2 visions up for debate on Vision Zero program that aims to eliminate traffic deaths

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A battle has been brewing at City Hall over whether to spend most of a projected $47 million in new transportation dollars on repaving badly damaged roads or on Vision Zero, a program to reverse the trend of rising traffic deaths in the city.

The Los Angeles City Council votes Thursday on the city’s $9.2 billion budget for fiscal 2017-2018, and incorporated in the budget are two additional sources of transportation funds: the Measure M sales tax increase and the state gas tax hike. Together they are expected to bring in millions for transportation needs.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's budget proposed spending most of the extra funding on repaving streets that have been neglected for years because the cost to repair them has been prohibitively high. His budget allocated about $17 million for Vision Zero projects.

Councilman Mike Bonin has pushed for greater funding for the safety efforts. He chairs the transportation committee, which recommended spending more than half the funds on Vision Zero efforts for education, street redesign and traffic enforcement.

His reason? "Because this is a matter of life and death with the Vision Zero projects and I think we have a responsibility as policymakers to address that," Bonin said.

The Vision Zero initiative, enacted by executive directive from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015, states a goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2025 and achieving a 20 percent reduction in 2017.

But traffic fatalities have been on the rise in the city. In 2016 they jumped by more than 40 percent and have continued to increase this calendar year, bumping up 30 percent over the same period last year.

Bonin said the program's first year was underfunded with just over $3 million allocated to safety efforts. Much of that went into data analysis which isolated a network of streets that are disproportionately affected by serious and fatal crashes.

"We know that there are certain segments of road in the city of Los Angeles where people are going to suffer serious injury or death," said Bonin. "The Department of Transportation has a plan to address the 40 worst segments, and we should be funding that and getting started on July 1."

Last week the Budget and Finance Committee voted to dedicate half the new funds to street repairs, and left Vision Zero funding up in the air, to be determined at a later date.

Budget Chair Paul Krekorian said he’s working with Bonin on a plan to formalize Vision Zero funding and also use road repair dollars to address safety issues.

Many of the streets in need of repair are also among those targeted under Vision Zero as the most dangerous - the High Injury Network. By directing more funds to repave them, the streets could also be redesigned with better safety standards, by re-striping lanes, adding curb extensions and more visible crosswalks.

"These goals are not in conflict, they’re in concert," Krekorian said. He plans to present the proposal in collaboration with Bonin when the full council votes on the budget Thursday.

The motion calls for allocating $7 million for Vision Zero projects on the High Injury Network, $6 million for new traffic signals and $6.5 million for street reconstructions with an emphasis on safety improvements to achieve Vision Zero goals.

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