Political insanity? Elitist fantasy? Whatever critics call it, Garcetti will gain an impressive platform for his future political ambitions if he can pull it off. (He’s been making frequent out-of-state trips, stoking speculation: Sacramento or Washington?) In effect Garcetti has made a huge bet: If LA—a sprawling, polycentric, car-crazy city—can change, so can other cities. But then community members pushed back and said, Not so fast.
People from all political stripes have jumped into the brawl over road diets. A former Bernie Sanders delegate is running a recall campaign against a City Council member. Business executives lobby Garcetti. Social media gurus amassed more than 2,500 followers on Facebook and raised $22,500 to fund a lawsuit. A condo association filed the first lawsuit. Stay-at-home moms who never paid attention to local politics organized.
The biggest organized effort is Keep LA Moving, an umbrella group that filed the second lawsuit against the city and the LA Department of Transportation. Member John Russo said once-oblivious citizens are awakening to discover that city officials are “ruining our lives for their own agendas.” Already, people from other counties and states are contacting his group about organizing anti-road-diet efforts in their own communities.
Richard Montgomery, council member of Manhattan Beach, a wealthy LA County suburb, said throughout his 15 years in local politics, this issue has sparked the “biggest, loudest outcry” he’s ever seen: “You’re hitting all the hot buttons—you’re messing with people’s livelihoods, commute times, stress levels, gas prices.”
While Garcetti has remained silent on the public backlash, many traffic safety advocates worry the recent mayhem will produce a chilling effect on other projects. The LA City Council member who carried out the Venice Boulevard project recently backtracked on another road-diet project, apologizing and promising to restore the original lanes. Another council member said he would block any road diets in his district planned without his approval.
Ted Rogers, a bicycling advocate who spends eight hours a day blogging about bicycles and street safety, blamed lack of political courage: “This is a city that’s killed by cars and will continue to be killed by cars.” He has a morbid interest in death, or so people joke. In truth, Rogers says, he’s just obsessed with safety. His mantra: One traffic death is one too many, and Vision Zero is the best solution to eliminate all traffic fatalities.
Vision Zero is an international campaign originating from Sweden with the idea that all traffic deaths are preventable. Since human mistakes are inevitable, the onus of preventing traffic deaths falls on street engineers to slow traffic using roadway redesign, tougher law enforcement, and education. A road diet happens to be the most cost-effective and efficient method, because all it needs is some repainting to force immediate behavioral change.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was the first mayor to embrace Vision Zero. He implemented his $1.6 billion initiative in 2014. Since then, traffic fatalities have dipped to a historic low. That was a “game-changer” for other cities to follow suit, said Kathleen Ferrier, who works with Vision Zero Network, a national campaign formed in 2014. So far, VZN has identified almost 30 cities from Seattle to Boston, Chicago to Austin, that have committed to Vision Zero. Ferrier said Vision Zero shifts the conversation to saving lives: “It creates more of a sense of urgency. That’s the backdrop of what Vision Zero is advancing—that urgency.”