Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CityWatchLA - LADOT Puts the Pedal to the Metal on Speed Limits Increases

CityWatch, Jan 26, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 7

As the City of Los Angeles grapples with a financial crisis of epic proportions and the Departments within the city struggle with the triage that results from the impending induced exodus of approximately 3000 employees, the Department of Transportation gallantly marches forward, continuing the good work of raising speed limits and removing crosswalks, all in an effort to make our streets safer and more effective for motorists. It's been a while since the last flurry of speed limit increases made their way through the City Hall meat grinder that regularly sees speed limit increase proposals head from the Department of Transportation to the LAPD to the local Councilmembers to the City Attorney to the Transportation Commission to the Transportation Committee and then to the City Council where the rubber stamping concludes with an ordinance proposal that raises the speed limit on a local street, all in an effort to maintain the right to use radar/laser speed limit violation enforcement on the streets of Los Angeles.

On Wednesday the City Council's Transportation Committee will consider speed limit increase proposals on Riverside Drive (up to 40 mph) and on Chandler Boulevard (up to 45 mph.)

These speed limit increase proposals are for streets that fall partially in Council District 2, newly minted City Councilman Paul Krekorian's district. Krekorian is the author of AB766, the Safe Streets bill that he took to the State Assembly last year when he served as Assemblyman for the 43rd District and in his role as the Assistant Majority Floor Leader for the State Assembly. Krekorian's Safe Streets bill saw the support of both Glendale and Burbank and also enjoyed the support of local community members, neighborhood councils and the cycling community.

Essentially, Krekorian argued that local communities should have more authority over the establishment of speed limits.

The City of Los Angeles gave quiet support to the Safe Streets Bill but when it came up in the State Assembly's Transportation Committee, the City of LA's LADOT representative in the room sat silent, as did the City of LA's legislative representative.

Their silence spoke volumes and served as a powerful contradiction to the LA City Council resolution passed in support of AB766.

As for the upcoming speed limit increase proposals, one of them is for a street that runs alongside the bike lanes that are part of the beginning of the Orange Line, a cycling commuter route from the Red Line station in NoHo that runs across the valley.

One would think that a major transit hub would be a great place to encourage alternative modes of transportation. But such is not the case.

The streets get wider, the speeds get faster, the environment gets more hospitable for motor vehicles and downright hostile for anybody who dares to walk, ride a bike or take mass transit.

As for the Transportation Committee, Chairman Bill Rosendahl has an opportunity to demonstrate that his stated commitment to making Los Angeles a more walkable and bikeable city is a real commitment that comes with action, not just talk.

It'll also be interesting to see what influence Councilman Paul Koretz of CD5 will have over the process, especially in light of his stated support for a robust Bike Plan that lays down a real vision for a bikeable city.

Will Koretz suggest that the Bike Plan be consulted and used as a guide for evaluating speed limits and street designations?

Inevitably, when the subject of speed limit increases come up, somebody launches into a long discussion of California Vehicle Code Section 40802(b) and the need to raise speed limits in order to justify enforcement of the speed limit by radar.

This tired monologue concludes with the explanation "Our hands are tied, we've got to raise the speed limits if we want to enforce the speed limit!"

I don't know when the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world rolled over and became so helpless but I'm not buying it. I believe that there are many things Los Angeles could be doing to control speeding motorists and to making our streets safer for everybody.

It's at this point in the repetitious debate over speed limits that I'm challenged to offer other solutions. I typically start by saying "Bulb-outs, speed tables and road diets!" and the resulting confused look on the faces of those I'm talking with tells me that the transportation experts who are in charge of our streets have one tool in the toolbox and it is 50 years old.

Our City is in the middle of a budget crisis. Why don't we put this energy into pursuing funding sources that would allow us to improve the quality of life on our streets, that would allow us to put people to work, that would allow us to work together to make Los Angeles a walkable, rideable, livable city that works for everybody. It's time to put down the old paradigm and to work together to make people a priority.

On Wednesday, tune in to City Phone at 2:00 pm (213-621-2489) and listen along to see if Transportation Chair Bill Rosendahl will take the lead in rejecting the proposed speed limits and if Councilman Paul Koretz will support him.

Councilman Richard Alarcon has already voiced his support for Krekorian's Safe Streets bill so it will be interesting to see if that translates into a "no" vote on the proposed speed limit increase.

Maybe Krekorian will show up to argue for Safe Streets.

Who knows, the LAPD might even show up to explain how public safety is one of their basic commitments and how increasing speed limits doesn't increase safety or save lives.

"See you on the Streets!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)

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