Sharing the roads in L.A.

Can L.A. avoid a 'war on motorists' in push for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets?

Motorists unite! An advisory initiative on San Francisco's November ballot urges city leaders to reverse their public transit and bicycle-friendly policies. Because 79% of households in the city have a car, proponents argue, wouldn't it make more sense to dedicate more money to helping cars move faster and making it easier and cheaper to park them? Why have local transportation authorities created a “war on motorists” by removing street parking and traffic lanes for bike routes, while hiking meter rates and parking ticket fines? Enough already!

Sound familiar? It should. Los Angeles has been hearing some of the same complaints as it begins a transformation from car-centric sprawl to what planners hope will be walkable, bikeable “urban villages.” Several projects designed to give Angelenos more transit choices and make streets safer have faced angry push-back from residents, businesses and politicians.

City Council members have shelved proposals for bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard on the Westside and North Figueroa Street in Northeast L.A., despite the fact that they were part of the city's master plan for bicycle routes. The council also considered dismantling the first Complete Street project to add protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety features on Figueroa near downtown. And a citizens group has protested increases in parking meter rates and parking tickets as balancing the city budget on the backs of drivers. There probably will be more fights as Mayor Eric Garcetti pushes his Great Streets Initiative and as the Department of Transportation focuses on making it easier to bike, walk or take public transit, which can mean slower speeds or less parking for cars.

Of course, San Francisco is not Los Angeles. It has such a high population density and compact layout that every bike lane or bus lane added necessarily means removing parking spaces or vehicle lanes. L.A. has more space to accommodate multiple modes of transportation. Still, it's worth looking at San Francisco's initiative to “restore transportation balance” as a cautionary tale.

Redesigning the urban landscape demands patience and consensus-building. That means listening to communities and building a record of success that can persuade even die-hard drivers that there are benefits to the proposed trade-offs, such as safer roads and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. It also requires a firm commitment by the city's political leadership — as well as the countywide Metropolitan Transportation Authority — to planning and funding a vision of L.A. that puts pedestrians, cyclists and transit users on equal ground with drivers. Hopefully, Angelenos can avoid a war on motorists and simply learn to share the road.

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