CityWatch, Mar 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 20
LA's Transportation Commission has a rich legacy of "consent agendas" that routinely rubber stamp the LADOT's proposed speed limit increases with out so much as a question, a bit of discussion, a suggestion for traffic calming or even an acknowledgment that our streets are getting fast, very fast. Yesterday's Commission meeting saw the LADOT's Assistant General Manager arguing that the City of Los Angeles was challenged by aging infrastructure and personnel limitations. He spoke affirmatively in favor of "embracing the new technology." Of course, he was defending the department's parking meter performance, not the City's ability to control speeds on the streets of LA.
When it comes to speed limit controls, the LADOT still embraces the State's 50 year-old speed trap law and an antiquated and ineffective approach to public safety that requires the presence of a law enforcement officer in order to control the speed of traffic.
I challenged the Commission to at least have a conversation about traffic calming, to simply ask if there is a correlation between traffic collisions and the streets picked for speed limit enforcement.
It would seem that if the Transportation Commission has the authority to approve speed limit increases, they would also have an obligation to review the overall philosophy for which streets are selected and in determining if those streets are in sync with the Community Plans, the Bike Plans, the surrounding TOD projects.
In other words, "Does the City of Los Angeles have a big-picture strategy for effectively establishing speed limits and for effectively enforcing those speed limits?" (The answer is no!)
The W Hollywood, LA's largest Transit Oriented Development project, just opened. It's located over the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station. TOD projects have a purported emphasis on cycling and pedestrian access and yet Vine isn't eligible for speed limit enforcement and Hollywood's certification will expire in a few months.
In the works for over a decade, did the LADOT not know the W Hollywood would be opening?
Glendale Boulevard is a brutally fast street and recent hit and runs have taken down two cyclists, resulting in the death of one. Yet the speeding traffic continues and the speed limit certification will also expire in a few months. Van Nuys, Foothill, Oxnard, and Pico are all set to expire in the next three months.
The current approach to speed limit enforcement is based on the State's Speed Trap Law.
1) Certify the speed limit by surveying the current traffic and setting the speed limit so that 85% of the motorists are considered legal.
2) Maintain the speed limit certification in order to use radar/laser speed limit enforcement.
3) Only enforce the speed limits on streets with current certs (500 street segments of streets out of 7200 miles citywide, approximately 10% of LA's total street mileage is eligible for speed limit enforcement using radar/laser)
Even if one believed in the current approach to making our streets safer, the City of LA's implementation is so bad that in some cases, one can be ticketed for speeding on one side of an intersection but not the other.
Streets such as Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Roscoe, Laurel Canyon, Magnolia simply aren't eligible for speed limit enforcement. In Hollywood, speeders on Vermont and Western won't be getting tickets. After next week, motorists in a hurry should use Fairfax because the speed limit certification expires on the 19th.
The City of Los Angeles currently embraces an approach to speed limit enforcement that simply doesn't work. The LADOT is unable to maintain the speed limit certifications for the streets of Los Angeles and the LAPD doesn't have the personnel necessary to enforce speed limits on the streets of Los Angeles.
The Transportation Commission is at a fork in the road. It can take the road to irrelevance, one marked by rubber stamping agendas that approve anything proposed by the LADOT, or it can take the road to innovation and responsible oversight, asking the hard questions and demanding that the LADOT and the LAPD work with the community to make our streets safer for everybody.
Raising the speed limits on our streets is not a solution to controlling speeding traffic. It is simply the perpetuation of behavior that simply does not work.
It has been said that repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result is the sign of insanity. In this case, the LADOT and the Transportation Commission are repeating the same behavior and claiming that it will make our streets safer.
Our streets are unsafe, the City of LA is repeating the same behavior, it's beyond insane, it's professional incompetence.
(Stephen Box is a transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)