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Councilmember David Ryu goes on record about road diets: ‘Even one injury or death is too many’

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Under pressure from neighborhood leaders in Los Feliz

As residents continue to spar over a road diet on Rowena Avenue, neighborhood leaders in Los Feliz are demanding answers from Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu about his position on street safety projects.

A pointed letter from the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council’s governing board, sent last week, asks Ryu to clarify his position on road diets. It also asks directly what he thinks is the “acceptable number” of pedestrian deaths resulting from car collisions.

These “should be simple questions to answer,” the letter’s author, Danny Cohen, told Curbed in an email.

Cohen says he wrote the letter out of concern that “political pressures and loud voices” might distract from the city’s ambitious street safety goals.

The letter doesn’t mention the Rowena road diet, which is in Silver Lake, but comes as street safety activists across LA battle community opposition to that project and others like it.

Road diets, in which lanes for cars are removed to slow down the flow of traffic, are a common solution to traffic safety issues endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration and deployed in cities around the U.S.

But in LA, they have proven controversial.

Pedestrian and cyclist advocates praise the projects, which have been a key part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative to end traffic deaths by 2025. But a vocal group of opponents argue that road diets snarl traffic and force cars onto side streets, making those arterials less safe.

Those claims are hard to verify, but community uproar was loud enough that officials undid road diets on three different streets in Playa del Rey last year. Later, Ryu effectively blocked a planned road diet in Mid-City, instead focusing on a series of smaller safety improvements.

Pedestrian advocates were alarmed earlier this month when Ryu’s office released the results of a study focusing on cut-through traffic on Rowena Avenue and nearby streets.

The Rowena Avenue road diet, implemented after the death of a 24-year-old pedestrian in 2012, reconfigured the four-lane street as a two-lane thoroughfare with a center turn lane. Bike lanes were also added on both sides of the street.

The study shows that, since the changes were implemented, the number of collisions and injuries on the street has dropped.

But, citing community concerns about increased traffic on nearby streets, it ends with multiple proposals that would re-introduce lanes for cars, undoing key features of the project.

Ryu hasn’t yet taken a position on those suggestions, but road diet advocates are concerned that only one of the four options in the report—keeping the road diet as is—would maintain streetscape changes introduced to slow vehicle speeds.

In a response to the letter from the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, Ryu, whose district encompasses much of Silver Lake and Los Feliz, calls road diets “an important tool in the city’s tool box to address speeding and public safety.”

He does not specify, however, where in his district they might be implemented and whether any plans are in place to adjust the lane configuration on Rowena Avenue.

The councilmember points to a series of recent projects throughout his district—including the left-turn pockets and continental crosswalks installed in lieu of a road diet in Mid-City—as evidence of his commitment to pedestrian safety.

“Even one injury or death on our city’s streets is too many,” writes Ryu. “The challenge is to ensure the road improvements that are made address the conditions that led to the collision, injury or fatality in the first place.”