Culver City's Innovative Mobility Pilot Is Scaled Down By Council Majority. What Happened And What's Next
The Culver City Council this week voted 3-2 to eliminate the protected bike lane to add more car lanes, despite calls from mobility activists to keep and expand the MOVE Culver City project.
Mayor Albert Vera and Councilmembers Göran Eriksson and Dan O'Brien voted to cut back on the project.
About the vote
The council had three options to choose from:
- Keep the project and make it permanent.
- Continue the pilot project for a minimum of 2 years and make minor adjustments to address concerns.
- Continue the project for a minimum of 2 years and add a second car lane while converting the shared bus and bike lanes into a single lane.
The council essentially chose option 3, with a significant adjustment voting to continue the project for a maximum of 2 years. That means that the then city council will vote again on the future of the project.
Why? O'Brien said survey data of residents speaks for itself. He says residents say traffic has been a huge problem as a result of the project, which successfully sought to get more residents using buses and bikes.
"To not listen to those voices would disenfranchise them." O'Brien said. "We have to get buy in from our community for them to support a project that is pretty revolutionary."
What the public said at the meeting
More than 200 speakers showed up for public comment virtually and in-person. Among them was a significant amount of youth. Ava Frans, a senior at Culver City High School voiced her support during public comment.
"It is clear that our high school students have a primary demand to create a sustainable future for Culver City," Frans said. "We are one of the first generations living with constant climate anxiety. As a result, we involve ourselves in our community to create actionable change."
Immediate next steps
The next steps are for city staff to propose modifications to the project that will need to be reviewed by the California Environmental Quality Act.
City staff sent out a news release on the council's decision detailing the changes:
- A protected, shared bus/bike lane between Culver Boulevard at Duquesne Avenue and Washington Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue;
- A second car lane in both directions on Culver Boulevard between Duquesne Avenue and Canfield Avenue and on Washington Boulevard between Landmark Boulevard and west of Helms Avenue; and
- A second car lane on eastbound Washington Boulevard between Ince Boulevard and Landmark Boulevard.
They estimate costs to be:
- About $1 million for construction
- $275,000 for design
How community members are reacting
A large group of supporters showed up Tuesday to rally outside Culver City hall. Los Angeles County supervisors Holly J. Mitchell and Lindsey P. Horvath sent a public letter to the Culver City council, also expressing support for the project.
Hundreds of people showed up tonight to say one thing,— School Board Member Ezidore (@tristonezidore) April 25, 2023
Culver City, don’t roll back your ambitious safe street design. pic.twitter.com/hLFoO2nVr3
Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin, who has backed the project from the beginning, shared her reaction on Twitter. She and fellow councilmember Freddy Puza were the only councilmembers to vote in favor of the project.
To the littles in our community, I’m sorry the council majority didn’t vote to keep both protected bus/ bike lanes #MoveCulverCity— Vice Mayor McMorrin (@YasmineMcMorrin) April 25, 2023
Instead we will have a watered down version that isn’t as safe/adds more cars onto the corridor.
So much more than the status quo is possible. pic.twitter.com/nBQuhHdAw4
Commuting in Culver City is vastly different compared to other areas in L.A. County. That’s because along a corridor from downtown Culver City to La Cienega Boulevard, cars share the road with buses and bicyclists, each in their own protected lanes.
These changes were implemented last year as part of the city's pilot project, MOVE Culver City It's an effort to make transportation access easier and to get more people actively moving.
The stretch of changes on Culver and Washington boulevards make them the first streets in L.A. County to feature a designated bus lane for 2.6 miles and a bike lane for 1.4 miles. The bus lanes are marked with cardinal red stripes, while bike lanes are painted a leafy green. Corners feature an azure blue color, and are decorated with flowers to give pedestrians extra space.
"The whole point of the project is to get people out of their cars and into bikes, buses, scooters, and on foot. And to make it safer for all of those modes and more efficient," said Bubba Fish, Culver City resident and part of the MOVE Culver City project.
So far, it's done just that. A new report released Thursday from MOVE Culver City revealed that since the pilot was fully implemented in 2022, bus ridership went up by 38% and there was an increase in cycling activity by 57%. Even micromobility — the use of electric scooters or e-bikes — increased by 68%.
