Friday, February 25, 2011

Proposed Alternate Plans for Wilbur Ave.

Issues with the Wilbur Road Diet and 2 proposeds solutions.

Back ups during school drop off.
There is no question that back up occurs for folks heading south from Chatsworth to Devonshire. The dispute is over how much it's backing up and what to do to solve it. The peak of the back up according to an early study by the LADOT and a later study by Paul Kirk is happening between 7:40AMish and 7:55AMish and is a result of door to door school drop off traffic. This kind of problem is not new, school drop off is a common traffic issue in many neighborhoods and indeed occurred under the old configuration. But with the road diet there is a stack up in the south bound direction coming from the Porter Ranch and Northern areas with clogging back towards Chatsworth. For the remainder of the day, the result has been civilized flow of small amounts of cars and then during the evening potentially another period of back up - to knowledge no one has done a count in the evenings. Eventually, it has been suggested, non local traffic will subside as people choose higher volume streets like Reseda or Tampa to commute through. However other people have suggested those streets are backed up too.

A Compromise. 4 Lanes to Devonshire from Chatsworth.
The LADOT has presented a design to be voted on next March 15th. As I will show below, this design is ok except for one particularly dangerous merge scenario. To relieve the school drop off back up, I am proposing a 4 lane Chatsworth to Devonshire solution while preserving the existing road diet as is, south of Devonshire. The road diet has enabled the creation of a contiguous third lane across the entire stretch. It is vital and used for turning in and out of street locked communities the length of the road diet. It is this lane and the bicycle lanes make for a more civilized flow of traffic and a more people friendly neighborhood. With 3 schools in the area and CSUN, we need civility more than we need speeding and I truly believe that the school drop off issue can be solved in other ways, one of which is through a program called Safe Routes to School.

The Wilbur Working Group Ad-Hoc Committee
Though barred as a petitioned member of the group from the first meeting by the councilman's office, I was allowed to represent the people living on Wilbur during the second and third meetings plus an additional one on one meeting with Mitch Englander to discuss the alternate proposal.

During my time on the Wilbur Working Group Ad-Hoc committee, possible solutions to the "school drop off" back up issues were explored. The school drop off mayhem causes exit issues for the Belcourt and Ridgegate communities just north of Devonshire. Unfortunately for these folks, the layout of their community makes exiting a bit more difficult due to a one exit configuration. No matter the configuration of Wilbur this seems an issue. A look at Google maps shows the problem:

Only one functioning exit exists for Belcourt at this time. The emergency gate is located next to the baseball field. Perhaps this gate should be opened and made a full time additional exit.

Ridgegate gated community suffers the same one exit problem:

Ridgegate Gated community has one functioning exit and one emergency exit. Opening the emergency exit and making it full time functional has been discussed at the Wilbur working group. It would seem that no matter the layout of Wilbur, this would be a good idea.
Rush to Judgement:
Generally speaking everyone at the working group, though most completely opposed the traffic calming of Wilbur, were open to ideas. Unfortunately the one plan offered by the LADOT and rushed through by the committee creates an induced drag race scenario beginning at the Devonshire light heading south to Mayall. I'm referring to a 45mph rated lane merge that repeats all of the issues that made the bottleneck at Dearborn to the south a deadly problem. If the boards vote for this configuration statistics show that serious accidents will become an issue at the bottleneck.

Current LADOT Proposed design - a 45 mph lane merge:
This 45mph rated lane merge is being rushed through by the Wilbur Working group. Anyone can see that as cars pile up at the light at devonshire south, a green light would effectively be the start of a drag race that culminates at Mayall. 185 residents in the area have signed petitions stating they want a crosswalk at Mayall. With this proposed design, the intersection of Mayall would become a FINISH LINE for a drag race.

Alternate Proposed solution to relieve Belcourt and Ridgegate exit issues:

Keep clear markings and 4 lane configuration would appease the desires of the Belcourt and Ridgegate communities. This design would require 10' width lanes which the LADOT is authorized but is loathe to implement.

