Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Installing a "Fix" at a Cost of 9000 Filled Potholes

The Mayall 45mph rated merge
The LA Times reported that a pothole fix costs between $5 and $21. By that calculation, the city is spending up to 9000 "pothole fixes" worth of money ($45,000) to paint in a 45mph lane merge right up to a residential intersection where local residents signed petitions asking to have a crosswalk installed. Not only is the city spending scarce funds to do it, they are spending the money on a street that less than a year ago was freshly paved and striped with a much needed safe street configuration designed to discourage speeders and encourage multi-mode use. Commuters to the north, who were used to cutting through the neighborhood (typically at high speeds) raised an angry protest backed by Councilman Smith's office will ultimately get their "fix" at the cost of a safer pedestrian friendly neighborhood intersection to the south. The lines are currently chalked and paint is set to be laid some time soon... possibly this weekend.

A parent speaks out against the Mayall 45 mph rated merge:

Bike lanes shoved to the gutter....

This father of two loses some on street parking with the Mayall merge

How did this happen?

The 1998 Northridge Community Plan with specific reference to Wilbur
The process that led the LADOT to re-pave and re-stripe Wilbur Ave. a second time in only 10 months was driven by a rift between local and outside interests but could not have happened without the ultimate decision of Councilman Smith's office to move forward with a "compromise plan" that was rejected by the public for different reasons. The root of the issue is that Wilbur Ave. is contradiction in civic planning. The street, designed decades ago is wide and fast yet distinctly residential. There are many homes along the street with frontages and driveways with no access to alleys or outlets other than Wilbur Ave. itself. The street does not connect across the valley and is therefore under traveled during off peak hours which means drivers had a wide open street to speed on under the old "4 lane" configuration. This lead to chronic problems of collisions and even death. SWITRS (a CHP maintained statewide database) statistics analysis reveals that in just 10 years 5 people died and more than 300 collisions occurred on the two mile stretch in which the new configuration was striped. The problem was significant enough that the 1998 Northridge community plan - part of the city wide general planning document - focuses on Wilbur specifically by name and calls for "narrowing of travel lanes, chokers or sidewalk bulges" to calm speeders.

Despite the calls in the LA City General plan for a safer more residential Wilbur, in 2009, the LADOT attempted to remove the crosswalks at Prairie and Superior posting small signs at the crosswalks to alert the community of their impending removal. The people in the community reacted fiercely, signing 600 petition signatures in favor of keeping the crosswalks and showing up to Northridge West and Northridge East Neighborhood Council meetings. People voiced demands that the crosswalks stay and that peak hour lanes not be installed on Reseda Blvd. in the residential area north of Devonshire. Both meetings featured heated and passionate public comment directed at the LADOT representatives from the local residents.

CHP/LAPD statistics re the 2 mile stretch of Wilbur now cured by the road diet.

Fast forward to 2010 when Wilbur was scheduled for a re-pavement. The LADOT, perhaps responding directly to the lashing from the year before, installed what is called a road diet on Wilbur Ave. A road diet takes a 4 lane street and converts it to a 3 lane street with bike lanes and added parking. This configuration gave drivers an option to use the center turn lane to slow and turn from rather than stopping in the path of (often) speeding traffic. With a contiguous center turn lane, left turns into driveways and street-locked communities became much safer. The statistics showed left turn collisions were the majority of crashes that were occurring under the 4 lane configuration.  Drivers were vulnerable to speeders zooming up from behind who then either had to slow down or move to the right to pass - a dangerous situation especially in a residential area. With the road diet in place, drivers could now avoid stopping in the "fast lane" in order to make a left.

The road diet ultimately engineered slower more reasonable speeds of 35-40 mph which of course was not received well by those who were used to speeding on Wilbur. One LA Times reporter and Porter Ranch resident lamented the loss of her "speedway." Parents dropping their kids off at the area schools became infuriated at the initial backup caused by the road diet. An angry mob hurled insults at Rita Robinson, the LADOT General Manager at the time who happened to have a speaking engagement scheduled at the Porter Ranch neighborhood council shortly after the road diet was striped. One NC member famously called her an "idiot" in a fit of anger. The situation was only made more hostile by the fact that Councilman Smith, whose office is located on the south end of Wilbur was vehemently opposed to the road diet.

