The GWNC Transportation Committee panel discussion with representatives from the City Department of Transportation and CD4 drew a large crowd to the committee’s quarterly meeting on Monday evening.
Committee chair Conrad Starr moderated the two-hour, free-range discussion in which Bhuvan Bajaj, Transportation Engineer, LA Department of Transportation, Hollywood-Wilshire District Operations, and Rob Fisher, Field Deputy/Community Planner for CD4 Council Member David Ryu, answered questions from residents on how to slow down traffic on their streets, how to get speed humps (the slightly higher bumps are no longer permitted because of potential liability to the city and because they can slow down first responders), how to get right-turn-only signs, how to get stop signs, what to do about scooters on the sidewalk, and getting more enforcement of traffic rules.
Leading off the discussion, Bhuvan Bajaj gave an overview of the vast area DOT covers and how residents can communicate with the department. According to Bajaj, DOTLA oversees 4,700 traffic signaled intersections, compared to just over 700 in the City of Long Beach. Bajaj works in the Hollywood-Wilshire district, which covers over 400,000 people living in CD4, CD10 and CD13. His office is located in the Hollywood field office, right next to CD4 staffer Rob Fisher, and the two work closely. Bajaj told residents that the best place to place a service request request for a new stop sign or to report a problem intersection is the department’s web portal, myladot.lacity.org, which was introduced about five years ago and creates a public record for each request.
Bajaj spent quite some time explaining how to file an online request, and encouraged residents to include photos. For example, the speed hump program was on hiatus for a while, but is now back online, and the portal is best place to start if you want to get humps on your street to slow down traffic. Bajaj said the program is open twice a year for applications. He also talked about which items do not fall under the purview of the department, such as potholes (they are the responsibility of the Bureau of Street Services, which residents can reach through the app MyLA311).
Bajaj said much of DOTs work focuses on “Vision Zero,” Mayor Eric Garcetti’s directive to eliminate all traffic pedestrians deaths by 2025, as well as and the implementation of the concept of “complete streets,” a new way of thinking about roadways for all users, and not just cars. The overall goal is to move the city toward a multi-modal transportation focus, to get people out of cars and using different kinds of transportation.
Bajaj also explained that DOT must conduct traffic studies before an alteration can be made to an intersection. He added that it takes time because the department is understaffed, following a seven-year hiring freeze.
Rob Fisher, CD4 Field Deputy, said his office works closely with Bajaj and would try to help expedite service requests, especially for more routine requests like stop signs that don’t require engineering solutions. He explained that he is often asked why can’t the City close a street to WAZE or other online GPS apps. The answer, according to Fisher, is that it simply can’t be done. In fact, it’s illegal, even though the City can selectively close streets for specific events, such as those at the Hollywood Bow. However, Fisher said, turn restrictions are a good way to address cut-through traffic, though DOT will still need to conduct a study to see if the data supports putting them in.
Fisher said most residents are looking for ways to slow traffic down, even though much of the work of the City’s engineers over the years has been to speed things up so traffic can move quickly. He cited the recent expansion of the 405 Freeway as an example of how adding more lanes simply added more traffic. In residential areas like ours, he said, controlling speeding on wide residential streets is really hard. But, he said, narrowing the lanes can slow people down. He cited his office’s effort to use a bike lane on Van Ness Avenue in Windsor Square to narrow the traffic lane and reduce traffic speed. However, he also noted, this effort has become more complicated because the street is not straight, and it now requires an engineering solution instead of simply striping the street.
Still, explained Fisher, the best way to calm traffic is to provide visual cues like signage or lane striping. Fisher brought some signs along with him that residents could take home to remind drivers to slow down in a residential neighborhood.
Bajaj and Fisher both said the traffic does need to move, so if want to change the flow of the traffic it has to be justified by collision data, which comes from LAPD police reports. However, both speakers acknowledged that accidents are not always reported, and often the data has shown that accidents occur when people are violating the law, not as a result of a design flaw in the intersection. Bajaj said it comes down the “Three Es” – Engineering, Enforcement and Education – to make streets safer and traffic move more efficiently.
Mitchell Jacoves, a member of the Community Policing Advisory Board (CPAB) and chair of its Traffic Committee, which meets monthly with motor officers to identify problem intersections, told residents they should call the West Bureau to ask officers to police troublesome intersections, though the resources of LAPD are also limited. Residents who are interested in the work of CPAB are welcome to come to its monthly meetings.
Next, in the question and answer part of the meeting, Mary Rajswing and Ginny Kazor asked if DOT would restore the flashing red traffic signal at Wilton and Second Street. The signal is now only flashing yellow and many drivers are confused, they said, making the intersection much more dangerous. Rajswing said DOT officials have been unresponsive to the neighborhood’s informal data and have refused to review the intersection, even with pressure from the city council office. Rajswing said she is frustrated with the official DOT response, and sees no path to a resolution. Bajaj noted that the signal pattern was changed because of a new state requirement.
Later, a Windsor Square resident asked Fisher to look into right-turn only status for the intersection of Plymouth and Beverly Blvd. Another resident asked about Preferential Parking Districts and why some residents would be opposed to them. Committee member Julie Stromberg noted that there’s a two-year wait for neighborhoods that have asked for parking restrictions, and explained that some residents find the requirement to get passes for guests a hassle.
Several residents complained about electric scooters using the sidewalks. Currently, motorized vehicles are prohibited from riding on the sidewalks, but there is very little enforcement. (A representative of Lime spoke about this issue at the October meeting of the Transportation Committee.)
Finally, in response to another question about using trees and landscaping as a traffic-calming measure, Fisher said that planting trees is a “huge priority for the council office.”
The next GWNC Transportation Committee meeting will be held on Monday, April 15, 2019, at Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave., Collins Room D-200, Los Angeles, CA 90004.