We Need a Crosswalk NOT a finishline!
Last month the Northridge West Neighborhood Council voted to support a "no cost" crosswalk at Mayall timed with the re-striping. If the street crews are going to be out there re-striping, putting in a crosswalk in conjunction with that re-striping will not cost much more if anything at all. This would be a huge improvement for the folks along Tuba Crebs and LeMarsh who live in a street locked community and who wish to cross the street safely on a walk through the neighborhood.

Alternate Proposed solution (cont'd)

Rather than the 45moh rated proposed merge that the LADOT has suggested for Devonshire south to Mayall, this design proposes Keep Clear markings, and a crosswalk at Mayall.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Open Letter to NWNC President Tom Johnson, Councilman Smith and PRNC President Mel Mitchel

Re: The Joint Porter Ranch / Northridge West Neighborhood Council Vote on Wilbur Ave. Traffic configuration.

Mr. President, I charge that the process you, Councilman Greig Smith and Porter Ranch President Mel Mitchel have outlined is tantamount to the smokey backroom political environment of years, thankfully, long gone and therefore should be revised immediately.

In a recent letter to me President Johnson, You have claimed that our brave soldiers died fighting for the right to vote without "intimidation" and in private.

I agree.

BUT, You are forgetting that as Neighborhood Council members, WE are the GOVERNMENT representing the people. Those soldiers you speak of fought and died for the rights of the people to know what their representatives are doing, not the rights of the government to hide their vote from the people they are accountable to. We are elected board members. We all took an oath to protect the best interests of our neighborhood. Being a voting representative in a democratic system can certainly be a scary venture at times, but people depend on us as their elected representatives to have the courage and conviction to vote publicly and with accountability just as we depend on our city, state, and national representatives to have the courage to vote publicly. In fact we demand it of them. Our soldiers, our forefathers and founding fathers fought hard and many many many people far braver than you and I died so that the government could be more transparent and more accountable to the people it serves. They certainly did not die so the government can hold a third world dictator style secret vote. The least we could do is show some courage and responsibility for our choices that affect the public safety and treasure.

This vote is perhaps the single most important vote the neighborhood council will make for years to come. Lets not blow this by shrouding it in mystery.

I know I will make my vote public even in the face of the many people present who will not like my vote. Lurking among the people opposed to the road diet are the ones who viciously race through the bike lanes in the morning with no care for the neighborhood, the system and the rule of law. Who is actually being intimidated here? If I can handle it, so can you and everyone else among us who represent the people of NORTHRIDGE West.

President Johnson I greatly respect you and I greatly appreciate what you do but I humbly reserve the right to openly criticize this proposed process and your defense of it. You are our President, you should be working on behalf of OUR neighborhood and fighting for transparency and fairness. THAT privilege is what people are fighting and dieing for right now in Africa and the Middle East as they rise up against their own secretive and oppressive governments. They look to us for inspiration. Let us not forget that this is America, land of the FREE and home of the BRAVE.

  • I ask that each board member's vote be made public and be held accountable to the public they serve.

  • I ask that each board vote separately on the matter not as a combined vote. Porter Ranch has it's interests, the people you, myself, and the rest of the board serve have theirs.

  • I ask that before this meeting is announced that the rules are made clear as to how the vote will be tallied.

  • I ask that the definition of a majority vote is made clear.

  • I ask that at least 3 weeks public notice be given to constituents before the meeting and that the process is completely defined, open, fair, transparent and all clarified in the meeting announcement.

-don ward
Northridge West Neighborhood Council

Livable Streets Video a must see lesson for neighborhoods across the Valley

Revisiting Donald Appleyard's Livable Streets:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

About the Wilbur Avenue Road Diet.

There is a lot of talk around the neighborhood regarding the new striping of Wilbur Ave. on the 2 mile stretch between Chatsworth and Nordhoff St. Many people who have a stake in the neighborhood were bewildered to see the appearance of two wide bike lanes, a contiguous center turning lane, and the disappearance of 2 travel lanes. This configuration is known as a Road Diet and it is a federally approved design engineered to "calm" traffic. You can read the official federal explanation here, and the Wikipedia entry here.

Many people have asked why did Wilbur need a Road Diet? 