When the city council met in late March, a third-party contractor presented its findings after polling residents on how the changes were working for them. The data showed that not everyone was on board: 58% of those polled said they opposed them and only 38% supported it.
There's a real problem with gridlock into our neighborhoods.
The biggest issue for them? Traffic.
“There's a real problem with gridlock into our neighborhoods. And then also, actually blocking the bus lane and bike lane because ... sometimes you can only get one car coming from our residential neighborhoods into the one lane of traffic,” said Councilmember Dan O’Brien.
Along Culver Boulevard in downtown Culver City, some businesses say having those bus and bike lanes can affect their business.
Stephen Gonzalez is the manager of goodboybob coffee roasters inside the Citizen Public Market. He says the new lanes affect foot traffic because “people never know how to get into this nook here.”
Gonzalez also says less street parking pushes food delivery drivers to look for spaces in the smaller, adjacent residential streets.
Angie Palmer, the manager at Janga by Derrick's Jamaican Cuisine, says that because their space has just one point of entry — facing the street — they sometimes have to block the bus lane for a few moments to quickly unload supplies.
“It does need to be tweaked,” said O’Brien.
Thinking about the environment
But bike activists and public transit users say these new changes are good, not just for people, but also for the environment.
“I think it's important to lift up the intersectionality of this transit issue as a climate justice issue, as a working-class issue,” said McMorrin.
One of the incentives behind MOVE Culver City is to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to the climate crisis. That means making the streets accessible for bicyclists, bus riders or people on scooters.
MOVE Culver City also launched the first electric, low-floor minibus that runs every 10 minutes.
"We should be moving in a direction where we are incentivizing and creating bike networks and we are creating bus lanes and we are incentivizing other forms of transit and we know that's what living in a sustainable world looks like," said McMorrin.
What residents are saying about the project
Dorothy Curry has been a resident of Culver City for more than 16 years. She’s 71 and lives over on Van Buren Place, mainly using the Line 1 bus to get around and do errands. She really likes the changes.
“Especially with, you know, chairs like this, benches and stuff, so you can sit at the bus stops," she said. "'Cause a lot of times, you know, like me, I'm old, I don't wanna be standing all the time.”
She noticed that eventually, residents got used to the change.
“People hadn't gotten used to it," she said. "It was crazy too. I think now they have gotten used to it."
However, she adds that if the council decides to make changes too fast, it could upset people.
Ron Durgin, owner of the Bike Center in Culver City, says that a lot of customers who have kids have been using the bike lanes to get their kids to school much more often now that they have their own lane. Jacob O'Meara is an Uber eats driver from Long Beach who can fly through the bike lane on his e-bike to make food deliveries. But he thinks there needs to be more protection for cyclists making right turns.
“When the cars are parked in the outside lane, [it] doesn't give them the ability to see us, they'll turn [to] the right without even seeing us,” he said.
Chauncy Rolf is another Culver City resident who likes getting around town on his bike. He says Culver City needs more bike lanes.
“They need to really extend bike lanes, because they kind of run out, especially when they're merged into the roads and things like that,” he said. “You can easily hit someone.”
Why the project got so much attention
For the past two city council meetings, Bike Culver City has been hosting community bike rides to mobilize support for keeping and expanding the project.
sometimes you need to bike through your city with a hundred friends to tell your council not to rip out the bike and bus lanes pic.twitter.com/sgLfnwoDIS— Bubba 🐡 (@bubbathefish) April 11, 2023
The support for this project has gained such attention across L.A. that even a coalition letter of support has been signed by more than 30 organizations, urging the city council to expand the project in more neighborhoods across the city.
One of their key points is that it’s really expensive to own a car, citing that on average, a car costs a family $11,000 a year, when the minimum household income for riders along the MOVE Culver City corridor is at $35,000 a year.
Ahead of the vote, McMorrin said if the council majority decided not to expand the project, then it’s pushing for a car-centric city, and that’s not economically friendly to many.
“We're saying that in order to get around safely in Culver City, you must be able to absorb this cost or you're going to spend hours in traffic,” she said.
Fish said the city showed leadership in being the first in all of L.A. County to make the roads a shared space among pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders and drivers.
“We stuck our neck out ... by being the first,” he said. “It’s always a little scary to be the bold one, the first one, but we showed the value of it.”
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