get a bike.
In all fairness, the forum was sponsored by Streetsblog, an online blog dedicated to “sustainable transportation,” and the candidates knew their audience. (One woman urgently told the group: “Everyone has to get out of their car. The bus is fabulous! Bicycling is fun!”) And the candidates all have sensible ideas for making neighborhoods more centers of recreation and activity -- which would be terrific on weekends and in evenings. They talk about having more and safer bike lanes and bike parking, and all that is good. But it’s not enough.
I’ve thought about traffic a lot -- often, in traffic. I live in Brentwood, work downtown, do not own a bicycle and have no plans to commute on a bus or a train, neither of which is remotely in easy walking distance for someone who leaves home in the morning with a handbag, work bag, gym bag and extra sweaters for the chilly office. My brother, who formerly lived on the Palos Verdes peninsula, did get bike religion and became an enthusiastic weekend rider. I know this because, when his $3,000 bike broke down at Will Rogers State Beach, I had to go and rescue him -- in my car, of course.
I get that we need more light rail, safer bike lanes, bike parking, etc. But shouldn’t we be more aggressive about trying to alleviate traffic? Some thoughts:
• What happened to the idea of making two of the main arteries of east-west traffic — Pico and Olympic boulevards — one way each during the afternoon and evening rush?
• What about starting the no-parking period on heavily trafficked thoroughfares earlier in the afternoon? Does anyone think that the rush doesn’t start on Wilshire Boulevard in West L.A. until 4 p.m.? Why not start the no-parking period at 3 p.m. or 2 p.m.?
• Merchants won’t like that suggestion? Really? Consider this: If the traffic is snarled in front of your store at 3:30 p.m., no one is going to stop in anyway.
• What about forging better relations with the Veterans Administration to persuade it to keep its grounds open for community through-traffic at times when it's needed most? (Instead, the grounds have been known to close during periods of construction on the 405 Freeway when they could have offered desperately needed alternate routes.)
I’m all for dedicated left-turn lanes and turn signals, but it should be done smartly. Taking away a lane of through-traffic at an intersection that doesn’t need a left-hand turn lane only creates more backup on that street.
So far, city officials have done a dismal job of integrating bikes and cars. Cyclists peddle furiously but hopelessly slower than cars on Wilshire in the morning traffic while drivers slow down so they won’t hit them, then frantically try to change lanes without getting hit themselves. It’s as though city officials practice a kind of magical realism: “Let’s have more bicycles on the streets! Cyclists and drivers — just figure it out for yourselves!”
Frederick Sutton, a candidate in District 11, got it right when he said: “When I’m on a bike, I’m afraid of cars. And when I’m driving a car, I’m afraid of bicyclists.” Sutton said he would put a traffic engineer on his staff if he got the council job.
Candidate Tina Hess suggests some immediate relief: more parking structures, particularly in heavily congested areas such as Venice. (Mike Bonin, a candidate and outgoing council member Bill Rosendahl’s chief deputy, has started a pilot program in Venice for a smartphone app that alerts drivers to street parking spaces.)
Hess correctly notes that traffic is hardly just a Westside problem and that it will take more than city officials to alleviate. “We need to partner with our neighbors on this — Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City,” she said at the forum.
It’s fine to be a recreational cyclist, but you can’t bike from the Palisades to your office downtown. If you are ferrying children to school, then yourself to work and meetings, then picking up children, that is almost impossible to do without a car here.
“And that’s a problem,” admitted Odysseus Bostick, speaking to me by phone -- as he drove himself and his daughter home. “I truly think there are some people who don’t fit the transit model, but I think our job as a city is to create the most inviting transportation system as possible so it makes it as easy as possible to use. Our job is not to make it as hard as possible to use.” Among other things, Bostick would like to see street cars down busy Lincoln Boulevard and a north-south rail line.
Bonin notes that people are not going to use the coming Expo Line stop (and I am so sick of driving through that zone of construction on Sepulveda) unless there are more bus lines to it, saying the area needs “better coordination and integration of the different bus systems that run on the Westside” (Metro, Culver City Bus, Santa Monica Big Blue).
“Some of those lines run on the same streets, while some other streets get no service,” he says.
Bonin flatly calls the widening of the 405 Freeway “a profoundly stupid project” that has caused considerable grief for Westsiders in exchange for an HOV lane he says will probably be of small benefit. “It’s like throwing a bigger sponge into the ocean,” he says. He supports the idea of mass transit from the San Fernando Valley to LAX through the Sepulveda pass. “I would really oppose double-decking the freeway,” he says.
Wow! We could double-deck the freeway? Love it…
Laugh if you want; I am not alone. Honk if you’re with me.