After more than a month of building fury over changes made to a beachfront thoroughfare in Playa del Rey, the city of Los Angeles has announced it will add back two lanes of car traffic that had been eliminated for safety reasons.
Critics called it “one lane madness,” signed petitions, threatened lawsuits and even launched a campaign to recall City Councilman Mike Bonin after the city abruptly removed two lanes of Vista del Mar, a busy street which provides an alternative to the 405 Freeway linking communities in the South Bay with West L.A.
The street modifications were made in response to a decision in a wrongful death lawsuit that held the city liable for the death of a 16-year old girl who was struck and killed while crossing to get to her parked car.
The city was forced to pay $9.5 million to the girl's family and take immediate action to redress the safety issues, leaving no time for the usual public input for such changes.
Virtually overnight, the L.A. Department of Transportation restriped the road, moving all parking to the west side of the street to prevent the need for parking visitors to dart across the busy road to the beach. Due to state laws requiring access to beaches, the full amount of parking could not be eliminated.
But late Wednesday, Councilman Bonin announced a new approach to achieve the goals: the county would offer some free and discounted parking at its Dockweiler Beach paid lot, thus eliminating the legal need for parking along Vista del Mar.
Both lanes will be restored to the road starting in August.
"This will keep it safe and remove the biggest liability, which is people parking up there," said L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who orchestrated the new plan with Bonin. "This is a good compromise, a good solution."
In a video released by Bonin Wednesday, he apologized for the inconvenience the changes had brought to local commuters.
“If you are one of the many people who were inconvenienced, who were late to work, or who missed a bedtime story with your toddler, I am truly sorry,” Bonin said. “We are working to make this right.”
But he contended the latest decision was not influenced by the effort to recall him or sue the city, and that the rollback of the Vista del Mar road diet was not a retreat from his bullish insistence on prioritizing safety.
"There's no single prescription on how to do that. You've got to try things and take some risks," he said.
Some safety advocates are concerned that widening the street to four lanes again will only encourage unsafe conditions.
"To me, the speeding has been a major concern on that street, so what’s the new design gonna do to calm the traffic?" asked Deborah Murphy, the head of the L.A. Walks organization. She wants to see the city do more to address pedestrian safety beyond moving the parking.
Bonin has called for the creation of a task force made up of officials, residents and local business people, to work together to come up with more safety measures for the street.