LA Department of Transportation’s program for “Stress Free Connections” is anything but stress free for Hancock Park residents. At a Zoom meeting hosted by the Hancock Park Homeowners Association Tuesday evening, more than 50 residents repeatedly told LA Department of Transportation officials they strongly oppose any traffic lights at the intersections of 4th Street and Highland and Rossmore Avenue.
Instead, neighbors asked for installation of ADA compliant corners, and sidewalk and street repairs, saying they are a neighborhood of walkers, families with kids, and elderly people who would all benefit from safer streets.
“We want to make the neighborhood safer for everyone, not just those riding bicycles,” said HOA President Cindy Chvatal-Keane, who presented the neighborhood’s list of suggestions for creating stress free intersections.
“We proposed to the LADOT Active Transportation Department to use any funds made available for 4th Street Greenway enhancements or mitigations for safety improvements between Highland and Rossmore do the following:
- Add painted crosswalks at Highland and Rossmore at 4th street.
- Install needed HPOZ-designed and City-approved ADA curbs on 4th, where needed between Rossmore and Highland.
- Repair sidewalks and street sections using designs that preserve our tree canopy.
- Require LADOT to conduct a comprehensive traffic study to determine any future needs for 4th Street. And that all methodology and results be made available to the HP community for review.
- Require the traffic lights already installed at Melrose, Rosewood, 3rd, Beverly, 6th and Wilshire to be synchronized and appropriately timed.
- That no stop signs can be removed from 4th street in Hancock Park.
- Require the City and GWNC to include the Hancock Park community in any future discussions regarding 4th Street.”
Following Chvatal-Keane’s presentation, LADOT Transportation Planning and Policy Division officials Severin Martinez, David Somers, and Rubina Ghazarian presented their plans to create “stress free connections” to entice more residents to walk or ride bikes in highly dense areas of the city. The project, known as Central LA: Planning for Stress Free Connections, includes the 4th Street Greenway section that runs through Hancock Park and Windsor Square.
Following the presentations, Chvatal-Keane invited residents to make comments and ask questions. One after another, residents told LADOT officials that signalizing the intersections was unnecessary and would worsen traffic in the neighborhood as drivers seeking to avoid the lights would turn onto neighborhood streets.
Ira Smedra, a resident of June Street near Beverly Blvd., said the traffic light installed near his home has made traffic much worse. During the pandemic, Smedra said, traffic in the street was greatly reduced and it was like the street was returned to the neighborhood, with children riding bikes and people walking in the street again. He said he wished the city would remove the signal, and strongly opposed the addition of more traffic signals.
Clif Lord, a longtime Highland Avenue resident, who bikes and walks in the neighborhood, told officials there’s no need for signals because the synchronized lights at 6th and 3rd Streets create breaks in the traffic where it’s easy for cars, bikes and walkers to cross the street.
Rossmore resident George Phillips told officials he wants to see a comprehensive traffic study of the whole neighborhood before the city creates a signalized crossing and right turn only at 4th and Rossmore and Highland.
“They need to do a traffic study so that they can understand the effects on the neighborhood, especially cut-through traffic and those who live on or close to 4th street, Rossmore and Highland,” Phillips told the Buzz after the meeting.
After the meeting, residents expressed told the Buzz that they fear DOT officials don’t really understand the neighborhood.
“John Burroughs Middle School turns the neighborhood street into parking lots during drop off and pick up,” Mike Sanchez, who lives at the corner of 4th Street and Highland Avenue, told the Buzz.
“Lights and restricted turns would be unworkable here, said Sanchez. “We already have enough problems with restricted turns at 3rd Street. I’m all for safety, but it’s a very unique dynamic here. Adding more traffic lights (there would be three in a row on Highland Avenue) would have the consequences of diverting traffic from the main arteries onto the residential streets.”
“It just feels like a solution being proposed in search of a problem, because there isn’t a problem crossing Highland Avenue,” said Sanchez.
“I think there’s a lot to validity to that argument,” McCadden Place resident Sheldon Larry told the Buzz after the meeting. “The DOT presentation felt like they have been charged with making these changes to empower bikers.”
“They don’t seem very interested in our suggestions or the impact their proposals will have on the neighborhood,” said Larry. “It seems like they see us as entitled, privileged, noisy Hancock Park, but we are not unwilling to try to make the intersections safe for everyone. We’d like to be included in the planning process.”
Larry’s driveway, like all the other corner homes in the area, is on 4th street, and told us he has narrowly avoided collisions with bicyclists who don’t see him exiting his driveway because of parked cars.
“It’s completely blind,” said Larry. “Why not consider restricting parking on 4th street and create a bike lane. I think that would be good. But they aren’t doing that, instead they are proposing to create a bicycle highway haven and it doesn’t make sense. I worry about safety.”
Larry said since the pandemic, 4th street has become much more crowded with walkers, and he’s worried that adding a traffic light at 4th street will back up traffic and make it even harder to exit his driveway, especially when school is back in session.
“They are just not dealing with how the neighborhood works and what the impact will be,” said Larry. “And to what end,” he added. “Where does the traffic go once you hit Park La Brea? Where is it heading? What happens at either end? The whole plan lacks connectivity.”
Even though William Newby isn’t directly affected by the proposed changes, he’s supporting his neighbors because he’d rather have the city focus on fixing the sidewalks, installing ADA compliant ramps on corners that haven’t yet been converted, and repairing the neighborhood’s concrete streets, saying those improvements will impact everyone’s daily life in the neighborhood not just bicyclists.
Echoing others in the neighborhood, Newby told the Buzz, “this is a solution looking for a problem. Los Angeles is just not a pedestrian/bike friendly city and it’s hard to see how it can ever change. They are very earnest, passionate planners, but looking at the underlying facts, 4th street doesn’t need this, but there are other major intersections that do.”
Everyone we spoke to told us this is not the first time they have battled LA DOT over 4th Street.
“I was part of the group that made the case to then Councilmember Tom LaBonge eleven years ago,” Sanchez told the Buzz. “At the time, they wanted to install lights and a bike lane on Highland Avenue and they wanted to remove all the stop signs on 4th Street. It would have been completely unsafe.”
“It’s just maddening,” Cindy Chvatal-Keane told the Buzz. “We keep having the same conversation.”
We asked DOT officials how the community’s opposition might affect their planning process.
“Community meetings such as this are a critical component of a successful program. Planning for Stress-Free Streets is in the initial phase of evaluating streets across the planning area and community feedback helps us identify which improvements will work best for neighborhoods,” replied Colin Sweeney, Public Information Director of the Communications Office at LA DOT.
Click here for a recording of the meeting.