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Love is not a one way street

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Q: What do you call a road with five to seven lanes of traffic in one direction, if the only way to exit this road is by going to the right?

Pose that question to most Angelenos and the answer would be "a freeway, stupid!" But they'd be wrong. The answer is the increasingly popular proposal by LA County Supervisor Zev Yarolslavsky to convert Olympic and Pico boulevards into one-way streets in order to ease Westside traffic. The proposal has been hailed as an easy quick fix in recent articles and on the news after a report by former LADOT planner Allyn Rifkin declared a reconfigured Olympic and Pico would cut traffic by 20 percent, as long as the one-way streets prohibited all left turns for their entire 14-mile span. With left-hand turns allowed, the traffic decrease could be a significantly lower 6 percent. Whoop-dee-damn-doo.

Another major problem with the plan is that Olympic and Pico, though sort of parallel streets, differ dramatically in distance from one another as they snake their way through the center of the city. Sometimes, the streets are almost a mile apart, meaning a missed turn would prompt a shooting gallery of cars through neighborhood cross-streets.

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Despite these very obvious shortcomings, the plan has seen little public dissent, with a notable exception being Koreatown. Maybe it’s because, in light of recent gains, that neighborhood has so much to lose. Even attempts to ease business owners' concerns by emphasizing the plan's "contra-flow lanes" (one or two lanes for reverse traffic for buses and cars during off-peak hours) has fallen largely on deaf ears in K-Town. A one-way Olympic Boulevard would slice through the heart of that community, as opposed to skirting the southern borders of Beverly Hills and other affluent Westside neighborhoods.

Photo by SeraphimC via Flickr.

The most upsetting component of one-way proponents' arguments for the one-way configuration is that they believe the "Subway to the Sea" is a nice idea, but can't be built fast enough to solve traffic problems now. Let's see, Yaroslavsky (along with Rep. Henry Waxman) helped kill the subway extension back in the 90s (which is why the recently-renamed Purple Line stops so abruptly at Wilshire and Western) by banning use of sales tax revenues for subway construction. Then, years later, after traffic has spiraled out of control and the Westside is a giant overpriced parking lot, the same guys vote to repeal the ban.

But now, the construction time of the subway is waaay too long to wait and the cost is waaay too high. Hasn't anyone stopped to think that if not for the very same NIMBYism that put the Westside into its traffic funk, it would be possible to hop onto a subway today and coast under Wilshire Blvd. all the way to Santa Monica, passing under Beverly Hills (getting its ass kicked by The Grove), Westwood (choking to death on traffic exhaust) and the 405 (no comment necessary)?

Even more comical is that the NIMBYism of the 80s and 90s doesn't appear to have subsided in the least, as evidenced by the battle many Cheviot Hills residents are putting up to prevent the Expo Line, the first rail to the Westside, from utilizing the rail right of way that goes through their neighborhood. Their reason for wanting to divert the line? They don't need mass transit in their neighborhood.

I'm not a die-hard eastsider who never ventures to the Westside. On the contrary, I battle traffic heading that direction routinely, whether it be to pick up or drop off my son at pre-school, going to the beach, or trying (usually in vain) to get to The Hammer. I've sat in traffic on Pico heading east at 5:30pm, and watched as people walked by us just like in the opening credits of Office Space. I've stopped going to my favorite Lebanese joint, Sunnin, simply because I won't dare go near Westwood and Santa Monica. Traffic just plain sucks.

But do I pity Westsiders? Hell no! Because I was once one of you (living in Santa Monica), and it took a relocation east to realize that the city of Los Angeles has been doing a lot of growing up, and making strides in battling those car-addicted, traffic-clogged clichés. I learned we have a subway system and, believe it or not, it's pretty damn handy as long as you don't need to go to the Westside.

Traffic east of La Cienega is always a fraction of what it is to the west on most major streets, even though the eastern parts of town are much denser. This one-way plan is about helping merchants and residents on the Westside (particularly the neighborhoods near the 405, where surface roads are the worst) by screwing the merchants and residents in the increasingly more manageable communities to the east. I have to call bullshit on that.

The proposal, if approved, would also send the city down a very slippery slope. Don't buy the "temporary fix" argument of proponents for a second. Look no futher than a passage in one of the very Times articles lauding the plan for a hint at the future, when it mentions that "if the Olympic-Pico street conversion worked it could become a prototype for other major thoroughfares."

Nice. Wonder how well received this plan would be if they tried to convert Hollywood, Sunset, Melrose, Beverly or 3rd into one-way streets?