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Councilmember David Ryu deals another blow to LA ‘road diets’

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Several neighborhood groups had asked to reduce traffic lanes for cars on a stretch of Sixth Street

A road diet would have added bike lanes to a stretch of Sixth Street.

Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu released a statement last week that effectively kills momentum to put a one-mile stretch of Sixth Street, between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue in Mid-City, on a “road diet.” For many Sixth Street residents and safe streets advocates, Ryu’s statement is a discouraging turn that underscores how LA’s efforts to make its streets less deadly through its Vision Zero initiative appear to be faltering.

“It is extremely frustrating,” says Scott Epstein, who chairs the Mid City West Community Council. “Numerous neighborhood organizations have said ‘please make this street safer for us.’”

The Sixth Street road diet would have removed a single travel lane in both directions, making room for a new center left-turn lane and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. Removing traffic lanes would help slow down traffic, making the street safer.

In the past decade, there have been nearly 250 traffic collisions on this stretch of Sixth Street. Three people have died, according to Ryu’s office.

In his statement, Ryu does say his “office will be moving forward with” adding left-turn pockets at the intersection of Sixth Street and Hauser Boulevard, a peak-hour left-turn restriction at Burnside Avenue, and several crosswalks.

These changes, he says, “will have the greatest impact on pedestrian, cyclist and motorist safety.”

A road diet on this section of Sixth Street has been under local consideration for a several years, according Epstein. The community council he chairs voted unanimously in favor of a road diet in September 2016. The proposed road diet is also supported by the Park La Brea Residents Association, the La Brea Hancock Homeowners Association, and Los Angeles Walks.

“He’s responded by partially fixing one intersection along the mile-long stretch. It’s really not enough ... we’re going to keep seeing lots of injuries and collisions in the area,” Epstein says.

But Ryu says a survey of 712 residents found less than half, or 37 percent, supported a full road diet with reduced traffic lanes and the installation of east and westbound bike lanes. The vast majority of residents, nearly 85 percent, said their primary mode of transportation is a car, he says. (Advocates were frustrated by the survey; they say the questions were opaque and didn't clearly ask participants about a road diet.)

His veto follows similar rollbacks across LA. In Playa Del Rey, a ferocious backlash prompted councilmember Mike Bonin to undo “pilot” road diet projects in the area. In North Hollywood, Councilmember Paul Krekorian put the brakes on a similar proposal that would have reduced lanes on Lankershim Boulevard, saying at the time how he was “concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposal to remove traffic lanes and parking.”

Opponents to the full road diet say the lane reductions on Sixth Street would end up diverting more traffic to other streets throughout the already choked and largely under-construction neighborhood.

“I’m all for safety improvements, but where’s the proof that anything done to Sixth Street is not going to impact Eighth street?” says Jim O’Sullivan, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. “Where are the traffic studies that say it’s not going to have a detrimental effect on the rest of the neighborhood?”

Henry Van Moyland, a co-founder of the pro-growth neighborhood group Miracle Mile Forward supports slowing down traffic and of road diets, but he too was worried about the impact on surrounding arterials.

“We already have daily accidents across the Miracle Mile area, and I think a Sixth Street road diet ran the risk of transferring [traffic] from Sixth Street to other streets in the neighborhood,” he says. “The best course might be to do [street improvements to] multiple streets in tandem, say, Sixth and Eighth streets at the same time.”

But advocates for the diet say what they proposed would help traffic flow on Sixth Street. In their eyes, the addition of a center-left turn lane to the road would dramatically help make the street less chaotic.

“Well, traffic diversion it’s a valid concern, but I don’t think it’s as great a cause for concern as people fear,” said Josh Paget, of the Mid City West Community Council. “Much of the traffic and the aggressive and dangerous slam-the-gas slam-the-brakes driving that we currently have on Sixth Street is because of the lack of a center-left-turn-lane. The road diet would add one, meaning traffic would flow much more smoothly than it currently does.”

The outstanding question on all sides will be if, as the neighborhood becomes denser and more transit accessible, the streets will remain in their current configuration. The Purple Line subway is scheduled to open stops in the neighborhood by 2023.