The Wilbur Working Group Ad-Hoc Committee is formed

To address the anti-road diet crowd, Councilman Greig Smith formed an ad hoc committee headed up by Chief of Staff Mitch Englander. Smith put Porter Ranch NC and Northridge West NC in charge of assigning members to the committee. After the committee came to a decision Smith proclaimed, there would be a joint NC vote on the matter. Immediately, the committee was stacked with anti-road diet people. 3 from Porter Ranch, 2 from the Ridgegate and Belcourt gated communities and 3 from Northridge West. The only pro-road diet voice initially was Paul Kirk a resident of a street-locked community south of Plummer. Two other representatives chosen by Northridge West lived North of Devonshire and were vehemently anti-road diet.

Wilbur Residents express support for the road diet:

Representation by people living on Wilbur aggressively quieted

Alternative plan rejected by LADOT and CD12
One problem for Smith and the anti-road diet crowd... The people that actually lived on Wilbur and within the street-locked neighborhoods were in favor of the new configuration and wanted to be heard. Many felt that having a calmer safer street with better turning ability and bike lanes as a "buffer zone" between traffic and their homes was an improvement. People from the community circulated petitions and made phone calls in support of the new configuration. With no representation of the people that actually lived on the street I pleaded to become a member of the committee arguing that people that live on the street itself should have a say. Smith's chief of staff Mitch Englander, himself an anti-road diet advocate, actively blocked my attendance to the crucial first meeting of the Ad-Hoc committee. This, despite presenting petition signatures from nearly every resident that lived on Wilbur from Nordhoff to Chatsworth requesting my attendance as their representative. By the time the second and third meeting of the Wilbur Ad Hoc committee adjourned, the Mayall high speed merge was a part of the plan. Despite my objections, the LADOT explained there was no other possible alternative design available. Stop signs, street lights, 4 lanes to Devonshire - all possible remedies to the speeding and the morning school drop off issue were flatly rejected. Furthermore during the meeting city officials refused to address the cost of the 2nd re-striping despite repeated questions from both pro and anti road diet voices regarding the matter. Traffic counts and cost were not considered.

The Town Hall Meeting

The conclusion of the matter was a March 15th townhall meeting where the joint Porter Ranch and Northridge west NC panel would decide the fate of Wilbur. Even the location of the meeting became an issue as the anti-road diet voices pushed to have the meeting at the regularly scheduled Porter Ranch NC meeting place. This did not seem fair after all, the entirety of the road diet existed within the boundaries of Northridge West. The meeting was moved to Nobel Middle School auditorium where an estimated crowd of 500 people showed up. About 2/3 of the people were clearly anti-road diet, most of which were from Porter Ranch. The other 1/3 were pro-road diet and pro-residential Wilbur.

Presentation against the Mayall merge:

The LADOT presented their design to the crowd, along with cases presented both for and against the LADOT proposed re-design. The joint panel ultimately voted against the LADOT proposed plan Members of the joint panel, disgusted with the compromise plan and the process itself, abstained in protest that they were only given one option. This apparently was not understood by Councilman Smith who was not present at the meeting but moved ahead with the rejected LADOT plan choosing to override the entire process that many people spent hours of volunteer time attempting to reach a compromise on.

Mitch Englander addresses a packed town hall meeting

The final cost...

Only 10 months after the initial re-pavement of Wilbur, the Bureau of Street Services and the LADOT are back to re-pave and re-stripe Wilbur. Instead of a crosswalk, the community gets a $45,000 "finish line" at Mayall, in a residential area of Wilbur,  a block west of Nobel Middle School and adjacent to a streetlocked community to the east. Meanwhile not 2 miles away, a worn out crosswalk on Zelzah, recently the site of a collision that sent 3 pedestrians to the hospital, deteriorates... in need of a new paint job.

1 comment:

  1. This is a citywide problem. Drivers race through my neighborhood to cut through from Wilshire to Olympic. I'd like to see a ballot measure (at the city or state level) that states, in effect "The speed limit for any portion of any street that is not less than 50% residential shall not exceed 20 mph. Such maximum speed limit shall be enforced by all available means, including but not limited to the introduction of traffic calming measures to bring such streets in compliance."