Are “Slow Streets” a good thing for Eagle Rock?
“Slow Streets” is a program that restricts a street to local traffic only so people can walk or bike without crowding the sidewalk. In Eagle Rock “Slow Streets” are in effect on stretches of Ellenwood Drive, Fair Park Avenue and Maywood Avenue.
The decision to establish “Slow Streets” in Eagle Rock has been met with both praise and criticism. The Boulevard Sentinel asked two people on opposite sides of the issue to make their cases by answering the question: Are “Slow Streets” a good thing for Eagle Rock?
“Slow Streets” Build Community and Let People Exercise Safely
By Greg Merideth
[Greg Merideth is the president of The Eagle Rock Association, an improvement group of residents, businesses and homeowners in Eagle Rock.]
The City of Los Angeles recently introduced a program called “Slow Streets” which allows some residential streets in a community to be temporarily converted into pedestrian-priority streets, thus creating a space where people can maintain physical distancing while out for exercise and fresh air. The program seeks to provide some small relief to Angelenos who are limited in their access to traditional gyms, parks, and recreational centers, while Angelenos adhere to Safer At Home restrictions to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Simultaneously, Slow Streets seeks to respond to an uptick in cut through speeding that residential communities face with fewer drivers on the road.
TERA was successful in bringing Slow Streets to Eagle Rock as one of the first four approved local sponsors citywide. Slow Streets is a natural extension of TERA’s Slow Yosemite, Take Back the Boulevard, and Rock the Boulevard initiatives, which seek to improve the quality of life for Eagle Rockers by making streets that are safely accessible not only to cars but to pedestrians and bicyclists as well. With this in mind, TERA submitted a list of potential streets to implement Slow Streets on to the City and agreed to assist the City in maintaining them and providing feedback on the program. While the City did not accept some of TERA’s street submissions, the program was approved for implementation in Eagle Rock with an initial installation of three streets: Ellenwood Drive (between Avenue 45 to Yosemite Drive), Fair Park Avenue (between Eagle Rock Boulevard to Maywood Avenue), and Maywood Avenue (between Yosemite Drive and Chickasaw Avenue).
Eagle Rock Slow Streets launched mid-day on May 22 and early observation and feedback suggest they have been a big success. At any time of day, but especially in the mornings and early evenings, when temperatures are cooler, you can see people of all ages and backgrounds walking, bicycling, scooting, skating, walking their dogs, pushing strollers and finding brightness in the Southern California climate. Angelenos are hungry for mental and physical relief during this pandemic and we are seeing Eagle Rockers voting with their feet and taking to the streets.
One of the biggest surprises that Slow Streets has presented is that the benefit of a calmer street extends beyond just those using the street itself. All along Ellenwood, Maywood, and Fair Park, residents are making use of their front porches, yards, and balconies to enjoy the quieter and safer streets, all the while making newfound (socially distant) connections with their neighbors passing by.
Over the last week, several residents have asked TERA to sponsor Slow Streets in their part of the neighborhood. And, TERA is working with the City to see if we have the capacity to expand beyond the initially selected streets.
But the clearest sign of success? The sound of children laughing, and the smiles on their faces as they enjoy a degree of freedom that Slow Streets have given them to safely get around their own neighborhood.
We’d like to hear from you about your experience of Slow Streets, ideas for how it can be improved, and suggestions for where it can be expanded to. Please use our survey to give us your feedback as we work to keep ourselves safe and healthy during these unprecedented times: http://tera90041.org/slow-streets-survey/
“Slow Streets” Could Have Unintended Consequences and Be Difficult to Undo
By Marcel Wittfeld
[Marcel Wittfeld is a business owner in Eagle Rock and a member of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council.]
As one of only two board members of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC) who on May 12 voted against supporting the “Slow Streets” initiative, I wanted to share some thoughts behind opposing something that, at least on the surface, seems like a great idea.
1. It could be a dangerous experiment.
Simply put, sidewalks are for people, bike lanes are for bikes, and roads are for cars/trucks/motorcycles. I’m afraid once you start blurring those lines, it could lead to an increase in accidents that will endanger pedestrians the most. Especially small children, who will get used to strolling or riding their scooters without a care on Slow Streets, might lose the respect for roads that is important to keep them safe in this big city. I prefer to err on the side of caution: I don’t want my 6-year old to even subconsciously get comfortable with walking or skating on a road that’s open to car traffic.
Adult pedestrians might also become careless or even entitled when walking in the middle of the street. Considering how many bad, distracted and sometimes aggressive drivers are out there, turning some streets into part-time promenades to me sounds like a wonderful concept with potentially deadly side effects.
2. It’s hard to enforce.
Putting up blockades with sometimes wordy signs creates confusion, resulting in unnecessary U-turns and increased traffic on adjacent streets. Is it a law or a recommendation? Should it be enforced? If so, who will enforce it? Angry pedestrians and residents shaking their fists? The police hardly enforce existing speed limits and stop signs. The L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) website’s FAQ states: “Sponsor organizations are responsible for monitoring risky behavior and ensuring equipment and signage in the street remains in place.” The FAQ also encourages residents to report violations and risky behavior to their sponsor organization. So, besides angered residents judging what’s ‘risky,’ TERA and the ERNC are also responsible for enforcement?
I would support any initiative bringing more traffic police presence to the neighborhood, installing safer crosswalks, repairing buckled pavement and possibly creating play zones in cul-de-sacs or streets closed to through traffic. But turning entire roads into large, part-time sidewalks policed by volunteers seems like a half-baked initiative.
3. It’s elitist.
I live on a street that regularly sees cars flying over the hilltop, either for thrills or because parents are rushing to drop off their children at the school around the corner. Would I like to see my street semi-closed to all traffic from non-residents? No, even though I would clearly reap great benefits. It’s a public street paid by the public’s taxes. So who am I to petition LADOT that my street gets preferential treatment, giving me exclusive privileges to drive on it, enjoy quieter traffic and experience less frequent damage to my car parked by the curb?
4. It’s technically unlimited.
According to the LADOT website, “once established, a Slow Streets area will be in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until COVID emergency orders are lifted or until the City and/or Sponsors decide to end the closure.” Does that mean that technically TERA, a local organization of unelected activists could decide when to end the closure? Framing the initiative as a measure enabling recreation during social distancing without setting a clear expiration date seems opportunistic to me. It sounds like a re-branding of the failed “Safe Streets” road diet initiative, veiled as a COVID-19 preventative measure.
In the short-term, Slow Streets may well be beneficial due to sharply decreased car traffic during the safer-at-home order. But the fact that it’s attractive and works while most people aren’t driving to work, school, etc. doesn’t mean it would be a good idea once traffic picks up again.