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Hysteria over bike lanes shows exactly why L.A. needs Measure HLA

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

There’s a lot of scaremongering in L.A. City Hall right now. The city administrative officer warns that voters may soon blow a hole in Los Angeles’ budget, and the firefighters union is telling residents that emergency response times could balloon over the next several years, putting lives at risk.

The objects of their fear? Safer streets, calmer traffic and a better bike network, something plenty of other cities have installed without much bloodshed or red ink. In fact, I’d say these hysterical responses to Measure HLA, the Los Angeles ballot initiative that would force implementation of the mobility plan passed by the City Council and then-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015, demonstrates the kind of poor leadership that committed to eliminating traffic deaths in Los Angeles by 2025 (only 312 days to go!) but instead watched listlessly as cars and their drivers killed an astonishing 336 Angelenos in 2023, more than the number of homicides that year.

Mitigating that ineffective leadership is one of the biggest reasons voters need to pass Measure HLA on March 5. The city has failed to make the changes that could protect residents from traffic violence, so voters must force it to act.

As for the over-the-top reactions by the firefighters union and the city administrative officer, the Times Editorial Board has picked apart those arguments and expressed skepticism about the latter’s $3.1-billion cost estimate to implement Measure HLA. For example, the board noted that the ballot measure does not impose the 10-year deadline that the city administrative officer assumes, and the estimated $1.76-million-per-mile cost to stripe new bike lanes is nine times what the city pays to do the same thing now. In fact, when I saw the $3.1-billion estimate, my reaction as a commuting cyclist who’s had many close calls with motorists was similar to what StreetsblogLA Editor Joe Linton said his was: “Can I get that promise in writing?”

Because here’s the thing: We should be spending that kind of money to improve traffic safety on our streets, the most accessible public spaces we have in this city. Imagine if homicides were steadily climbing with no ceiling in sight, and the response to a plan to bring the murder rate under control was, “That might not pencil out.” There’d be justifiable outrage among people who felt city leaders didn’t care about their safety.

That’s been the feeling of cyclists, pedestrians and just about anyone else outside a car since the City Council passed its mobility plan and Garcetti adopted Vision Zero in 2015. L.A. leaders are on record acknowledging this problem and doing almost nothing — the mobility plan is only 5% implemented — as traffic deaths hit 241 in 2020, 294 in 2021, 312 in 2022 and 336 in 2023. If 294 traffic deaths weren’t enough two years ago, and 336 aren’t enough now, how bad must the carnage get for the city to act?

And trust me: It will get worse without efforts to reduce vehicle speeds and design roads to make cycling and walking safer. The cars Americans buy are getting bigger and therefore deadlier to the people they hit (yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will tell you that modern cars are safer than ever before, because to regulators only drivers and their passengers matter). There’s no evidence Los Angeles has hit its limit of traffic deaths; in fact, the climbing body count shows the opposite is true.

I’ve written before that safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians make urban life more fun, as they invite Angelenos to experience their city outside cars. More urgently, however, implementing a plan to slow vehicles, add bike lanes and improve sidewalks stanches the bleeding on our streets — or at least puts that on the horizon. That’s worth $3.1 billion over many years, even though Measure HLA almost certainly wouldn’t require spending anywhere near that amount.

Alabama’s highest court declared frozen embryos people. The U.S. Supreme Court is to blame. Columnist Harry Litman says overtly religious arguments now have more sway in courts: “The idea of shoving this tendentious religious tract down Americans’ throats would have been a nonstarter under Roe vs. Wade, which asserted the constitutional liberty interests of women against an overreaching, moralistic state. Post-Dobbs, those rights are featherweight. The outrage belongs with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ill reasoning and grotesque overreach.”

The love of a corgi saved a homeless man. The love of his friends couldn’t. You’ll need a tissue to dab your eyes after reading Ted Rogers’ tale, previously covered in The Times, of what happened to a formerly homeless friend after his beloved dog died. It’s not a happy ending, but it sheds more light on what makes L.A.’s homelessness crisis so intractable.

An American doctor who went to Gaza saw annihilation, not war. Among the many terrible things Virginia surgeon Irfan Galaria saw while volunteering in the Gaza Strip, this is especially chilling: “On one occasion, a handful of children, all about ages 5 to 8, were carried to the emergency room by their parents. All had single sniper shots to the head. These families were returning to their homes in Khan Yunis, about 2.5 miles away from the hospital, after Israeli tanks had withdrawn. But the snipers apparently stayed behind. None of these children survived.”

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How do experts rate the Trump and Biden presidencies? A new survey of historians puts Trump dead last (reasonably so, in my view) and ranks Biden in the top third, at No. 14. Political scientists Justin Vaughn and Brandon Rottinghaus say this suggests a new criterion of determining presidential greatness: fealty to political and institutional norms.

Blocking Ukraine aid is no way to put “America first.” Columnist Jackie Calmes warns that withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine will have serious consequences: “This swing away from global leadership and multilateralism — to isolationism and unilateralism — is dangerously wrongheaded. If the United States steps back, Russia likely plows forward. So will China and Iran, two powers Republicans are quick to condemn. Can’t Republicans see that their words and actions embolden our adversaries? America first, indeed.”

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