LA's Slow Streets Program Is Picking Up Speed (Despite Some Attacks On Signs)
A new initiative to give Angelenos safe space to stay active on neighborhood streets while still practicing safe social distancing is off and running -- with a few hiccups but growing interest to bring it to more communities.
The Slow Streets program launched in two West L.A. neighborhoods last Friday: Del Rey and Sawtelle. The goal is to give residents more room to safely get fresh air and exercise on their streets by limiting car traffic, and prompting drivers to slow down and share the road.
Mayor Eric Garcetti formally announced the initiative in a media briefing, saying it's meant to promote pedestrian safety, community equity and responsibility.
"This is about how we live with COVID-19 -- and we can have that space without infecting one another, even as more of the city opens up," Garcetti said. "It's about doing right by our neighbors and showing respect for everyone's health."
Here's how it works: the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has an online application for neighborhoods that want to join the program, though to be considered, applicants must include a "sponsoring organization" like a neighborhood council or city councilmember's office to demonstrate local support. The goal is to empower communities to decide if and how they want the program to roll out in their streets. Those sponsors run point with the city to help plan which streets to include, then monitor the program once it launches.
The safety initiative is designed for residential zones, though no streets are actually closed to cars. A mix of A-frame barriers, cones and signs indicate which streets are for local traffic only, and advise drivers to slow down and be mindful of other road users. Signage also includes reminders to practice social distancing and wear face coverings.
As of today, LADOT has received over 175 applications, according to spokesperson Colin Sweeney, though not all had the required sponsoring organization and a few were from areas outside of the city of L.A.
So how is Slow Streets being enforced? Essentially like this:
There is no police traffic enforcement attached to the program, Sweeney said. In fact, even if residents do everything right from a public health standpoint, the program could still be taken away because of people behaving badly in cars.
LADOT has an online feedback form and is asking residents in Slow Streets zones to let the city know "if they observe violations of public health guidelines or motorists not slowing down," Sweeney explained.
"We can suspend at any time a specific Slow Streets location if reported or observed violations continue," he said.
Jonathan Wells and his family have lived in the Del Rey neighborhood for seven years and enjoy biking and walking around the community. He told me he wishes the program had been implemented sooner (I reported previously on why an earlier plan was delayed), but said he does feel safer walking and biking in his neighborhood with the signs in place.
"I think that it's important to do these experiments," Wells said. "Anything that makes it safer for people to get out and exercise in a way that they can still social distance is a good thing."
Not everyone is a fan of the program, though. On recent walks and bike rides, Wells noticed some signs and cones had been knocked over, damaged and kicked to the curb. He's been in contact with the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, which is monitoring the initiative.
The council's president, Matt Wersinger, says local volunteers are on the lookout for downed signs and are restoring them whenever possible.
LADOT's Colin Sweeney confirmed this week that "some signs were being damaged or removed without authorization" in Del Rey. He said the department continues to work with the neighborhood council to keep tabs on the program.
The local Nextdoor page is simmering right now, according to Wells (though he said "that's just par for the course"), with some users adamantly trashing the initiative.
"I don't know where they're in a rush to go to, but... they're afraid this is going to be permanent," he said.
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The program was designed to be low-cost and temporary, though city leaders and safety advocates have said they're interested to see if the experiment can offer a better understanding of permanent safety improvements down the road.
Nextdoor aside, Wersinger said the feedback has been mostly positive, and the group will continue community outreach.
"There were families with kids that came out to thank us for doing this because they'd seen a significant change in the speed of cars on the street," he said. "Those drivers that did still choose to use any of these streets were being a lot more conscious of what was happening around them due to the signage."
A 'MALLEABLE' PROGRAM
Del Rey residents have noticed an uptick in the number of cars taking Redwood Avenue and Beethoven Street near the busier corridor of Washington Boulevard. Traffic in those spots has returned to a level that's unsafe for pedestrians, Wersinger said, so in order to avoid diverting drivers to other side streets, the city will take out some signs and barriers.
The two sections where Slow Streets is being removed, per LADOT, are:
- Redwood Avenue from Washington Boulevard to Maxella Avenue
- Beethoven Street from Washington Boulevard to Short Avenue
That "malleable" nature is a key strength of the program, Wersinger said, because it gives residents the ability to work with the city to make adjustments based on how traffic changes moving forward.
"We're volunteers; it costs [the city] nothing," he said. "And it also gives us the opportunity to be the ears to our neighbors... versus folks downtown who might not necessarily have the best understanding of our neighborhood block by block."
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