The answer relates to many issues. But the biggest reason is embedded in the fight in 2009 to save the crosswalks at Prairie and Superior. The LADOT had posted signage stating that they were going to remove them. But the residents revolted against that idea. Paul Kirk, collected 600+ petition signatures stating that the residents WANT their crosswalks! This prompted the LADOT to respond by making Wilbur a safe street to cross. Be engineering a reduction in average speed, the road diet has made it safer to cross.

Average speeds along the road that under the old 4 lane configuration typically broke the 40mph speed limit - a limit which one could argue is quite high for a residential area with 3 schools within a block or two of the street. With non peak hour traffic speeds easily reaching 60, 70 even 80mph the situation was quite dangerous for people pulling in and out of their driveways, for people crossing at marked and unmarked crosswalks and for the drivers negotiating the natural bottlenecks that occur at Plummer and Dearborn.

For the residents of the area, everyone knows just how typical it was to see serious collisions at the major cross streets such as Plummer, Lassen and Dearborn. As a long time resident, I've personally witnessed many over the years and have myself experienced a car rear ending my vehicle with such force that it launched the car up the curb and onto the front yard of our house. This was due to a speeder who lost focus and did not recognize that our vehicle was in the process of slowing and signaling a turn into our driveway. From talking with neighbors I know my experience is not rare.

Traffic Collision Stats

According to Alex Thompson, LAPD Bike Task Force member and Bikeside chairman, the CHP's SWITRS database reports 200+ serious collisions and 5 deaths along that stretch of Wilbur from 2000-2008. This is simply unacceptable for any street let alone a residential one such as Wilbur Ave.

Since the implementation of the Road Diet last September, the flow of traffic has become much more civilized. It is now less likely that speeders reach 50mph as the single lane configuration has done it's job of inspiring drivers to slow down. The psychological impact of the lane constraint has proven to calm drivers.

of the Road Diet.

Home values go up in neighborhoods with calm people friendly streets. Calm civilized traffic makes for a deterrent to those who would use the street as their "cut through" street or "Speedway" as LA Times columnist and Porter Ranch resident Sandy Banks recently referred to it as. Reduced cut through traffic improves the quality of life for local residents. As pollution and noise decline people come out of their homes, go for walks, enjoy their neighborhood more...

Better neighborhood connectivity occurs when people feel like they can cross the street safely. In the case of the road diet, cars are still reaching speeds above the 40mph limit, however now there are only 2 travel lanes to negotiate rather than 4.

Safe routes to schools. With the newly re-striped and better visible crosswalks at Prairie and Superior, cars are more likely to yield to pedestrians many of which are simply looking for a way to walk to the area schools. Remember the days when kids used to walk, bike and skateboard to school? I must be old.

Yes. There is back up.

According to two separate counts there is no denying that back up occurs. The counts done by the LADOT immediately after the Road Diet's implementation showed that during a 15 minute period from approximately 7:35-7:51AM the traffic line at the Devonshire south light backs up towards Chatsworth. This is due to Nobel Middle School drop off. A second count was done recently that shows the same scenario occurring. This is an issue that is causing parents frustration and to choose alternate routes to school. The fact is, that there was always back up and traffic has always been unruly during school drop off. A simple solution would be for parents to drop their kids off a few blocks from school or even encourage their kids to bike to school. After all, there are brand new bike lanes to be used. Still, the desire is strong to drive kids right up to the school and it is a hard fight to convince them otherwise. The days of parents being able to brag to their kids about walking six miles in the snow uphill in both directions are long gone. This generation will have no such stories. Instead, this generation may actually brag about how difficult it was to avoid the alarming obesity trend that is befalling our nation.

The Wilbur Working Group Ad-Hoc Committee.

Councilman Greig Smith, in an effort to alleviate complaints from people living to the North of the road diet, has set up the Wilbur Ave. Working Group Ad-Hoc Committee. This committee was to be comprised of 3 members from Northridge West Neighborhood Council and Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council. Each of the members were to be appointed by each NC's president. Unfortunately for the residents of Wilbur Ave, NONE of them were included as a voice in the process and only one person living south of Devonshire where 80% of the road diet exists, was included on the committee. Recognizing that imbalance I sought to alert the residents of the working group and petitioned to be included on the committee as a representative of the residents who actually live on the street. Shouldn't they have a say in this? As it turns out, I gathered 55 signatures from nearly every home I could get an answer from one Sunday afternoon. I brought the signatures to the councilman's office where I was flatly denied inclusion on the committee by Smith Chief of Staff and council candidate Mitch Englander. I did my best to plead the case that the residents on the street should have a say in the matter and at every turn of the conversation it was obvious that Smith's office had no intention of letting me in.

