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Council favors reducing traffic deaths over fixing streets

LOS ANGELES — With tens of millions of dollars for transportation projects expected to come to Los Angeles annually through a sales tax increase, a City Council committee voted March 29 to spend the majority of it on reducing traffic-related deaths rather than on its crumbling side streets.

Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin made the recommendation, calling for 60 percent of the funds to go toward Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Vision Zero plan, which was enacted in 2015 through an executive directive and aims to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025.

If approved, the proposal would dramatically increase the funding for the Vision Zero plan, which this fiscal year is receiving $3 million.

The Vision Zero plan centers around an identified series of streets, called the High Injury Network, that have a higher incidence of severe and fatal collisions and prioritizes those streets for safety improvements.

Bonin told City News Service the more people know about Vision Zero the more they will support it over having the pothole fixed on their street.

“I think most people don’t want their children and their grandparents to die crossing the street. I think if you make the choice clear to folks, that’s where they are,” Bonin said.

“I get a lot of calls about sidewalks. I get a lot of calls about pot holes. When I get a call that someone got killed crossing the street, it’s a different intensity. It’s a whole different call.”

A total of 260 people died in 2016 in traffic-related deaths in Los Angeles, the highest per capita of any major city in the nation, the Vision Zero plan found.

County voters last November passed Measure M, a sales tax that is expected to raise $120 billion over 40 years for public transit, and part of the measure includes a “local return” for jurisdictions to spend on their own projects.

A city staff report estimated Los Angeles will receive $42 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year, and almost $59 million the next fiscal year.

The committee’s vote came over the recommendation in a report from the chief administrative officer and the chief legislative analyst that two-thirds of the money go toward repairing the city’s streets rated to be in “D” and “F” condition.

Funding the Vision Zero plan is essentially in conflict with fixing the city’s D and F streets, because most of them are residential side streets, while most High Injury Network streets are major thoroughfares.

Bonin’s proposal was passed by a 3-2 vote, effectively nullifying the staff’s recommendations and also nullifying a motion proposed by Councilman Bob Blumenfield and Paul Koretz that the 15 different council districts receive an equal share of the Measure M money.

Koretz and Councilman David Ryu voted against Bonin’s proposal, with Ryu stating that he had encouraged voters in his district to vote for Measure M because it would help fix their worst streets.

But other council members were enthusiastic about Bonin’s proposal, with Councilman Jose Huizar joking, “You had me at hello.”

Bonin’s proposal also seeks to dedicate 10 percent of the money for upgrades and expansion of bicycle infrastructure, 20 percent for median island and curb extension improvements, and 10 percent for sidewalk repair on the Vision Zero High Injury Network corridors.

“I have D and F streets, but I have communities in my district that don’t even have the bare necessities — a sidewalk, a safe crosswalk, a traffic signal. … We are simply saying we want to be able to walk our kids to school safely without dying,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley and voted for Bonin’s proposal.

Bonin told the committee that Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to raise $5.2 billion annually to fix roads through hiking gas taxes and vehicle fees could end up helping fix the D and F streets in Los Angeles. That plan also was announced March 29.

The Vision Zero plan points to a number of examples of engineering improvements that have worked, including a scramble crosswalk at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland that was added in November 2015 and resulted in zero deaths and serious injuries since it was installed.

The plan also calls for more turn signals, a reduction of lanes in certain areas with the addition of a center turning lane, and an increased focus on speed enforcement.

A pedestrian hit by a car going 20 mph has an 80 percent chance of survival, but the chance falls to 10 percent if the car is going 40 mph, the plan found.

 

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