The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to dedicate $27 million in the next fiscal year to Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate the city’s rising traffic deaths. The plan will also point LA towards a future of fewer cars.
“Today’s vote shows that the City of Los Angeles is going to step up to make our streets safer and our communities better places to live, work and enjoy,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin.
Bonin joined a coalition of councilmembers including Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and Jose Huizar, who rallied to procure more funding for the initiative after a hearing on Friday where Vision Zero’s budget was chopped to only $3 million, far less than the $16.6 originally recommended by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
More than $27 million will now go to Vision Zero programs, including a critical $8.3 million for infrastructure improvements like streetscape redesigns, curb extensions, and road diets along the city’s 40 most dangerous corridors.
The funds will come from the local return money of Measure M, the transportation sales tax voters approved in November, and SB 1, a new statewide gas tax.
The plan was called a “compromise” by Councilmember David Ryu, who was part of a separate faction of councilmembers who argued that Measure M had been marketed as a way to fix roads and wanted two-thirds of the local return amount to be allocated to street repaving. Bonin had originally proposed an alternate plan to allocate two-thirds of Measure M funds to Vision Zero.
Although all councilmembers who spoke said they were in favor of Vision Zero, there was lingering hesitation about using Measure M funds to pay for it. The motion at this morning’s budget hearing was followed by an informed, nuanced, and mostly cordial conversation about the ways that Vision Zero and street resurfacing goals could work together to help Angelenos get around.
The discussion was framed by Krekorian, who claimed “incorrect reporting” (ahem, was he talking about us?) had gotten the council’s recommendation wrong, and Vision Zero was never in danger of being defunded. He made the case that streets in disrepair could both hinder Vision Zero’s goals and cost the city money, citing the $4.5 million lawsuit settled earlier this month with the family of a cyclist who was killed when he struck uneven pavement in Eagle Rock. Earlier in the budget conversation, the council had moved to allocate $100 million to address to lawsuits like this brought against the city.
The most passionate plea came from Councilmember Martinez, whose San Fernando Valley district is home to the deadliest intersection in the city (Roscoe and Van Nuys). She argued that improving safety infrastructure promotes equity in underserved neighborhoods, which often have the highest rate of fatalities.
“Resurfacing streets is important, but if people are dying or being seriously injured on our streets, what good is a resurfaced street?” she said. “We must stop talking about reducing traffic accidents and actually put resources behind this goal.”
Harris-Dawson, who said he has been “scared to death” to walk on certain LA streets, echoed her concerns, pointing out that in places like South LA, the basic safety infrastructure was never built in the first place.
“Residents are paying with their lives,” he said. “In parts of the city, the simple act of walking can become a life or death decision.”
Perhaps the most intriguing curveball in the discussion was a street improvement idea specific to autonomous vehicles from Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who, it should be noted, biked his two-hour commute to City Hall with Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition executive director Tamika Butler this morning.
Buscaino said he wants to prepare LA for driverless cars with a “smart streets” strategy, which could employ sensors, kiosks, and other tech designed for automated vehicles.
(It should be noted that if the streets were truly smart, they would also be dramatically reduced in size, as autonomous vehicles will not need as much on-street parking and the ability to share them would mean far fewer cars on the road.)
Advocates see the the $27 million for Vision Zero as a win, even though it’s far less than the $80 million which the city’s Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds says she would need just to reduce traffic deaths by 20 percent. Her department will provide a detailed update on Vision Zero initiatives and activities using the new budget by late June.