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Lessons from LA: What’s behind road diets

Morning rush hour traffic makes its way along US 101 near downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

When John Russo drove to work from his Los Angeles home one morning, he was actually pleased to see road crews blocking off the street.

“What happened one morning in June, I was going to work and I saw the LADOT street crews out,” Russo told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “I thought, ‘Oh great. They are repaving the streets. We got some potholes that need filling.’”

“When I came home that night, I found out that not only were the streets repaved, but they actually removed traffic lanes for about six miles of road,” he said. “So we went from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction.”

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Russo lives in the Playa del Rey area of LA. It’s an awkward bottleneck, similar to Seattle — the Pacific Ocean to the west, LAX to the south, and I-405 to the east.

“When they halved the capacity on the road, they created havoc in the morning,” Russo said. “What was a ten-to-fifteen-minute commute turned into a thirty-minute commute. That’s [the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s] own data … they ran time studies and they basically doubled the commute to go six miles.”

Karla Mendelson’s husband has to make that trip, which now takes an hour out of his day. Both Russo and Mendelson are with Keep LA Moving, a group of commuters organized against road diets around Los Angeles. Their main goal is to spread as much information as possible about transportation and transit issues around their region and to educate their neighbors. They provide information on how the public can file a declaration of loss, or call and write their elected officials.

The road experience in LA, they say, is very similar to what is happening in Seattle. The main problem is road diets — taking away lanes for cars while encouraging drivers to get onto a bike or onto mass transit.

“As we’ve learned through this process, there are much better solutions than road diets,” Mendelson said. “What happened in LA is they purposely put road diets on arterial roads and roads with more than 20,000 cars a day.”

“There’s so much subtext to this and so many different motivations,” she added. “One of which is to get people out of cars. The other is to promote high-density development. It goes on and on. The point of this is to make driving so miserable, you will choose a different option.”

Report a chokepoint

Mendelson supports different modes of transportation, but argues that officials are putting the cart before the horse. Mass transit and bikes aren’t an option for families with kids or many people who need to work.

“The fact is, the same politicians who want to penalize you are not taking mass transit; in our city, they are driven around in chauffeured SUVs that are paid for by the taxpayers,” Mendelson said. “If you can build a mass transit system that the lawmakers will take and CEOs will ride, then we’ll be in business. Until you do that, don’t start taking away lanes.”

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