Change In Venice Boulevard Divides Commuters
Meet Clayton Chancy. Chancy has lived in Venice for two years and commutes on Venice Boulevard to his work in Calabasas every day. That changed, however, when Venice Boulevard lost a driving lane. He now drives up through Mar Vista to get onto the 10 Freeway, which adds between 15 to 20 minutes to his daily commute.
“This really adds up and takes me away from my wife when I’m off work,” Chancy said.
Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin and the Great Streets Initiative worked together to remove one of the three traffic lanes on Venice Boulevard between Inglewood Boulevard and Beethoven Street three months ago, aiming to improve safety for bicyclists. The city replaced the removed lane for parking space, and designated the old parking space next to the curb as a bicycle lane enclosed with plastic barriers. These changes were made in addition to four new stop lights and a pedestrian crossing that were created on Venice Boulevard at the cross streets of Mountain View Avenue, Ocean View Avenue, Boise Street and Meier Street.
The Great Streets Initiative is a program founded by Mayor Eric Garcetti, which, according to their website, aims "to help re-imagine neighborhood centers, one main street at a time." The website also includes information on the investments they made to date on Venice Blvd. These investments included installing Mar Vista Great Street streetlight banners, conducting sidewalk and tree maintenance, initiating weekly overnight street sweeping, and installing 14 new bike racks and 13 new trash and recycling bins. According to the Great Streets Initiative, the changes are estimated to cost $1.8 million.
Like Chancy, many disliked the changes that happened on Venice Blvd, including John Saletra, the manager of Tattoo Lounge on Venice Blvd. Saletra has been a member of the tattoo shop for 17 years, while the shop has been a presence in the Mar Vista community for 24 years. The Tattoo Lounge has giant glass windows in front of the shop, where most of the artists can see the traffic 24/7.
While Chancy is only inconvenienced by the newly installed bike lane, the tattoo shop suffered tremendously, with its business dropping 30 percent after the changes took place. Saletra has also noticed that these changes have increased the likelihood of accidents between bicycles and pedestrians. He documented this change by taking pictures of these accidents, because they often go unreported if nobody calls an ambulance. He has even seen cars drive in between the barrier and the curb and enter the enclosed bike lane.
Clients have let the tattoo shop employees know that they come in less often due to the changes in Venice Boulevard. Saletra mentioned receiving complaints from clients who can no longer access the shop. "They can’t get to us, or they are trying to find us, or Waze is rerouting them different streets to try and find us.” He has even talked to Councilmember Bonin personally. Saletra brought up the lane reduction causing only one drivable lane when someone is trying to park, causing massive traffic. In response, Bonin told Saletra that he has data proving that Saletra is wrong.
The Tattoo Lounge was not the only business affected by the lane reduction. Shane Gudlow is the business owner of Time Warp Music and Time Warp Records, both of which are on Venice Boulevard. The lane reduction has negatively affected both of his businesses. He also had numerous customers telling him that they are avoiding the area and not coming in as often because of increased traffic.
Gigi Grase, a Venice local for 20 years, felt that the lane reduction was not well-thought out, saying these changes would have been much more useful if implemented on Washington Boulevard. "Washington Boulevard is wider and a little bit less trafficked," Grase said.
In contrast, Grase said that "Venice Boulevard ... is our only conduit from the beach to the city." She argued that these small changes to only four city blocks have an extensive impact. "The repercussions go for miles, and it makes it [Venice Boulevard] a lot less a highway and more a parking lot," Grase said.
Even cyclists felt conflicted with the changes. Luis Jauregui, an SMC Student Services Specialist at the Bundy campus, is a bicyclist and a motorist. As a bicyclist, Jauregui felt that the enclosed bike lane made him safer from cars, but could be annoying when he is driving, especially when he is in a rush. "I like the idea, but it could be worked on," said Jauregui. "I do like the idea of a bigger bike lane or a buffer zone, but it doesn't seem that practical right now." Instead of creating a buffer zone between bicyclists and cars, he felt installing new bike lanes on streets that currently do not have any would be more productive.
People's frustrations have motivated them to form a coalition in order to reverse the changes. Restore Venice Blvd is a coalition of individuals who are opposed to the lane reduction on Venice Boulevard. Their website states, "We don't want a great street, we want a smart street!" During the Mar Vista Art Walk on Thursday, September 7th, two volunteers, Selena Inouye and Sheri Odere, collected signatures for a petition while informing people about how the lane reductions are harmful,
Others, however, like the change. Enzo Loconte, a volunteer at Bikerowave for seven years, is in favor of it. “The life and safety of pedestrians and people who use the sidewalk should take priority [over] commute time,” Loconte said. He also mentions that unless people can show hard evidence about traffic and emergency vehicle response times being slowed, he doesn’t want to hear people complaining about it.
Many are indifferent or neutral on the topic. Andrea Diaz, a SMC business major, is personally not bothered by the change because it does not affect her but is aware that other individuals are. The Venice Neighborhood Council has not taken a position on the matter. The Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Fire Department, Councilmember Mike Bonin, and Mayor Eric Garcetti did not respond to a request for comment.