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Report: Rowena 'Road Diet' In Silver Lake Worked, But...

A photo from a new study of the Rowena road diet, released August 10, 2018, shows the street after the four lane road was reduced to two lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes on either side. (Photo: City of LA)
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It's been five years since the paint dried on a project known as the Rowena road diet but passions are still running high.

The city reduced the four lane Silver Lake road to two lanes and added a center turn lane and two bicycle lanes along the corridor. The project's goal was to reduce fatalities and injuries on the busy street. And while that seems like something it would be hard to object to, how city officials actually reconfigured the road remains controversial.

Now supporters and opponents of the Rowena road diet are gearing up for another fight (the battle is increasingly familiar as similar road proposals -- part of the city's Vision Zero initiative to end traffic deaths -- have also faced opposition).

On Friday, City Councilman David Ryu released the results of a study his office commissioned to answer questions about what has and has not worked in the Rowena experiment.

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Rowena serves as a vital connector between neighborhoods in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park with access to the 5 and 2 freeways and shopping centers.

It also runs past Ivanhoe Elementary school and through a small commercial village of independent shops and restaurants with frequent foot traffic by pedestrians.

The study shows the changes did reduce speeding, collisions and injuries on Rowena in the two years after it was installed.

A graph from the new study of the Rowena road diet shows how collisions on the road changed after the road diet was installed.

The consulting firm Kimley Horn, which conducted the study, made several recommendations to address complaints about cut-throughs and other safety concerns. Among them are options that would partially or completely undo the lane reductions and bike lanes on Rowena.

Members of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, like Anne-Marie Johnson, have supported the independent study. She cited ongoing concerns by residents living on surrounding neighborhood streets who complain about an increase in traffic and speeding by drivers cutting through their roads.

"The neighborhood council has been inundated with questions and comments because of the changes in driving patterns, pedestrian patterns, cyclist patterns due to the reconfiguration," said Johnson. "I know that the overwhelming majority of residents who are immediately impacted are not happy."

But supporters of the road diet, like resident Sean Meredith, part of the group Keep Rowena Safe, worries the Ryu-commissioned study will be used to reverse the road changes, not because they were ineffective, but because they've become politically risky to defend.

"What they want is a study that says, 'Let's take the road diet out,'" said Meredith. "Every year we're defending this bike lane right in front of an elementary school, and across the street is a preschool nursery school."

He was pleased to see the report acknowledged the safety improvements on Rowena and suggested more pedestrian safety improvements for neighboring streets, but he was dismayed with the options offered to improve Rowena, only one of which would preserve the current configuration and add additional safety features to the road.

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The other three options propose scaling back the road diet by:

  • Removing the bike lanes on both sides, adding an additional car lane on the eastbound side and preserving parking on both sides of the street
  • Removing the bike lane and parking on the eastbound side of Rowena and converting the space to an additional car lane with bike sharrow markings for eastbound traffic, leaving the westbound side the same
  • Removing the bike lane on both sides, restricting parking during peak hours and converting the space to a car lane with bike sharrow markings between 7-9 am and 4-6 pm

The report also contains suggestions to address speeding issues on adjoining streets like Angus Street and Waverly Drive, proposing the installation of sidewalks, head-in parking or painted pedestrian zones that would narrow the road space for cars and offer safety to walkers.

"The Rowena Avenue, Waverly Drive, Angus Street Cut-Through Traffic Study was done to resolve the pressing issues of cut-through traffic and pedestrian safety," said Councilmember Ryu's spokesperson, Estevan Montemayor, in an emailed statement. "Any safety improvements from this study will be implemented after more community discussion and public input."

The road diet installation was overseen by former Councilman Tom LaBonge after a young woman was killed crossing the street in 2012. The uproar that followed presaged a debate over road safety and traffic that has only become more polarized in recent years.

Road diets like the one on Rowena have long been promoted by the Federal Highway Administration as effective safety measures proven to reduce speed and serious collisions without dramatic reductions in traffic flows, due to traffic flow improvements from a dedicated center turn lane.

A new study of the Rowena road diet shows the number of deaths on the road since the changes were made.

The road changes are among the main tools in Vision Zero programs around the world, which aim to address safety and reduce deaths, in part by changing the design of streets.

Los Angeles adopted its Vision Zero program in 2015, with a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2025. But since then, pedestrian deaths have spiked by about 30 percent. Road diets have spurred backlash, lawsuits and an effort to recall City Councilman Mike Bonin after changes in his Westside L.A. district. The latter prompted many council members to back away from the road diet proposals.

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council confirmed it will be hosting a community meeting in coming months to discuss the new study, but no date has been set.

Read the full study:

Correction: A previous version of this story noted an 80 percent increase based on preliminary data from the LAPD presented in a report in February this year. LADOT emailed KPCC/LAist an updated figure from the California Highway Patrol, which has since adjusted that figure down to a 32 percent increase.

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