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Opinion: Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm

Aug. 19, 2015 | By Bruce R. Feldman

First published in the Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2015

Dear Mayor Garcetti:

A while ago I read in this newspaper about your desire to put us on a "road diet." I've heard of the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet and the grapefruit diet, but never a road diet. I looked it up and learned that this is a decorous way of saying that you plan to remove car lanes and use the additional space for bus-only lanes, wider sidewalks or dedicated bicycle lanes.

A cyclist uses a bike lane in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 11. (Los Angeles Times)

The other day you announced that you were actually going through with this scheme. With all due respect: That's a terrible idea.

As I'm sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic, and Los Angeles County covers 4,800 square miles. So your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is. If you squeeze an ever-increasing number of cars into fewer lanes, what other outcome can you expect?

It would be nice if all of us who currently drive to work could leave our cars at home and take public transportation. But it's not as if we've got the 842 miles of subways that serve New York (we have only 100 miles for a much larger area), or the will to fund a true regionwide light-rail system that would be operational in my lifetime. The Purple Line extension won't reach La Cienega Boulevard until 2023. The Sepulveda Pass line, linking the Valley to the Westside, is scheduled to open in 2039.

Some politicians and transportation professionals have suggested that we look to Amsterdam or Stockholm for inspiration. I've been to Sweden. It's a beautiful place. Swedes are smart and good looking. But Stockholm's population is one-tenth of ours, plus it has a compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units. Last I checked, L.A. is nothing like that.

There's another important difference between L.A. and Stockholm, or a lot of other major cities around the world: Los Angeles is supposed to be the opposite of those places. People from all over the world have moved here to live in tidy bungalows with backyards and plenty of fresh air and sun, far from work and shopping, not in the cramped, dark apartments near noise and business activity that are typical of older urban areas.

"Some politicians have suggested that we look to Amsterdam or Stockholm for inspiration. Last I checked, L.A. is nothing like those places."

Why do you and your advisors think that what works in Stockholm, with its entirely different character, would work here? Could you explain this to me and the millions of other Southern Californians who every day need to get to their business appointments, doctors, schools?

We need different solutions to our traffic problems than the ones on the table now. As it happens, I have some suggestions:

You could start by making our major east-west corridors, particularly Pico and Olympic boulevards, one way, thus eliminating the need for a center turn lane.

You also could prohibit parking on all major streets, one-way or otherwise, and build pocket lots every block or so in business areas. There's a 50-car metered lot at Pico Boulevard and Midvale Avenue near the Westside Pavilion and another, larger one farther east on Pico near La Peer Drive. These provide more parking than is possible on the street. Why don't you build metered lots along all major corridors, reserving our streets for cars and, yes, buses and bicycles?

Here's another simple idea: run buses far more frequently on all routes from early in the morning until late at night. Studies have shown that people will take buses if they run at intervals of three to no more than seven minutes.

While you're at it, you could encourage businesses to stagger start times and allow employees to work from home one or more days a week. This alone would make a major dent in congestion.

All of these remedies can be applied right now, without waiting until 2023 or 2039. I would be happy to discuss my views with you in person, but I live and work in Santa Monica and don't have 90 minutes to drive each way to City Hall. Apologies!

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