[CD13 ELECTION] Traffic: “City of Cars”

CD13 candidates from top left: Jessica Salans, incumbent Mitch O'Farrell, Sylvie Shain, David de la Torre, Bill Zide, Doug Haines.

CD13 candidates from top left: Jessica Salans, incumbent Mitch O’Farrell, Sylvie Shain, David de la Torre, Bill Zide, Doug Haines.

Los Angeles ranks as the worst city in the world for getting stuck in traffic, according to a study released in February.

Conducted by Inrix, a data firm out of Kirkland, WA, the study revealed car-driving Angelenos, on average, spent 104 hours last year stuck in congestion. Next was Moscow at 91 hours and New York City at 89.

Los Angeles City Council District 13 (CD13), which runs from Elysian Valley to Hollywood and from Atwater Village to parts of Koreatown, is home to some of the city’s most heavily traveled and walked streets, like Santa Monica, Hollywood and Sunset boulevards and Western and Normandie avenues.

Its councilmember, Mitch O’Farrell, is up for re-election March 7th. Here are his thoughts about how to calm traffic in the district as well as those of the candidates running against him.

With six Metro transit stops, O’Farrell’s district has been at the forefront of a sometimes controversial new kind of urban planning for Los Angeles: building densely around public transit to get people off the freeways and city streets.

“We are undeniably growing,” said O’Farrell who has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times in the race. “The population is increasing since the Great Recession. We must orient our development at our transit,” he said.

With a goal of more public transit use in the district—it’s currently down now according to figures just released by Metro—O’Farrell said he has also made pedestrian safety a high priority since his election in 2013 with the installation of 12 signals to help walkers get from one side of the street to the other, including a “scramble” crosswalk at Hollywood and Highland.

“That was a game changer,” he said. “Pedestrian accidents went from 16 to zero in one year.”

And he is supportive of the city taking on Waze, the way-finding navigational app that has made once quiet residential streets cut-throughs for traffic.

“We know state and local governments cannot regulate navigational apps,” said O’Farrell, “but we [can] compel them to be better…partners.”

Challenger Sylvie Shain said she worries O’Farrell’s close relationship with developers may be making public transit less accessible to the people who need it most.

“For me, Mitch represents the typical local establishment,” she said. “He is not negotiating on behalf of the public. He is negotiating on behalf of the developers.”

Shain said much of CD13’s luxury and high-rise transit-oriented development pushes out the working class who rely on public transit to get around every day, replacing them with more wealthy residents who tend to own cars.

“They are building luxury housing around transit, expecting those people to use the transit,” she said. “But at a certain point, if you have a lot of money, the economic incentive is a lot less.”

According to Shain the city’s leadership is essentially switching out Metro’s customer base in many areas of CD13 and hoping that wealthier residents will use the system just as much or more as the working-class residents who lived there before.

The long-term result, Shain said, is a dip in metro ridership like Los Angeles has already seen recently, making traffic worse and putting a heavier burden on displaced working class residents as higher rents push them further away from the district’s transit hubs.

“This gets back to the crux of my advocacy,” Shain said, referring to her history as a tenants’ rights activist in the district. “You can’t displace people from their neighborhoods because it has so many impacts.”

Candidate Doug Haines, who was recently endorsed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and whose main platform is reeling in spot zoning in Los Angeles—where city councilmembers approve projects even if they don’t follow area zoning rules—said the city’s current penchant for development and how it relates to traffic needs a wider review.

Three developments are currently in various stages in CD13 near Barnsdall Park and a fourth, in Council District 4, all within a mile of each other. All of the projects are near the Metro Red Line, and developers receive breaks on such things as providing parking, due to transit proximity.

“No one at the city really looks at the holistic view,” said Haines. “There’s no real questions whether [these developments in total] are appropriate. It’s like a sausage factory. They just keep coming in.”

Haines thinks there are simple solutions to the area’s—and Los Angeles’s—traffic problems, like staggered work hours and ensuring large development is not built at existing “bottlenecks,” like where Fountain and Highland avenues meet.

