Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joint Panel rejects LADOT compromise.

On Tuesday March 15th, the Joint Porter Ranch and Northridge West Townhall / Vote on Wilbur ave. took place.

The meeting room was filled with an estimated 450 concerned people from Porter Ranch and Northridge. The process that got us here was set forth by Councilman Smith months ago and the agenda called for presentations to the public and to the joint board comprised of Porter Ranch and Northridge West neighborhood councils. The first presentation was made by the LADOT displaying the compromise plan borne out of the Wilbur Working Group Ad Hoc committee meetings. Next came a question and answer session by the joint board followed by presentation "for" and "against" the LADOT compromise plan. After that, public comment, and lastly a joint board ballot vote on whether to reject or accept the LADOT compromise. In this case, abstentions, it was explained several times through out the meeting, would be tantamount to a vote of no due to the complications of combining two separate boards as a single voting body. In order for the compromise plan to be adopted, a total of 10 yes votes were required.

The LADOT compromise plan was turned down
by a vote of 9 yes, 3 no and 7 abstentions. 
President Tom Johnson presents vote results 3/15/2011 by Safe Streets

Abstention = NO
Many on the panel were so frustrated with LADOT's "one option or nothing" approach that they abstained as a form of protest. Several times through out the meeting it was explained by the D.O.N.E. representative that for the purposes of this meeting, and abstention was equal to a vote of no.

For this vote I THANK Porter Ranch and Northridge west Neighborhood Councils. We all made a tough decision but indeed the correct one. The compromise plan, which I have maintained all along was rushed through, created a new and unnecessary danger, and did nothing to fix the "school drop off" problem that exists between 7:30am and 7:55am. Eventually everyone at that meeting realized it. I don't care to speculate on why this plan was rushed through but I can tell you that it definitely was rushed, to it's own peril.

Moving forward, it can be assumed that a brand new push in the effort to re-stripe Wilbur will emerge. My hope is that any committee formed to oversee such a process will include a healthy representation by the residents living on the street and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Each block has unique interests and there should be carefully considered block by block solutions implemented.

Do Porter Ranch residents and those living outside of the immediate neighborhood have a say? Of course they do. Should it be an "equal" say? In my humble opinion the voice of "Safety" should always have the most say over any configuration. Since this street is a secondary highway with residential characteristics, local resident's needs should be served primarily and through traffic needs should be served there after.

Presentation in opposition to the LADOT proposed plan:

Presentation in support of the LADOT proposed plan:

"What is the general purpose of a secondary highway."

Public Comments answered:
I couldn't get them all, but I posted comments that I felt best characterized the  opposition to the road diet. I decided to answer some of the many comments that were submitted the night of the meeting here on this blog.

For or Against, EVERYONE agrees that
speeding is a problem on Wilbur.
Of note is that most if not all of the people who opposed the road diet conceded that Wilbur has far too many incidents of speeding above the posted limit. It was also clear that many wish for the return of "4 lanes to Wilbur." The reality is that many in the community surrounding the road diet do not wish to give up the new center turn lane that runs the length of the 2 mile disputed stretch and this is where a compromise will have to take place.

"The crash stats are scare tactics. I don't believe them and even if true, so what it's normal."

The crash data and stats (click here for complete report) are indeed scary! They seem unreal but in fact they are a matter of public record. Though the stats are urprisingly DIFFICULT to obtain, but they are available for everyone to inspect online. The California state government maintains an antiquated website tool which connects to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) database for requesting reports. This system is administered by the CHP.    

The SWITRS website needs to be updated ASAP. The people should be able to easily obtain crash data and statistics about any street. It would be useful for making decisions for example when purchasing homes or locating safe routes to work or school for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

In addition to requesting the data through SWITRS I reached out to Dr. Alex Thompson, Mar Vista Neighborhood Councilman and president of BikesideLA, and Sgt. David Krumer of the LAPD. Both are members of the LAPD Bicycle task Force of which I have been involved as well. Both worked hard to get accurate statistics for this stretch of Wilbur using the SWITRS database.

Sgt. Krumer's method actually encompassed a broader range of accidents, those occurring up to 30ft from Wilbur at the major intersections and cross streets. The theory being that crashes up to 30 ft from the intersection, on for example Plummer, would still be related to Wilbur Ave since they occurred in such close proximity. That methodology produced more than 350 reported incidents, however as per advisement of Thompson, the radius was cut to zero on incidents reported on that 2 mile stretch of Wilbur in order to remove any doubt that the statistics were doctored to make a stronger case.

The Statistics
Between 1999 and 2008, there were 234 traffic collisions reported on Wilbur Ave between  Nordhoff St and Chatsworth, an average of 23 each year.  If these collisions were spaced  evenly, there would be one every 46 feet, as you walked from Chatsworth to Nordoff.  The  234 collisions resulted in 364 injuries, and 5 deaths. If you extend the study to include up to Rinaldi the death toll rises to 8 and the crashes increase by more than 150 reported incidents.

