By HELIN JUNG
HIGHLAND PARK — Plans to improve pedestrian and traffic safety along North Figueroa Street — including the possible creation of a bike-only lane — have been put on hold at the request of First District Councilman Gil Cedillo, a prominent critic of “road diets” that reduce motor vehicles lanes.
The safety improvements to Figueroa were proposed as part of the city’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities. The Department of Transportation had proposed “repurposing” one northbound lane of Figueroa in addition to other changes, such as the installation of high visibility crosswalks, between York Boulevard and Avenue 43 on the neighborhood’s main north-south street.
The “repurposing” could apply to any of the lanes on the street, not necessarily a traffic lane, said one LADOT official. “The reference means that the lane may be repurposed to a bicycle lane, but also it could mean that it would be reserved for parked vehicles or a center-running left turn lane,” said the official in an email.
But there won’t be any lane changes for now. A spokesperson for LADOT confirmed that the safety improvement plan was on hold pending action by the City Council. Last month, Cedillo introduced a City Council motion directing the transportation department to stop all road diets, traffic lane removals, and lane configurations in his council district that have not been approved by his office.
Cedillo has been a lightning rod in the debate over changes to the North Figueroa corridor since at least 2013, when he was first elected to the council. His consistent opposition to the implementation of road diets and bike lanes has invited criticism from cyclists and complete streets advocates.
“For the most part, these road diets appear to be disastrous with respect to what the public thinks of them,” Cedillo told the L.A. Times last month.
Cedillo’s press secretary, Fredy Ceja, told The Eastsider that the councilman introduced the motion because “we have issues with the way outreach was done.”
“We respect LADOT’s Vision Zero strategy and are merely seeking improved communication with our council office before decisions are made regarding projects in our communities,” Cejas wrote in an email. “Before any road diet or lane configurations are initiated, we must ensure that a robust community discussion is had with maximum community participation, prioritizing pedestrian safety.”
Cedillo’s motion does support the implementation of pedestrian safety improvements like flashing beacons and the extension of pedestrian crossing count time. Ceja further emphasized that Cedillo’s office prioritizes pedestrian safety.
At this month’s meeting of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, emotions ran high as bike lane supporters expressed frustration that the debate was focused at what they felt was the expense of safety. Many described feeling afraid to walk or bike along Figueroa.
” I stay away from Figueroa because I don’t feel safe, and I’m somebody who’s been riding for 20-plus years,” said one bike advocate.
Meanwhile, an opponent of the proposed bike lane told cyclists to “Take the Metro instead of riding your bike.”
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Helin Jung is a freelance writer in LA
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