Neighbors Divided On Rowena Road Diet
SILVER LAKE—About 200 representatives from locals, city officials and political and bicycle advocacy groups attended a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council town hall meeting Sept. 14th to discuss the so-called “Rowena Road Diet,” which some say is a microcosm of future issues the city might face now that a plan has been approved to similarly reduce car lanes throughout the city.
The road diet took away two car lanes on Rowena after a fatal pedestrian accident in 2012. Doing so left an extra 10-feet on either side of the road to add bicycle lanes.
The goal, officials said, was to increase safety on the street, which is often used as a throughway from Los Feliz to Silver Lake and to the 2 and 5 freeways. The street is also heavily used by local children attending Ivanhoe Elementary School.
According to city officials, statistics for the half-mile stretch are somewhat dated, as it has been torn up for water pipe construction projects in recent years.
But according to Tim Fremaux, a traffic engineer with the city’s Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) and one of the designers of the road diet, during the first nine months after it was implemented, traffic collisions decreased almost 50% and car speeds were reduced by 3-miles-per-hour in both directions, as compared to a similar period in 2008. City officials also say there has been an increase in bicyclists on the stretch of road.
But, residents at the Sept. 14th meeting said they’ve also seen increases of frustrated drivers trying to avoid the clogged street by cutting through their neighborhoods at unsafe speeds.
Recently an “End the Rowena Road Diet” petition was put online as well as a video that showed multiple cars over a short span of time, speeding through streets near Rowena and rolling through stop signs.
Eager to get up to speed on the issue, five representatives from Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu’s office attended the meeting. Ryu took office in July, succeeding Tom LaBonge who was councilmember for the district for 15 years.
Panelist and local resident Jerome Courshon contended that community outreach was minimal on the project and that the road diet was “kind of snuck in” by LaBonge, after the 2012 death of Ashley Sandau, a 24-year-old woman who was crossing the street the night of her birthday.
“Tom and [the department of transportation] were here [at a SLNC meeting] and they said, ‘We’re going to try it for three months.’”
The LADOT’s Fremaux acknowledged that missteps were made in public outreach and estimating the effect on side streets, but he remained optimistic.
“We are committed to work through these problems,” he said.
Jim O’Sullivan, with the advocacy group Fix the City—which has filed a lawsuit against the city’s far-reaching Mobility 2035 plan that reduces some of Los Angeles’ major streets with similar road diets—said during the meeting he would seek a public records request from city officials to find out exactly how the Rowena Road Diet was implemented.
Most of the 40 residents who spoke at the meeting complained less about reduced travel time on the street, but more so about the domino effect the road diet has had on surrounding streets, especially Waverly Drive and Angus Street. Residents complained of increased traffic that jeopardized pedestrians, cars running through stop signs and even having to break up fights between drivers arguing over right of way.
The option of installing speed humps was raised. But that program was disbanded in 2009 due to budget cuts.
According to a spokesperson with the city’s Dept. of Transportation, the city, however, is considering reinstituting the program in the future.
Proponents of the road diet—and there were many—said the changes to Rowena have created safer conditions for children attending Ivanhoe Elementary School, employees who work at nearby businesses and bicyclists.
But some said the factors that contributed to Sandau’s death, the catalyst that created the road diet to begin with, have not been addressed at all. Rowena is poorly lit at night, they said, and still does not have signaled crosswalks.
“We want to work with the community,” said councilmember David Ryu spokesperson Estevan Montemayor in an interview. “The street is too dark and there are not sufficient crosswalks.”
After the meeting, Matthew Mooney, transportation and public works committee co-chair of the SLNC, was pleased with the support for the Road Diet evidenced at the meeting.
“Safety was the winner of the night,” he said. “It was heartening to see adults with children saying how they could now bike to Trader Joe’s.”