Keep in mind, we all know that the police are loathe to write up accident reports. They expect people to exchange info and settle things through civil means (insurance), they don't like to be bothered. The fact that these incidents found in the SWITRS database are reported means that they had to break a significant thresh hold of severity for the police to decide to take a report.

"What is an acceptable fatality rate?"

what is an acceptible fatality rate LAPD confirms less incidents by Safe Streets

Seriously. For those who don't care about the safety of the neighborhood they are speeding through... Well then... IS there a thresh hold death rate that would change their mind? If 1 person dies every year on Wilbur is that acceptable? Perhaps even 2 or 3 people could die per year and some people would still not care.... What is the acceptable death rate?

"Less incidents on Wilbur since the implementation of the road diet." -LAPD

One thing that is difficult for anti road diet people to dismiss is that the new contiguous center turn lane has addressed 77% of the crashes that occurred under the old configuration. The LAPD confirmed as such Tuesday night reporting "Incidents are down since the road diet was implemented."

Previously, sans-center turn lane, residents have complained of the pressure from speeding traffic approaching from behind to make a quick left from the southbound "fast lane" whilst gauging the often time variably speeding oncoming traffic. A particularly dangerous scenario is when cars approach at different speeds for example a car speeding north passing a slower car in the left lane. This speeding car approaching in the blind spot of the slower car from the south bound left turner's perspective has proven a huge hazard. The center turn lane can not exist under the old configuration and include 4 travel lanes plus parking even without the bike lanes. This is the reality.

"Speeding 13% C'mon man"
As you can hear in the video above, right after the opposition to the LADOT plan presentation, a person in the audience pointed out that speeding was listed as the cause of "only" 13% of the collisions on Wilbur. The thinking behind this comment seemed to be that if only 13% of the collisions are blamed on speeding it would seem that speeding wasn't a significant enough problem to bother addressing....

Answer: The speeding as a sole cause of a collision statistic is a bit misleading. Because speed is difficult to assess after the fact and especially when "hidden" behind other factors like running reds collisions and left turn collisions, speeding, as a sole cause of a collision is not so common. The SWITRS data will sometimes list a secondary factor in collisions, but because of the fact that secondary factors are not reported consistently the data was omitted.

The top two collision factors left turn into oncoming traffic and running reds combined with speeding to make 77% of the collisions. The road diet addresses a clear majority of the problems on Wilbur by providing a left turn lane for people to escape to instead of feeling the pressure of the fast lane rushing up from behind as a driver attempts to get into their driveway or side street. With the calmer flow of single lane car traffic a person can then judge far better when to make a left and is not faced with having to gauge two speeds of oncoming traffic often one car passing another.

"We NEED the center turn lane."
I agree! What people don't realize is that there are places south of Plummer where the road narrows and 4 lanes are not possible (regardless of whether there are bike lanes) without removing the center turn lane and / or parking lanes in front of people's homes. These are non negotiable in my mind. Obvious safety and quality of life issues.

"Are we going to reduce lanes and speeds on EVERY street to make them safer?"
Not every street. Just the ones that make sense. The character of the neighborhood that lines the street should definitely play a role in how fast the street should be. Obviously a commercial zone would be treated different than a walled off corridor or a neighborhood with homes that have driveway access. Wilbur is classified as a secondary highway by the LADOT. John Fisher GM of the LADOT explains that a secondary highway is made to serve local collector streets with local traffic and "some" through traffic. Wilbur is a wide street yet it has homes with frontages on it including several homes with driveways and no alley access - characteristics of a local access street mixed with the width of a through street. Again, the question can be answered by investigating the kinds of access that a street provides and providing safety above transit speed.

"Wilbur resident with 6 children
thanks Rita Robonson and the LADOT"

Many of those opposed to the traffic calming of Wilbur take the position that people knew what they were getting into when they bought the home and if they don't like it, they should move. This is a phenomenon that I will call NIYBYism. If NIMBYism is "Not in MY backyard" then NIYBYism stands for "Not in YOUR backyard." Basically, people don't want traffic speeding past their own house, but those who try to improve the conditions in front of their houses and in their neighborhood should simply move lest they slow your commute down. The problem with the move mentality is, if one person becomes disgruntled with the volume of traffic and leaves, the next person who settles in will eventually will become disgruntled as well. No one really wants to live in a high volume high speed neighborhood after all.

"Cyclists don't pay road tax why should they get 50% of the road?"
There are 7 lanes on Wilbur. 2 parking, 2 travel, 2 bikes lanes, and a center turn lane. Added up by square foot, bike lanes are 1/6th of the space on this 2 mile stretch of road. Many people believe that the gas tax and vehicle registration fees pay for the roads so therefore all of the space should go to cars the thinking goes. In fact this is not true. Local roads are paid for through the general fund which is chiefly sales tax and property tax. The gas tax and car registration fees pay for the state's highway and freeway system most of which do not allow pedestrian or cycling access. Since local roads are paid for by everyone, the full right of use by cyclists and pedestrians is guaranteed by law.

