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People Are Going Crazy Over The Mar Vista 'Road Diet'

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A stretch of Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista has undergone some changes recently as part of a pilot program that aims to improve road safety. That stretch of Venice—about 0.8 miles between Beethoven Avenue and Inglewood Boulevard—was outfitted with a new bike lane, a buffer lane, as well as parking space, reports Fox 11. Also, one lane of Venice Boulevard was taken away in each direction as part of the "road diet" (the practice of removing lanes on a road to slow down traffic speed, with intentions of improving safety).

On Tuesday, locals in Mar Vista convened to debate the merits of the new configuration, with the Mar Vista Community Council mulling over a vote on whether or not to continue its support of the changes. The discussion was heated and vocal, with one side saying that the alterations will boost road safety, and others saying that it has led to gridlocked traffic.

"As soon as these bike lanes came in, it felt so much better to bike through Mar Vista and shop at these businesses," said one resident, according to ABC 7.

“People don’t really use the bike lane that much it’s just making it more crowded,” one motorist told Fox 11.

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The pilot program is part of L.A.'s Great Streets Initiative that was announced in 2013. The initiative is meant to make changes to over 40 selected streets in L.A., boosting accessibility for "pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles—not just cars," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. Another aim is to boost business along those corridors. Taken altogether, the initiative envisions a future L.A. that is denser but safer for pedestrians; a more walkable and connected city that doesn't rely solely on cars.

The 0.8 mile stretch of Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista was named as a selected street in the program; the project didn't break ground until this February, however, as that section of road was owned by CalTrans, and the agency wasn't immediately sold on the idea of protected bike lanes and the other proposed features.

As noted at StreetsBlog LA, that same stretch of Venice was also cited as being part of a "High Injury Network" by the city's Vision Zero Action Plan, a Garcetti-backed program that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities in L.A. by 2025. The 0.8 mile section of Venice Boulevard was included with 40 other roads that officials say require new projects and policies to reduce traffic injuries. LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds told Streesblog LA that speeding was the major issue on these roads.

“When people were blitzing through this boulevard at 50 miles per hour because it’s one of the only thoroughfares left, it really made me uncomfortable,” Nate Wyne, a cyclist, told Fox 11.

L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Mar Vista, has put his support behind the Great Streets Initiative on Venice. "Venice Boulevard was then and remains now a place with a unique blend of local retail and community-serving uses," Bonin said in a statement last month. "The Great Streets Initiative has the potential to take it to the next level, transforming a fast and dangerous boulevard into the model of what a great neighborhood street can and should be. It will do so, in part, by improving pedestrian and bicycle access and making Mar Vista safer and more welcoming to local families."

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As noted at Streetsblog, the changes to Venice Boulevard had gone through an extensive input process that saw involvement from Bonin, the Mar Vista Community Council and the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce. "An important thing to know is that this was a grassroots project," Bruce Gillman, a spokesperson with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, told LAist. "We'd been working with the community there for two years." Nat Gale, director of Vision Zero, tells LAist that the program had conducted a "robust" outreach effort, pointing to an 11-month period in 2015 when planners took part in community canvassing, a workshop at the local farmer's market, and a true-to-scale demonstration of what the changes would look like— that stretch of Venice Boulevard was set up with K-rails and movable planters to simulate the new configuration.

The result has its detractors, though, as evidenced by Tuesday's meeting. Some residents have voiced their disapproval of the alterations, with some locals starting a campaign to "restore Venice" (signs for "restore Venice" were present on Tuesday). The campaign organizers say that the new implementations, which aim to boost safety, may actually be doing the opposite. They claim that congestion has increased on Venice Boulevard, leading to more traffic on residential streets as drivers take alternate routes, and making it more difficult for firefighters and police to respond to calls in the area. They also claim that it's had a negative impact on local business "as residents avoid the area due to gridlock and reduced parking spaces," according to the campaign website.

Gillman stresses that the changes are part of a pilot program, meaning that the features will be subjected to review, and aren't necessarily permanent. "We're going to evaluate the effects at the one-month mark, the three-month mark, and the six-month mark," Gillman told LAist. He said that LADOT will look into the number of collisions that happen on that stretch of Venice Boulevard, as well as how many cyclists are using the protected bike lane, among other things. "It's in a pilot phase because we are evaluating an innovative design," adds Gale. "The concerns of the residents [in regards to traffic] is something we take incredibly seriously. We'll be looking at how neighborhood traffic functions at different time intervals; that is something that will be part of our evaluation process."

"LADOT, my team, and I are listening to all of the feedback — and we will be closely monitoring actual data on traffic and safety," Bonin said in a statement.

As reported at CBS 2, the Mar Vista Community Council decided against voting on restoring lanes to Venice Boulevard at Tuesday's meeting, meaning the changes will remain for the time being.