Where there’s life, there’s hope: after turbulent months of protests, meetings, and mutual recrimination, as well as what seems to be a serious educational effort by LADOT, CD1’s bossman, Gil Cedillo, has dropped his plan for diagonal parking on the street, and agreed, according to an LACBC release, to consider bike lanes, a road diet, and other genuine safety measures for the five blocks of North Figueroa Street between Avenues 55 and 60.
It’s about time. The diagonal parking would have been a recipe for chaos on a street that currently encourages reckless speeding, and more car storage is hardly needed in an area whose extensive off-street lots are never full.
What is needed is slower traffic and an increase in the ability of the street to bring people to its restaurants, shops, and offices—something that bicycles and good sidewalks do better than cars. After all, cars don’t buy lunch; people buy lunch—or shoes, or movie tickets, or a beer at end of the day. As I wrote in the Los Angeles Business Journal back in 2009, “Studies in San Francisco and Toronto showed that while merchants believed that 70 percent of their customers came by car, when traffic was counted, it turned out that only 30 percent did so. Cars take up vast amounts of room; a street or structure filled with cooling metal doesn’t always translate into hotter sales. Each car, in real life, represents only one shopper. You can park 12 bicycles in the space of one car.”
So now, five whole blocks of Fig will see the benefits of safer, saner, slower traffic in all modes—if and when the changes actually happen. Will Cedillo call for “more studies” of a street that’s been studied half to death? After all, the community attended dozens of meetings before the City Council (pre-Cedillo) unanimously approved a road diet with bike lanes for the entirety of North Figueroa—a road diet that has been designed and funded and was ready to break ground till Cedillo arbitrarily stopped it.
It’s possible that this is happening only because it coincides with Mayor Garcetti’s “Great Streets” plan for NELA. Of course, the rest of the community will continue to suffer the effects of the bleak speedway North Fig has become, resulting in the death and maiming of residents, and the depression of small business activity, that America has for so long deemed acceptable as the cost of driving.
We know we can do better now. So, let’s be cautiously optimistic, but remain vigilant. As Ronald Reagan once said, in the only utterance of his that I agree with: “Trust…but verify.”