Beach Cities driving with caution on ‘Living Streets’

Past proposals for a bike lane on a section of Aviation Boulevard, shown above, have been set aside as cities tinker with Living Streets policies. Photo


Hermosa Beach will not be removing a lane of traffic on Aviation Boulevard to make way for a bike lane any time soon.

That was one of the few firm conclusions to emerge from a meeting of the city councils of the three Beach Cities and the Beach Cities Health District last week, as the bodies considered Living Streets policies, intended to make roads attractive and useful for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as cars. Despite some skepticism and concern over potential backlash over how the policies would be perceived, the councils agreed to continue working and relying on the framework they had built up over the last few years, but did not approve any specific projects or improvements.

Los Angeles County created its Living Streets Manual in 2011, and municipalities in the region, including the three Beach Cities, have since developed chapters covering their own territory. In parallel, the Beach Cities and the health district sought grants in 2012 from the Southern California Association of Governments to consider applying Living Streets principles to Aviation, a corridor that runs through all three cities. Initial projections revealed that several significant changes, including the addition of a bike lane, were feasible, but that more study was needed.

In the intervening years, however, the South Bay and other parts of Southern California experienced a backlash to forward-thinking transportation policies like those embodied in the Living Streets manual. Last summer, one lane in each direction was removed from Vista Del Mar, a beach-adjacent arterial west of Los Angeles International Airport that is a popular route for South Bay commuters headed for the Santa Monica, Playa Vista and other Westside job centers. Although the lanes was removed due to concerns over legal liability arising from unsafe conditions — pedestrian deaths on the street had led to a series of costly verdicts against Los Angeles, including one for $10 million just before the lanes were removed — they were rolled out at almost exactly the same time as several “traffic calming” measures in Playa del Rey, causing many drivers to associate the two.

Councilmembers stressed that, to move forward, they would have to assure residents that nothing like that would result from further work on Living Streets policies.

“The experience of what happened in Los Angeles on Vista Del Mar really haunts the public ’s perception of what we’re doing here,” said Manhattan Beach Councilmember David Lesser.

A revolt from South Bay cities prompted Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn to step in and get the lane closures reversed. But “road diets” became politically toxic in the South Bay. Previous Living Streets meetings, at which renderings of one of many possible designs showed the removal of lanes on Aviation, including the stretch in Hermosa between Prospect Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, generated howls of protest.

Consultants aiding the cities on Living Streets issues said that these versions had been set aside, given resident response. But other council members made the point that bike lanes represented only a small portion of Living Streets principals. Hermosa Councilmember Justin Massey, in particular, pushed the group to preserve what had been done, saying that there was a strong statistical correlation between more walkable neighborhoods and higher property values.

“What this Living Streets Design Manual is about is giving people options besides getting into their car. People want that: the data reflect it,” Massey said.  


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