Not only are local roads subsidized by everyone, they are not paid for proportionately by the vehicles that destroy them most. Every vehicle on the road is a 4000lb pavement destroying machine, wearing and tearing at the asphalt that year after year is rebuilt at an enormous cost to society. By contrast cyclists and pedestrians cause little damage to the roads and infrastructure. Shouldn't we be encouraging people to choose to use alternate forms of transportation simply because it saves tons of road repair money? What if our policy was to tax the heaviest vehicles the most? You break it, you should pay for it right?

"Shame on you LADOT!"

"Did the LADOT engage the community?"

The short answer? A little less than yes, but yes. While it is true that the LADOT seemed to say nothing in advance about the road diet implementation, it is also true that the LADOT got an earful in the past couple years for attempting to remove crosswalks and implement peak hour lanes. While someone at a Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council called Rita Robinson an "idiot." A smaller local group of people applauded her as a hero.

Calls for a safer Wilbur date back to 1998
Northridge Community Plan specifically mentions Wilbur Ave. as a target for traffic calming

Wilbur's safety woes are nothing new. As far back as 1998 the Northridge Community Plan, part of the Los Angeles City General Plan, calls specifically for Wilbur avenue to receive traffic calming measures:
(on page III=25) in section 13-1.3,under GOAL 13, Objective 13-1, Policies
last updated 1998, 


Discourage non-residential traffic flow for streets designed to serve residential areas only by the use of traffic control measures. One problem area is Wilbur Avenue which is a street with excessive traffic speeds through a residential neighborhood. Another area is that surrounding CSUN, where residents have noted the intrusion of traffic and parked cars.

Program: The use of Residential Neighborhood Protection Plans and traffic calming techniques to relieve congestion on collector streets that are expected to experience traffic congestion by the year 2010. For Wilbur Avenue, techniques can include the narrowing of travel lanes, chokers or sidewalk bulges with landscaping at minor inter-sections, and increased enforcement of posted speed limits. Speeding problems along Wilbur Avenue should first be referred to the Police Department. If the problem is not solved through enforcement, the LADOT should initiate a traffic study to determine the extent of the problem and propose appropriate measures to remedy the situation

Note that out of ALL the streets in Northridge, Wilbur is specifically mentioned. Fast forward to 2009 when the LADOT posted notice that they intended to remove the crosswalks at Superior and Prairie. Upon seeing these signs the neighborhood rose up and produced more than 600 signatures stating that they wanted to keep those crosswalks. Many people from the community showed up that summer to speak at both the Northridge West and Northridge East Neighborhood Council meetings to proclaim they wanted those crosswalks to stay and that the speed limit should come down on Wilbur. Paul Meshkin of the LADOT was present at those meetings along with other staff members, the names escape me. They saw the outrage to the crosswalk removals and the disgust at the proposal to install peak hour lanes on Reseda. Everyone at those meetings making public comment spoke in unison. Most telling sign of the chorus of disapproval present at that meeting? The president of Northridge West, who had originally introduced a motion supporting peak hour lanes on Reseda, found himself voting against his own motion. People were passionate and I believe the LADOT went back to the drawing board and came back with the only logical answer to most of the problems plaguing Wilbur... a road diet. What other options did they have?

What the LADOT did not do was engage the public on the last leg of this journey and that is why we have a rift amongst neighbors. Over time, this rift will heal and perhaps alternate solutions will be proposed.

"The LADOT snuck in and striped in the middle of the night?!"

They sure did... and on a weekend too. Now call me crazy, but I think they do it on weekend nights because.... that is when they will cause the least amount of traffic when they block off the entire street to paint!  This "nasty" characterization of the process has got to be one of the most twisted truths of the whole affair. Raise your hand if you think the streets should be repaired and striped during rush hour. Raise your hand if you think the streets should be striped during business hours or at any time during the day.

Conclusion and some asks for the LADOT
The "old Wilbur" is gone forever. We cannot go back to that dangerous configuration. The 1998 plan called for a safer Wilbur, and the neighborhood called for it in 2009 when it demanded to keep it's crosswalks and 2010 via petitions in favor of the road diet. These pro-road diet petitions were delivered on 8/23/10 a week or so before the striping was laid in. a second round of petitions were gathered in October.

  • Please continue to protect residential areas with traffic calming. 

  • Please put in a crosswalk at Mayall / Wilbur regardless of the count. There are kids in that neighborhood who need to get to Nobel in the near future. Encourage them others to walk.

  • Please continue to consider the people living on the street and in the neighborhood first and offer more alternatives to help our neighbors in the north travel through our neighborhood safely.

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