- Terelle Jerricks
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Councilman Joe Buscaino hosted an informational town hall meeting on the Pacific Avenue Road Diet” Aug. 27 in a bid to squash rumors of San Pedro’s take over by the Bike Lane mafia.
“This is not a bike lane project,” Buscaino reiterated almost at the start of the meeting.
Whether he was successful or not remains to be seen, but a number of local residents are highly upset with the changes.
Department of Transportation representative Michelle Mowery said that the bike lanes were never the focus of the road diet project, but were an added benefit that was tacked onto project later since it cost little in terms of space and money to implement.
Buscaino attempted to cast the road diet as a safety issue. The term “Road Diet” is a Los Angeles Department of Transportation term describing the conversion of two lane streets into one lane streets in either direction. Buscaino noted this 1 mile stretch between O’Farrell and 22nd street as having the greatest number of pedestrian accidents in San Pedro.
The former Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officer turned councilman cited statistics, such as the fact that there were three schools on Pacific Avenue, including Barton Hill and 15th Street Elementary school and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a recently opened charter high school.
Between these three schools, there are 1,900 students. Ninety percent of these students cross Pacific Avenue twice a day, totaling 3,400 crossing every day.
The average daily traffic count seen on Pacific Avenue is half of what’s seen on Gaffey, data show that Pacific Avenue has more than twice the number of pedestrian involved accidents in the city.
Between 2006 and 2011, there were 105 bike and pedestrian involved collisions—Eighty percent of these involved children 12 and younger.
The Pacific Avenue Road Diet was at least two years in the making after DOT’s successful application for a grant for the project. DOT representative Carlos Rios noted that the 2012 application was actually their second application. The first application filed in several years previously by the old Community Redevelopment Agency before it was dismantled by the Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011.
“With state money that is a lot of bureaucratic red tape associated with state money that we have to follow,” Rios explained.
Buscaino reminded residents of then-Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s Slowdown San Pedro initiative in the mid 2000s following resident complaints of speeding on San Pedro’s residential streets.
Irate traffic foes weren’t having any of it and quickly disputed the numbers, questioning if DOT parceled out the number of jaywalkers, skateboarders and bike riders disobeying traffic laws, while others characterize the new street changes as a downtown Los Angeles attack against San Pedro and its car culture.
“I don’t know where you guys are from, but I grew up in Pedro. I’m from here,” said Lifelong resident, Alex Salazar, said during public comment. “We’ve always had two lanes on Pacific and there wasn’t a problem before. Now we have more people here, now you’re going to make less space. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council member and safe street racing advocate Donald Galaz has serious complaints with the road diet and taken this issue up with the Department of Transportation at a several neighborhood council meetings within the past several months.
Galaz prefaced his remarks by saying he was not opposed to bike lanes or the efforts to reduce traffic accidents.
Galaz argued the road diet was more dangerous than leaving it as it was, citing an incident in which his daughter narrowly escaped a near-miss collision when a vehicle evaded on the left side of a bus making stop. The vehicle, according to Galaz swerved into oncoming traffic nearly hitting his daughter.
In previous meetings, Galaz noted that the southern end of Pacific Avenue is in a tsunami zone and that if the unimaginable happened, there will only be two lanes instead of four leading out of San Pedro.
Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council President (and Random Lengths News Publisher) James Allen recalled seeing the road diet project when it was introduced to Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council and voting in favor of it. Allen explained that the trouble is that the city is taking a piecemeal approach to solving the city’s transportation woes and making a bigger as a result of it.
However, the disconnect between walkable and livable cities and traffic reduction was most apparent in an exchange between an identified public commenter and Mowery.
“Traffic is getting worse and worse all the time. You actually believe that this was more a walking, biking community and less commuters. You mentioned that.”
Mowery attempted to correct the commenter explaining that more transportation options (i.e. getting people to walk, bike, and utilize public transportation) must be made available as the as the city’s population density increases.
“But we don’t have that at this point,” the commenter cut back. “We can’t hop on the bus and go places. We can’t bus to Santa Monica. We can’t walk to Long Beach to go to school. We can’t do it. We have to drive our cars.”
“You keep talking about the 5 percent that ride bikes. What about the 95 percent that commute to work?” a public commenter said.