The Mid City West Community Council (MCWCC) proposed a road redesign for Sixth Street aimed at decreasing speeds and increasing safety between Fairfax and La Brea Avenues. The plan now awaits Councilman David Ryu’s approval to move forward.
Collision data from the city indicates the stretch of Sixth Street is three times as dangerous as the average street in L.A. Specific concerns include dangerous left turns, excessive lane shifting, lack of a buffer to protect pedestrians and parked cars from traffic, infrequent pedestrian crossings, and broken buttons on crosswalk signals.
“It’s a really dangerous street and we get collisions weekly,” said Scott Epstein, chair of the MCWCC. “It’s really a neighborhood street but it’s designed like a fast, cut-through route. It’s also incredibly inconsistent across that one mile, particularly when it’s not rush hour. There’s parking on the east end of that segment, so all of a sudden you go from two lanes to one lane in both directions. We want the council member to give his approval as soon as possible.”
The proposed redesign – often called a ‘road diet’ – would turn Sixth Street’s four lanes into three, and designate the center for turns. This will help traffic flow with cars turning left instead of being stuck behind them, reducing lane shifting. According to studies by the Federal Highway Administration, road diets reduce total crash frequency by an average of 30 percent.
“The studies showed very minor delays in traffic,” Epstein said. “Places in L.A. where they’ve tried this, like York Boulevard in Highland Park, see the same kinds of reductions in collisions. The key design element is the center turn lane.”
“Another thing Mid City West is advocating for is adjusting the timing for the crosswalks,” Epstein added. “These lights go really fast. If you’re older or have a disability, it’s hard to get across in time. Another thing is to let pedestrians start a little early, called a leading interval. Once they’re in the intersection, cars turning right can see the pedestrians, and we get fewer collisions.”
The same studies show however that road diets have little to no impact on vehicle capacity. Other community members believe the plan – likely a response to drivers using Sixth Street to avoid subway construction on Wilshire Boulevard – would simply divert Sixth Street traffic onto adjacent streets, exacerbating an already congested mid-Wilshire road system.
“We’ve fallen into the land of unintended consequence,” said Ken Hixon, vice president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. “Safety is always an issue, but we have to figure this out holistically and not in isolation. You can’t do something on Sixth without impacting Third and Wilshire.”
Hixon, who was involved in a crash on Sixth Street, prefers increased traffic enforcement measures – radar guns, bollards and adjustments to crossing areas – to increase pedestrian safety.
“I was T-boned on Sixth and Hauser,” Hixon said. “I was lucky I walked away with just minor injuries. The guy who hit me spun out onto a lawn on the northeast corner of Park La Brea. If pedestrians had been there, it would have been a massacre. We’re well aware it’s a dangerous intersection, but whether we do road diets or not, they are somewhat meaningless in the absence of traffic enforcement.”
Ryu is hesitant about the road diet, but open to changes that boost pedestrian safety along Sixth Street.
“One possible solution that could be used on Sixth street is bollards,” said Estevan Montemayor, director of communications for Ryu. Bollards are short, vertical posts often made of steel and arranged in a line that obstruct the passage of motor vehicles.
Ryu is also concerned about how sweeping changes to Sixth Street could affect other ongoing local development projects.
The Los Angeles Transit Neighborhood Plans initiative (TNP), a partnership between the city of L.A. and Metro, for example, aims to encourage transit ridership, job creation and development along the transit corridor. Ryu hopes the TNP will engender attractive areas to live, work and shop around the planned La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega subway stations, anticipated to open in 2023.
“Since there’s a TNP in place, the council member is not against the road diet but thinks implementing it now would make the situation worse in some respects,” Montemayor said.
Hixon mentioned another complication to the Sixth Street road redesign. Both LACMA and the SAG-AFTRA Plaza are due for renovations in the coming years, promising to ensnarl Wilshire Boulevard traffic even further.
“LACMA’s scoping statement mentions lane closures on Wilshire, too,” Hixon said.
Ryu agrees more input is required from the public and LADOT for the road diet to move forward, but has asked LADOT to consider incremental safety measures. He also considered using council district discretionary funds because of a LADOT funding shortage for street projects.
These factors all likely push the timeline for the Sixth Street road diet to months or years in the future, which may in fact be what’s best for the area, according to Hixon.
“We are the epicenter of major construction projects, huge projects.” Hixon said. “We need the dust to settle, literally and figuratively.”