What Part of “Traffic Calming” Don’t You Understand?

Of course…another post on the manufactured controversy over the North Figueroa road diet in NE Los Angeles.

I’ll summarize the situation, in case you’ve been hiding in a barrel for the last few weeks:

Not long ago, after numerous community meetings, presentations, straw votes, speaker cards filled out and emails sent, etc, etc, the LA City Council voted unanimously to approve the plan to restripe North Figueroa with two new bike lanes and one fewer one general traffic lanes. The community had spoken, the Council had studied, the money was approved, and LADOT’s engineers did all the design work.

Then came an election, and termed-out council District One favorite Ed Reyes was replaced by career politician Gil Cedillo, himself termed out of his Sacramento seat and looking for a new perch in the public henhouse. And Cedillo immediately set himself to work blocking at least two community-oriented projects that Reyes had initiated. One is the sweet little Ed P. Reyes River Park, which would be a delight to its otherwise dreary neighborhood if Cedillo would allow it to open; it remains padlocked months after construction was wrapped up. The other is the North Figueroa road diet.

Cedillo is attempting to frame his concerns as worries over “safety,” which is odd, since road diets have been conclusively proven to increase street safety for all users—motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. He also tried to claim that the road diet would impede emergency vehicle passage, which claim was quickly unmasked as utterly spurious and perhaps a blatant attempt at manipulatiion through prevarication.

But the real concern of the frantic ranters who loom large in Cedillo’s eyes, though they represent a minority opinion in the community, seems to be nothing more than the freedom to drive fast.

And drive fast they do, with the result that this stretch of North Fig averages nearly one death, and eighty or so injuries, each year, as a result of manic motorists and their lust for speeding.

Yet, to judge by the results of other road diets all over the US, they don’t get where they’re going very fast: the LADOT’s own calculations, which are decidedly automobile-centric, project an increase in rush-hour drive time of around forty-one seconds, spread out over five miles.

But analysis of New York City’s taxi fleet GPS data shows that road-dieted streets in that traffic-clogged city not only suffered no delays; on several such routes, motor traffic moved from point to point more quickly than before!

How can that be?

Simple. With a full-length center turning lane, drivers waiting to cross traffic into driveways and alleys don’t back other drivers up behind them, which, because of swerving, obstructs both lanes. And when drivers slow down in response to narrowed lanes and road space, they don’t rush themselves into traffic jams at every intersection. Moving more slowly, they get through more quickly, because they’re actually in motion more of the time. For example, in New York City’s Union Square area, one of the many benefits of adding a protected bike path was that, for motor traffic, “speeding decreased by 16%, while median speeds increased by 14%.”

Oh, yeah, and business receipts went up, while vacant storefronts nearly vanished. in fact, on NYC’s 9th Avenue, business income soared 49% after bike lanes went in, while on untreated streets around it, receipts tottered feebly upward by only 3%.

Aside from all this is the fact that the road diets resulted in fewer dead and maimed residents. However, this actual safety factor has no hold on Cedillo’s mind, nor on that of the car-addled cabal that seems to pull his strings.

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