The city is pausing plans to put Temple Street—where dozens of pedestrians have been severely hurt or killed by cars—on a road diet. Instead, it’s looking to make less dramatic changes in an effort to make the street safer, especially for pedestrians and people riding bikes.
The new proposal is to repair sidewalks and install left-turn pockets, new traffic signals, marked crosswalks with signals, and ADA compliant ramps. Those improvements will be made on a 2.3-mile stretch of the thoroughfare, from Beverly Boulevard to Beaudry Avenue, through Rampart Village and Historic Filipinotown, by mid-2019.
It’s one of six streets around Los Angeles that will be reconstructed over the next year as part of Vision Zero, the city’s plan to end all traffic deaths by 2025.
The city’s transportation department had recommended a road diet for Temple, but a spokesperson now says it will need to do “further outreach and engagement” first.
Road diets, which remove lanes for cars to calm the flow of traffic, are among the most useful tools to make streets safer. They have been shown to reduce crashes by up to 47 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
On Temple, a road diet would shaved the number of lanes for cars from four to two, opening space for a center left-turn lane and bike lanes. A spokesperson for Mitch O’Farrell, one of the two Los Angeles City Councilmembers who represents the neighborhoods, says O’Farrell wouldn’t support the road diet “unless there is significant, widespread outreach and support from immediate residents and businesses.”
The other councilmember, Gil Cedillo, has asked city staffers not to roll out road diets, traffic lane removals, and lane reconfigurations in his district unless he approves them himself.
It’s difficult to measure community support for the Temple road diet, but residents have demanded the city work to make the street safer. Several community groups, including Los Angeles Walks, Pilipino Workers Center, Gabba Gallery, and Public Matters organized Temple Street Slow Jams, a five-day public art installation intended to raise awareness of deaths and injuries from traffic collisions along the street.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other local lawmakers have said they’re committed to ending all traffic deaths across Los Angeles. As part of Vision Zero, they’re focusing on 40 corridors—including Temple—where the majority of the city’s “deaths and severe injuries involving people walking and biking occur.”
In Playa del Rey, traffic caused by road diets incensed commuters who sued and threatened to recall City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside.
Rachael Luckey, a Rampart Village Neighborhood Council board member, says longer commute times are one of the negative side effects of road diets that proponents ignore. The city transportation department’s proposal for a road diet on Temple estimated travel times would increase by about four minutes and thirty seconds.
“If you look at the consequences out of the Playa del Rey road diets, the Venice Boulevard road diets, they’ve got businesses reporting a... drop in business,” she says. “You’ve got people reporting that their commute time has increased by up to an hour a day. There are also reports that applications, phone applications, like Waze and Google Maps will actually put people off on side streets.”
A road diet on Temple, Luckey says, would have been too extreme.
“I hate to use the words ‘acceptable loss,’ but we do live in a metropolitan city, and it’s a dangerous world we live in,” she says. “As far as Temple Street is concerned, I don’t know that it is a crisis per-se. If we were seeing 20, 30, 50 people run over, I would be a lot more alarmed.”
A California Highway Patrol collisions database shows that from 2009 to 2017 on the stretch of Temple Street between Beverly and Beaudry, 34 people have been severely injured and five people have died in traffic crashes.
Four of the people killed were pedestrians who were hit by drivers who were either speeding or failed to yield. Of those, two were over the age of 80. Twenty of those severely injured were pedestrians and four were people riding bikes.
Some residents like Derrick Paul say preventing even a small number of deaths should be enough justification to implement a road diet happen, even without widespread support.
“Vision Zero is an objective project, and data driven. It’s really focused on improving safety,” he says. “Implementing these changes... is about balancing streets that have long forgotten and disregarded those not in an automobile.”
Liliana Torrelio, a project coordinator for the Asociación Nacional Pro Personas Mayores, a Temple Street-based nonprofit that provides services for seniors, says many of her organization’s elderly clients worry about crossing Temple, because of how fast cars travel.
Torrelio says she would like a road diet because it would help slow speeding cars, but she’s pleased the city will be adding traffic lights and crosswalks throughout the area.
“The street is so wide and straight, and people take advantage of it to go Downtown instead of the 101,” she says. “It takes more time for them to cross the street, which can be dangerous when cars are always flying like its a freeway.”