Plan moves ahead to allocate Measure M funds to protect pedestrians and bicyclists

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Advocates of a more bikeable, pedestrian-friendly Los Angeles scored a victory Wednesday as the City Council’s Transportation Committee voted 3-2 to allocate key Measure M funds toward the Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero initiative.

Launched in 2015, the initiative is part of a global movement to reduce traffic deaths, which are especially high in Los Angeles. The city leads the nation in pedestrian deaths, with more than 200 recorded in 2014.

Under a plan proposed by committee chairman Councilman Mike Bonin, 60 percent of local return funds produced by Measure M—Metro’s countywide sales tax initiative to pay for transit projects—will be set aside to fund Vision Zero projects. In Los Angeles, local return money is expected to total around $56 million in the first full year after the measure goes into effect.

Bonin’s plan is starkly different from one put forward by city staff. A report from the city administrative officer and legislative analyst suggested that the city dedicate two-thirds of the local return money to repaving the city’s most deteriorated streets.

Because LA’s road repair system prioritizes fixing streets that are in need of small repairs over those in the worst condition, the city has a long backlog of potholed thoroughfares in need of major repairs.

A recent analysis found that 60 percent of LA’s roads are in poor condition. The staff report presented to the committee estimated that nearly $4 billion would be required to fix the worst streets.

Bonin, however, questioned whether repairing streets should be given as high a priority as addressing the city’s alarming rate of traffic fatalities. “We can fill a bunch of potholes, or we can save a bunch of lives,” he said at one point.

Many members of the public in attendance seemed to agree. Dozens of speakers spoke in support of Vision Zero initiatives that would make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. “It is embarrassing that we have to have a conversation about making sure kids don’t die walking to school,” one commenter said.

Still, Bonin’s motion did not find favor with Councilmen David Ryu and Paul Koretz. Both voted against the allocation plan, instead favoring an alternative plan that would divide the money between road repair and Vision Zero strategies.

Should the full council approve some version of Bonin’s plan, it would mean a huge boost in revenue to the city’s efforts to improve safety for walkers and bicyclists.

Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds said at the meeting that the city currently spends just over $3 million annually on its Vision Zero initiative. New York, by comparison, spends more than $100 million.

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