Editorial: Meditative Aspects of a Los Angeles Road Diet

By Sue Pascoe

Los Angeles traffic bottlenecks are among the worst in the country, according to a traffic study by the Seattle-based traffic data firm Inrix, released on Sept. 27.

Based on 2016 statistics, Inrix calculated that the cost of traffic jams cost an average of $1,400 per driver per year. That’s mostly the cost of their time and fuel, but also the increased cost for goods, which are trucked to local stores.

Although New York City had the most traffic hot spots, Los Angeles topped that city overall, and once again we are No. 1 (!) because of the severity and frequency of our traffic jams.

Luckily, leaders such as Councilman Mike Bonin have figured a way to ease traffic congestion—by implementing road diets. Those of us who have gone on diets wonder if he means low-carb or maybe even high-protein? Does this mean our roads are too fat and need to be slimmed down?

Traffic on Chautauqua Boulevard.

Last Saturday as I tried to get to a soccer game, I drove down a stretch of Venice Boulevard, where the road has been narrowed from three lanes to two. As the critics have been complaining to Bonin’s office, I was stuck in a traffic jam because the expression “road diet” is a misnomer. The expression doesn’t actually mean the road is obese, it’s just a nice way of saying we don’t want cars on it.

The configuration, which is proposed for many roadways in Los Angeles (and was even suggested for Temescal Canyon Road), can best be described as something someone might think up if they had drunk too much tequila. I’m sure as I describe this, you will think that I had too many margaritas.

Westbound Venice Boulevard, between Inglewood and Beethoven Street used to have four lanes, three for traffic and one for parked cars (next to meters).

But drivers who used to go along at about 30 mph are now funneled into two lanes, causing an instant backup and a slamming of brakes. The third lane for traffic is now filled with parked cars.

Two-foot-high, marshmallow-like markers are now used to separate parked cars from what were former parking spaces. The bike lane now replaces the former parking spaces, still lined with parking meters.

As I crawled along in traffic, stopping frequently, I had time to count the number of bikes in the bike lanes. It was a beautiful Saturday and you would expect to see hordes of people riding. I saw exactly two.

People now have to cross the bike lane to put money in the meter. Is this dangerous? The lack of bike riders made this fear moot.

Where do parking-meter officers park their car in order to ticket cars? I’ll guess that they are probably authorized to stop in one of the two traffic lanes, which means longer meditative waits for drivers.

Maybe meters will be pulled from the sidewalk and reinstalled by the marshmallows in the roadway. After going four blocks in 10 minutes, this road diet was starting to make me hungry.

Having additional time to speculate, I watched the fire truck in my rear-view mirror with its lights and sirens going (drivers had nowhere to move). The truck finally pulled into the opposite roadway and drove down the wrong side of the street.

The thought occurred to me that if taking away one lane of traffic eases congestion and gets Angelinos out of their cars, then why not take away two lanes?

Cycling on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail at Will Rogers State Beach Credit: https://onthegrid.city/los-angeles/pacific-palisades/will-rogers-beach

Before I moved to New York City, I was a bike rider because I couldn’t afford a car. In New York, I switched to public transportation, which took you everywhere (unlike Los Angeles, where it takes you anywhere in a timely fashion— except where you need to go).

When I had a child, we moved to Los Angeles, but they don’t make infant bike seats. Then I had children two and three—but pedaling three of them to preschool in Santa Monica, down Temescal Canyon Road to PCH and then picking them up again three hours later, especially in the rain, just didn’t seem practical.

Groceries can easily be bought and transported when you live by yourself, but unless I strapped together several bikes, like a camel herd, bringing home groceries for a family would have been a problem.

I love buses, but it seems that many of the gardeners, who were also stuck in the traffic on Venice, don’t want to put their mowers on a bus.

Actually, I guess road diets can be blamed on us. If city officials come up with alcohol-infused ideas, then it’s our fault if we don’t say anything. As for me, meditation on roads like Venice Boulevard and driving the 10 and 405 freeways only costs $1,400 a year. I wonder if there’s a Groupon for it?

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