Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Speed

Emely Aleman, 12, and Angela Rodriguez, 10, were struck by a motorist as they attempted to cross Laurel Canyon Boulevard, a tragedy that resulted in the death of Emely and critical injuries to Angela.

The community immediately responded with outrage, calling the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Archwood a dangerous location with a long legacy of traffic collisions that include three other incidents this year where pedestrians attempting to cross the street were hit by motorists.

Community members immediately circulated a petition and demanded that the City of Los Angeles install a traffic signal. Councilman Paul Krekorian promptly responded and indicated that he will be working with LAUSD Boardmember Tamar Galatzan to expedite the installation process.

The rush to solve the problem of dangerous traffic on Laurel Canyon has resulted in a solution that fails to scratch the surface and, in fact, fails to correctly identify the underlying problems.

The local community is to be commended for taking responsibility for public safety but it is incumbent on the City of Los Angeles to support the community with the full spectrum of professional traffic safety and transportation engineering solutions, complemented by a vigorous funding campaign.

The speed limit on Laurel Canyon is completely unenforceable by the LAPD who use radar and laser for speed limit enforcement but are restricted from streets that have expired speed limit surveys. Laurel Canyon, from Ventura Boulevard to Hubbard Street, is 10 miles of open speedway, and motorists have been uncitable since October 21, 2009.

Traffic calming techniques such as a road diets, bulbouts, raised median strips, safety refuge islands, speed tables, and other traffic calming techniques would both increase capacity and throughput while managing speed and enhancing safety for all modes.

Yet, these strategies were never introduced into the conversation nor was the local community engaged in the process of embracing solutions that would impact the entire boulevard.

The Highway Safety Improvement Project (HSIP) funding program has $72 million available to communities such as NoHo, specifically to fund projects that will improve safety on the streets of local neighborhoods. The City of LA has proposed a list of 33 projects for the current funding cycle, the bulk of which are signal phasing projects and traffic signal installations.

The HSIP funding program is competitive and Los Angeles is up against other communities within the LA and Ventura County areas. LA's signal phasing and traffic lights will be competing against innovations such as in-pavement crosswalk illumination, road diets, traffic calming, speed feedback signs, traffic circles, mini-roundabouts, and pedestrian prioritized signal phasing. LA will probably fall back on its "fair share" claim to funding when the competition gets tough.

HSIP proposals must be made by municipal authorities such as the City of Los Angeles and the competition is tough. Many of the surrounding communities have proposed projects that come with robust community support. Neighborhood Councils, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations could be proposing their own safety projects and partnering with the Bureau of Streets Services or their Council Office.

HSIP proposals don't need to be complicated or full of engineering complexities, but can be as simple as an overview of the current environment (sketchs or photographs), collision data which is available from the LAPD, a brief description of the concept or proposal and a pricetag of up to $900,000. The deadline for HSIP proposals is December 9, 2010.

The "rush to judgment" and the knee-jerk proposal to install a traffic signal on Laurel Canyon Boulevard is unfortunate for many reasons including the simple fact that signals can inadvertently cause greater speed differentials, with motorists speeding up to catch greens and then stopping rapidly when they miss them. This diminishes safety.

Moderate and consistent speeds are optimum for capacity, throughput, and safety for all road users. Traffic signals create a false sense of control and demonstrate an adherence to an antiquated paradigm of traffic control that has demonstratedly failed the people of Los Angeles.

Now is the time for LA to connect with robust transportation funding sources, with innovative traffic safety solutions, and with each other by working together to develop streets that are safe for everybody, regardless of the mode of travel.

For more information on the HSIP program and how your community can participate in developing and funding projects that will make the streets of Los Angeles safer, contact Dale Benson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We recently heard about a proposal from LADOT to widen Bundy Drive from Santa Monica to Wilshire to four lanes of traffic, one middle turn lane and two full-time parking lanes. There are absolutely NO traffic-calming measures in the proposal and no bike lanes, despite this being the major bike lane north/south on the Westside per the Bike Plan.

Why do Cities create projects that are unsafe and place the City and our tax dollars at legal risk? The City seems to listen only to lawyers, perhaps it is time that pedestrians and other non-car users find their voice in the City.