I left the office dismayed, wondering what the next step was. Fortunately, I was notified by Smith's office that I would be allowed to attend the second and third meetings but by then the design was already decided upon.

As I found out in the second of the 3 (known) committee meetings, the revised "compromise" plan presented by the LADOT based on feed back from the 1st meeting included a painted merge rated for speeds of 45mph that culminates at Mayall south of Devonshire. It was quite obvious to myself and Paul Kirk - the only other member of the committee who lives south of Devonshire that this merge presents a similar issue that the road diet solved for the bottle necks at Dearborn and Plummer both sites of numerous high speed crashes over the years... Only with the newly proposed bottleneck the drag race starts with the green light at Devonshire, the finish line being the unmarked crosswalk at Mayall. Pedestrians at Mayall who wish to cross, will have to deal with distracted drivers speeding towards them and looking to their left mirrors as they negotiate their place in line before the upcoming lane merge.  

We need a crosswalk not a finish line!

Proposed 45mph rated merge from Devonshire heading south to Mayall. Unacceptable! Any sane person can visualize the drag race scenario that will play out at every green light happening at Devonshire south.... Cars racing to get ahead of each other right up to the Mayall intersection.

The final two meetings of the Wilbur Working Group Ad-Hoc committee were basically back and forth talk sessions that lead to no changes what so ever to the proposed design. It was frustrating not to get answers from the LADOT about the traffic counts and the cost of the re-design itself. Every time I attempted to corner an answer from the LADOT about the cost, Mitch Englander interrupted and changed the topic. At one point Englander answered "It's within budget" to which I asked "What is the budget?" to which Englander replied, "it is not known."

The final vote.

From the beginning, the process outlined by Councilman Smith was never clearly defined. How exactly was the voting process to occur between the two Neighborhood Councils? Would it be a cumulative vote or would each board vote separately? What if there was a tie? Where would the vote be held? NONE of these questions are answered as of yet. There have been proposals to hold the meeting at the Porter Ranch neighborhood council... but why should a matter that occurs completely within the Northridge West district be decided in Porter Ranch? Fortunately that idea was discarded and things are looking like they will be held at Nobel Middle School.... The next issue is whether this is a joint cumulative vote or will each board vote on it's own. As we speak, the powers that be are pushing for a joint vote. I ask... Why? Porter Ranch has completely different interests in this matter than Northridge West does.

Porter Ranch Interests - MORE Cut through streets

It is no secret, Porter Ranch needs traffic outlet channels. It is a relatively new and growing development and with all the new residents there is great pressure to open up streets like Wilbur to MORE cut through traffic. But that degrades the neighborhood that has existed intact for decades with more and more car traffic. We've all seen streets in the valley which not long ago had a neighborhood character to them only to become shut off homes, walled off with side entrances becoming main entrances as residents retreat from their polluted noisy front yards. It's sad to see neighborhoods carved away by traffic.

Looming in the Future - Connecting Wilbur North to Wilbur South via an at grade track crossing at Parthenia.

Wilbur is the last stand and the Road Diet has helped to cement the neighborhood together. Looming in the future? An at grade crossing that will connect Wilbur South with Wilbur North. The plans have been designed but are currently shelved due to budget constraints. But beware, train tracks are under different jurisdictions and the money can pop up at any time. Once the street is connected, Wilbur will become a major thoroughfare across the valley. Expect Wilbur traffic to double and triple. At that point the neighborhood will cease to exist, cut in half and crusted at the seems by constant traffic. Home values will drop through out the neighborhood not just for the residents who live on the street. The existence and preservation of the road diet creates a less than feasible scenario making the at grade crossing less likely to become a reality.