In July of 2017, Los Angeles imposed a "road diet" in the quiet beach community of Playa del Rey, replacing car lanes with bike lanes and parking spaces. The roads were suddenly jammed with traffic. The community was livid.
"Most of Playa Del Rey didn't know this was happening," says John Russo, a local resident and co-founder of Keep L.A. Moving, a community group formed to fight back against the city's unilateral decision to reconfigure the streets. "It really created havoc for us because we have no other roads to take."
Road diets are part of a strategy known as Vision Zero, in which Los Angeles aims to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities by 2025. It's an idea borrowed from Sweden, which in the '90s started experimenting with reconfiguring the roads to encourage more commuters to bike or take mass transit to work.
"In order to achieve zero deaths, public officials have been doing some odd things," says Baruch Feigenbaum, the assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) that publishes this website. Road diets aren't "based on science" or any "empirical findings."
"After the road diets were put in, we actually saw traffic accidents go through the roof," says Russo. "We had an average of 11.6 accidents per year on these roads in Playa Del Rey. We've had 52 accidents in the last four months."
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 American Community Survey, about one percent of Los Angeles' commuters bike to work. Sixty-seven percent drive.
"You're taking something from a whole bunch of people just to benefit a few people," says Feigenbaum. "That's not a good cost-benefit analysis."
City planners also want to incentivize residents to move closer to their jobs. Or, if they do have to commute, to ride the city's public transit system. Los Angeles has the third largest transit network in the country, yet only 10 percent of commuters use it to get to work.
"In Los Angeles, a majority of the folks simply cannot get from their homes to their jobs in a short period of time using transit," Feigenbaum explains. "Trying to force people into one type of behavior doesn't tend to work and it's why, even in Los Angeles, the vast majority of people are still commuting by automobile."
In October, the Los Angeles City Council reversed itself in Playa del Rey after community members filed two lawsuits against the city and launched a recall election of local Councilman Mike Bonin (D), who had backed the plan.
But the city is still planning to implement over 40 road diet projects in other areas of Los Angeles, and major cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Atlanta are pursuing similar policies.
"In the 1960s we were building interstate highways, freeways through downtown areas, which was definitely the wrong approach," says Feigenbaum. "Now we don't want to build any roads at all. We just want to build bike paths. We want to narrow lanes. We're saying that transit is going to solve everybody's needs. Neither extreme is what we need."
"It's not about cyclists versus drivers," says Russo. "These are all of our roads and they should be safe for all users. And the road diet didn't make our roads safer and they're not making it better for the cyclists."
Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Garcia, Alex Manning, Todd Krainin, and Paul Detrick.
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