By BARRY LANK
ECHO PARK — Traffic seems to have gotten only worse on modest residential roads such as Baxter Street, where residents have been asking for relief from increasing congestion. But what can neighbors on Baxter and similar streets do about it? Turns out that some of the potential solutions have their own drawbacks.
More and more stories have been popping up about complaints of “cut-through” traffic on side streets – an overflow of cars and trucks from crowded main roads, such as Glendale and Sunset boulevards, and even freeways. Many residents in Echo Park and other neighborhoods blame mobile phone apps such as Waze, which direct drivers off the congested streets during peak times, for exacerbating the problem. In fact, tonight, March 28, the Echo Park Neighborhood Council is scheduled to weigh in on a proposal to request that Waze stop recommending Baxter and Lake Shore Avenue as alternative rush-hour routes.
Noa Mikkelsen, who has lived around Lake Shore Avenue and Baxter Street since 2002, started noticing the increased traffic about year ago — and has seen it noticeably deteriorate over the last six months.
“I was trying to pull into my driveway and was gridlocked by cars on the wrong side of the road trying to drive up Baxter, even though there were roadblocks,” she said. “I asked [a] driver to move to the side so I could pull in the driveway, and he called me a bitch and said, ‘I don’t care if you live here!’ then sped off up Lake Shore at top speed.”
Despite calls for them to do something, city leaders have been slow to work with Waze for a citywide solution to the problem. Meanwhile, other potential solutions have their own drawbacks.
The city could make streets one-way or install four-way stop signs or “No Left Turn” or “No Right Turn” signs, said Russell Hasan, a transportation engineering associate with the Department of Transportation. Roundabouts and pedestrian plazas can also help divert traffic, he said. Residents can request those programs online.
But Hasan notes that any of these alterations must be agreed to by the majority of folks who live on the streets affected.
In the meantime, a proposal to deal with Waze has been stalled at City Hall for two years. Back in April 2015, District 2 City Councilman Paul Krekorian proposed having the transportation department consider working with Waze on reducing cut-through traffic.
“In light of the mayor’s announcement of a data-sharing partnership with Waze,” the proposal said, “the City may be able to leverage that partnership to reduce the impact of routing efficiency apps on neighborhood streets by, for example, regulating the number of added daily trips or other means.”
That motion is still pending in committee, according to Tony Arranaga, communications director for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents Echo Park.
Meanwhile, back near Baxter and Lake Shore, Mikkelsen has to put up with congestion as the process to find a solution drags on.
“The constant honking from 4:30 to 7:30 is unbearable,” Mikkelsen said. “We can’t even get our child’s homework done.”
Barry Lank is the assistant editor of The Eastsider and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. He is also the West Coast producer of National Lampoon’s “Final Edition Radio Hour.”
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