The evening rush hour traffic is backed up for blocks. Frustrated motorists spill over into narrow residential streets seeking a congestion-free route. Drivers blow through stop signs and speed down the street.
More than three months after the city eliminated a traffic lane in each direction on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake, the “road diet” intended to calm traffic and create a safer environment for pedestrians has generated mixed reviews from nearby residents.
On Thursday night, residents expressed frustration as well as support for the 90-day road diet during a meeting sponsored by Councilman Tom LaBonge, who said he wanted to make the road diet permanent but was open to suggestions. He said his office has received mostly positive comments since the street was restriped in March, reducing Rowena to one traffic lane in each direction from two between Hyperion Avenue and Glendale Boulevard. In addition, a middle turn lane and bike lanes in each direction were added.
A large number of attendees called for more time to evaluate the changes before deciding whether to keep the road slim or fatten it up again.
Even some supporters of the plan said motorists continued to speed down Rowena and create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. A supporter of the plan, who lives on Angus Street, claimed drivers often ignored stop signs in the area. He said gazing upon parts of Rowena was like “watching a slalom race at the Winter Olympics” or a “giant bobsled ride.”
A comment by Peter Miles, a business owner on Rowena, read at the meeting was critical of the plan. Miles’ statement, read by local activist Jerome Courshon, said cars “blow past” his shop through the bike lanes everyday.
Courshon himself had mixed feelings on the project because the project could turn the neighborhood into a quieter place. However, he was concerned about limiting traffic on Rowena because more cars would speed down side streets to avoid congestion during rush hour. In fact, Courshon shot a video (presented at the bottom of this post) showing some of that additional traffic on Waverly Drive. Scaling down car usage on a “major artery” from the neighborhood’s transportation system without an adequate replacement, in the activist’s eyes, was a poor decision.
“It’s just not built for it,” he said, referring to the neighborhood.
By his count, 500 to 1,000 cars went through Waverly Drive now that the road diet was in place. He felt the risks to pedestrians on on Rowena, site of a fatal car crash last year, were transferred to the side streets. Courshon felt the project had failed to engage residents of side streets or take into account the impact on smaller road ways.
Resident David Wheatley, who reported almost being hit on Rowena recently, criticized the inclusion of the bike lanes. He hadn’t seen any cyclists on the slimmer street.
Bike riders were “pushy” for infrastructure even though the two-wheeling population wasn’t sizable enough to warrant expansion of the existing bike lane system, Wheatley said. Cyclists along the corridor were also accused of running red lights, almost plowing into pedestrians and driving “18 miles per hour” on sidewalks.
Bicyclist Bryan Blumberg said the bike lane doesn’t get much use because it’s new, and no other bike paths connect to it. He described biking in Los Feliz as “scary” and crossing the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge over the 5 Freeway as “terrifying”. Blumberg, who uses the Rowena bike lanes three to four times a week, considered the path a respite.
Other residents called for more crosswalks and stop signs, around Ivanhoe School in particular. But city officials dismissed calls for speed bumps on the street because physical speed deterrents would affect the buses and fire engines that travel down Rowena.
LaBonge urged caution about adding signage as a means of slowing cars because the signage makes pedestrians less alert to their surroundings. “I’d rather see people walk in fear than feel a false sense of security,” he said.
The councilman, who at one point pantomimed a woman talking on her phone while pushing a stroller and walking her dog, said everyone has contributed to the problems caused by irresponsible motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
“We’re all sinners.”
LaBonge said the city’s Department of Transportation would take a look at the suggestions.
Video by Jerome Courshon below shows traffic on Waverly as drivers try to get around Rowena Road Diet.
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.