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Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Editorial: L.A.'s plan to make Figueroa a 'complete street' makes sense
There will be trade-offs, but the plan to make it bike and pedestrian friendly is worth pursuing.
Rendering of the proposed My Figueroa Streetscape project.
Los Angeles is on the verge
of transforming four miles of Figueroa from downtown to Exposition Park
into the city's first "complete street," serving cars, buses, bicycles
and pedestrians equally. The $20-million project, which would replace
two car lanes with protected bike lanes, has been in development for six
years. If completed, it will be a significant milestone in L.A.'s
evolution from car-centric sprawl to walkable, bikeable urban villages.
But Figueroa happens to
be an iconic car corridor; it's home to the Automobile Club of Southern
California's headquarters and numerous auto dealers, including Felix
Chevrolet, whose neon Felix the Cat sign is a designated historic
cultural monument. Plans to remove car lanes are not popular.
business improvement district opposes the proposed installation of three
miles of cycle tracks, which sandwich bike lanes between the sidewalk
and concrete transit islands for waiting bus riders, and one mile of
buffered bike lanes, which are separated from vehicle traffic by painted
striping. The University of Southern California and the museums at
Exposition Park have raised concerns that the "road diet" could cause
traffic jams that would make life miserable for people who live, work
and play in the area, and ultimately deter visitors.
At the request of Councilman Curren Price,
who represents the area, the Department of Transportation is taking a
second look at the project to see if it can be redesigned to preserve
more vehicle lanes. That could mean moving bike lanes and cycle tracks
running in one direction to another street, such as Flower. But
rethinking the plan could make it significantly more expensive and
undermine its premise: to make Figueroa the clear biking, walking and
bus link between South L.A., USC and downtown.
The concern of
local businesses and institutions is understandable. The "My Figueroa"
project is the first of its kind in Los Angeles. Transportation
engineers predict that it will take longer to drive those four miles,
but they can't say how much longer. Case studies suggest traffic
congestion caused by a road diet will ease over time as drivers try
other routes or choose to cycle, walk or take the bus. But there may
also be real, negative effects for long-established stakeholders on
Figueroa. Transformative projects have trade-offs.
While it is
perfectly reasonable to consider the concerns and to try to reach
compromises, however cars should not get veto authority. The city's 2010
bicycle plan identified Figueroa as part of the Backbone Bicycle
Network, those streets identified as key arterials for cyclists.
Figueroa has the added benefit of providing a straight, safe route
between two established biking communities — USC and downtown. This is
exactly where Los Angeles should be replacing car lanes with cycle
tracks and buffered bike lanes.
In recent years, California law
and Los Angeles policies have established that streets are not meant for
automobiles alone. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council should not
let fears of traffic congestion turn this transformative project into
another incomplete street.