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“Open Streets PDR” Pushes Pro-Car Backlash Against Councilmember Bonin

Road diet bike lanes recently being installed on Pershing Drive in Playa Del Rey. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Construction is now complete on safety improvements designed to save lives on several Playa Del Rey streets. The improvements are championed by L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and local residents interested in making PDR streets safer. Playa Del Rey's safety issues were highlighted by several traffic deaths in recent years, including that of 16-year-old Naomi Larsen, who was killed crossing Vista Del Mar in 2015. In Larsen's case, the city of L.A. paid a $9.5 million legal settlement because it failed to make Vista Del Mar safe for pedestrians. A second very similar lawsuit, over the 2016 death of Michael Lockridge, is pending.

L.A.'s adopted Vision Zero policy sets a target for the city to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025. With Bonin and LADOT taking Vision Zero seriously, the city is taking unprecedented steps to use proven engineering measures to make streets safer.

The Playa Del Rey street improvements include several lane reductions, also called road diets. Though L.A. has implemented dozens of road diets, in the past they had largely been opportunistic - primarily on excessively wide streets where car traffic impacts were minimal. Under Vision Zero and Bonin leadership, improvements are now being smartly targeted in places where they are most needed.

The courageous safety improvements have elicited an unprecedented backlash from drivers.

Ironically the primary backlash organization is going by the name "Open Streets PDR" as part of "Open Streets L.A." It is ironic because, for years, the term Open Streets has referred to worldwide car-free festivals like L.A.'s CicLAvia. See, for example, the 2014 Streetfilm The Rise of Open Streets. It is sad that these particular "open streets" proponents somehow think the term would work for their narrow car-throughput-focused agenda.

The anti-safety contingent has filed an administrative appeal against the Vista Del Mar improvements, and are threatening to file a lawsuit to revert the street to its previous deadly configuration. Backlash forces have, as of today, raised $18,145 to fund their efforts.

Sadly, the anti-safety diatribes from these folks are rife with victim-blaming, calling crash victims “ignorant” and asserting that “Naomi Larsen's parents got paid for their failure to raise a child educated enough to know how to cross a street safely.” In response to her very balanced L.A. Times story Laura Nelson received (and tweeted) an egregious email stating, “In today's Los Angeles, a way to accumulate wealth will be to give a car key to your 16 year old and advise her to drive at night in various dangerous spots.” On social media, frustrated drivers are urging a recall of Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Mike Bonin has long been great on livability issues. A 2016 Streetsie award winner, Bonin has pressed for Vision Zero, Mobility Plan 2035, parking reform, and much more. In a recent open letter responding to critics, Bonin told the stories of victims of traffic violence, and focused on the moral obligation to make streets safe:

My responsibility is to keep Playa del Rey and those who live here safe. My obligation is to provide for the residents of Playa del Rey the safe, vibrant, and inviting downtown area that they’ve yearned for, much like Manhattan Beach has with Highland, or Culver City has with Culver and Washington, or Venice has with Abbott Kinney. We should never buy into the notion that convenience is worth endangering lives. It is just not true.

While Playa Del Rey residents are split on the improvements and include some vocal critics, Bonin correctly points out that a great deal of criticism is coming from folks who live elsewhere. People who live in other South Bay cities hypocritically want their own streets to be safe, but would like PDR streets to serve as a high-speed commuter cut-through. According to The Beach Reporter, the city of Manhattan Beach voted "to have its city attorney explore legal action against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation."

Bonin responded, “With respect to our friends in the South Bay, many of whom have made clear they would rather see a four-lane highway traverse our neighborhood in Playa del Rey: I won’t solve their 405 traffic problem on the backs of the people I represent.” Further, Bonin points out, "People who live in cities that restrict vehicle access to prevent speeding and cut-through traffic should not try to deny residents of Playa del Rey the same traffic safety measures they use or can choose from in their own communities."

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