He also has a wild idea, to raise the price of gasoline to $10 a gallon.

“I am not advocating that,” he said, “but it works…It’s just logical. Tomorrow you would have everyone out of their cars.”

He said he would also seek to protect pedestrians by having cops simply act on laws.

“We need to start enforcing the rules,” Haines said. “All the simple things,” other cities do.”

According to candidate Jessica Salans her vision is in line with the city’s sweeping and aspirational “Mobility 2035 Plan,” a city approved blueprint to make Los Angeles more walkable and less car choked in the coming decades.

The plan calls for measures like widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes, and making public transportation more appealing and accessible to city residents.

“We have an opportunity to say whether we want to be a city that is designed around cars, which we currently are, or designed around people, and I’d like us to move in a direction designed around people,” Salans said.

Salans said she thinks she can increase bus use with increased on-time reliability, an improved smartphone app and a free fare day.

“You bear the cost at the beginning, but over time when cities have done this, it’s increased ridership,” she said.

She also said she will make it easier for constituents to get from their homes to public transit—especially important in areas like Echo Park and Silver Lake, where Salans said the hassle of getting to and from Metro stops deters ridership.

Candidate Bill Zide, said that the proposed developments in CD13 on Hollywood Boulevard will impact traffic negatively.

“The proposals…are too large and dense for the area, they don’t account for the lack of infrastructure to support [them],” he said. “Hollywood Boulevard isn’t expanding anytime soon so I think there has to be an understanding that any of these developments alone would impact the traffic.”

More locally, Zide said he’s seen increased traffic on major streets starting to encroach, more and more, into residential neighborhoods in East Hollywood and Atwater Village.

“Brunswick Avenue [between Los Feliz and Glendale boulevards] has now become this main thoroughfare. Because it becomes crowded, traffic filters out to the parallel streets…and there are cars barreling through a family neighborhood,” Zide said.

He agrees the city should negotiate with Waze, to stop cars being redirected to areas unable to absorb the flow.

Candidate David De La Torre, a founding member of the Elysian Valley Neighborhood Council and the area’s current neighborhood watch chair, underlined the importance of thoroughly examining the traffic impacts of developments in a given area.

“I want to look at each section in the district and treat it uniquely in its capacity to absorb and to handle the added density,” said De La Torre. “…and if it can’t [support more development], those initial transportation plans need to correspond accordingly so that they don’t worsen the situation.”

A step toward this goal, De La Torre said, is not to accept on face value the traffic studies that developers put forth, as he’s found they are often not in the public’s best interest.

“The city has to take the lead in initiating those environmental traffic impact studies, said De La Torre, “because I don’t want to leave it to developers to be the lead in that and have it only be self-serving.”

De La Torre said the array of transportation options in the Mobility Plan, such as road diets, propose “lofty” goals that will only be reasonable if they are handled correctly over time and are within the limits of what people will accept and what each unique area can accommodate.

“The problem I’m seeing right now in the Mobility Plan…and [projects like] the Rowena Road diet, is they are coming in too quickly without enough true planning and without enough community say,” said De La Torre.

As an example, De La Torre pointed to a project in the Elysian Valley that was completed when Mayor Eric Garcetti was the councilmember for the area.

A dirt road by the Los Angeles River, historically meant for pedestrians, was changed to a pedestrian and bike path with little to no consultation with the stakeholders involved, De La Torre said.

“We’ve had cyclist-pedestrian conflicts, where cyclists have been injured and pedestrians have been injured, with the pedestrians taking the greater brunt of head injuries,” he said.

De La Torre said it was one of these incidents that pushed his decision over the top to run for councilmember.

“I was so frustrated that I had rung that bell [for a safe and responsible design] way back when Eric Garcetti was councilmember, rung it under Mitch O’Farrell and it was simply neglected to a point that a neighbor [of mine] nearly died because she was struck by a speeding bicyclist,” he said.

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