For some years now, the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Sierra Villa Drive near Eagle Rock Plaza has had the misfortune of facing Colorado Terrace, a five-story orange-yellow edifice considered to be the ugliest buildings in Eagle Rock. Now the area is attracting yet more negative attention for being one of the most traffic-logged intersections in all of Los Angeles.
According to the Los Angeles Planning Department’s Traffic and Safety Analysis Report, the average delay during peak rush hour in the evenings on Colorado and Sierra Villa is 246.6 seconds (4.11 minutes). The delay on the Colorado-Eagle Rock Boulevard intersection is even higher—264.4 seconds (4.40 minutes).
Surprised—and not a little dismayed—by the Jan. 17 report, which has been generating a lively debate on Patch since we posted a story about it titled "Report: Bike Lanes Will Slow Traffic on Figueroa, Colorado," last Tuesday, TERA President Bob Gotham and a colleague of his decided to test just how accurate the two rush-hour delays are.
Gotham accompanied Jeff Jacobberger, an urban planning consultant with the Take Back the Boulevard initiative, and drove up and down the Colorado-Sierra Villa intersection several times. Last Monday, Gotham published Jacobberger’s findings in the latest issue of the TERA newsletter, which Patch is reproducing below with Gotham’s permission:
"During Take Back the Boulevard's planning process, we informed Eagle Rockers that the departments of City Planning and Transportation were studying whether installing bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard, which in most sections would involve removing a travel lane, would increase traffic congestion, and if so, by how much.
"Those departments recently released their long-awaited "Traffic and Safety Assessment." During most of the day, bike lanes would not create any additional congestion on Colorado Boulevard because the road is far wider than necessary to carry existing volumes of traffic. Even during morning and evening rush hours, a bike lane would not cause additional traffic congestion along most parts of Colorado Boulevard, although some intersections would see a modest increase in traffic congestion.
"The Traffic and Safety Assessment, required under California's environmental and planning laws, looks at six key intersections along Colorado Boulevard: (1) Northbound SR-2 Glendale Freeway exit ramp; (2) Broadway; (3) Sierra Villa Drive; (4) Eagle Rock Boulevard; (5) SR-134 Ventura Freeway ramp; and (6) Figueroa Street.
"The report uses traffic counts and lane configurations to calculate the average traffic delay at each intersection—the length of time it takes a car to get through the intersection—during the busiest hour of the morning rush hour, and the busiest hour of the evening rush hour.
"Each intersection is then assigned a "Level of Service" or "LOS" score for each time period. LOS scores range from A to F, not unlike a report card. However, while a "C" might not be a particularly good grade on a report card, it is considered a good score in a built-up urban environment. The report then projects how much, if any, additional traffic congestion delay might result if bike lanes were installed and a vehicle lane removed, and also assigns an LOS score.
"The traffic delay and LOS score are not based on actual observations of traffic congestion on Colorado Boulevard. Instead, traffic count data is fed into a computer program that spits out results—results that on occasion may not reflect reality. Eagle Rockers should evaluate the Traffic and Safety Assessment in light of their real-world experience of driving in our neighborhood.
"Take Back the Boulevard’s primary goal is to make Colorado more of a main street for Eagle Rock. That means making it a street that works well for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users; and creating an environment that encourages and sustains a vibrant and active commercial district. The LOS analysis ignores these considerations, and focuses only on how well Colorado Boulevard moves motor vehicles. Under this model, anything that slows traffic is considered "bad," even when there is widespread agreement that our streets should be designed for everyone.
"Even so, along most of Colorado Boulevard, traffic would continue to move freely if a vehicle lane is replaced with a bike lane. Three intersections-SR-2 exit ramp, Broadway and SR-134 ramp-all get a "B" score even after bike lanes are installed, and would not increase traffic congestion and vehicle delay by more than 4 seconds, which likely is less time than it took you to read this sentence.
"At Colorado/Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado/Sierra Villa, there is some congestion today and bike lanes would add somewhat to that congestion. At these intersections, the traffic signal cycles are 90 seconds long. During the morning rush hour, the average motorist is delayed about 37 seconds at Eagle Rock Boulevard, and 29 seconds at Sierra Villa. There are a lot of left turns onto and from Eagle Rock Boulevard and Sierra Villa.
"These 'conflicting' movements mean that a lot of cars have to stop at a red light. After bike lanes are installed, the study estimates that the average motorist would have to wait about one light cycle at Sierra Villa (95 seconds) and a bit more than one light cycle at Eagle Rock Boulevard (110 seconds).
"The study's analysis of evening rush hour delays at Eagle Rock Boulevard and Sierra Villa defy explanation. The report states that during the evening rush hour, the average motorist waits more than four minutes (or nearly three light cycles) to get through the signal at Sierra Villa, and another four minutes (or three light cycles) to get through the signal at Eagle Rock Boulevard. Quite simply, this is not the reality in Eagle Rock today.
"That is why Bob Gotham and I spent a chunk of time driving back and forth through the intersection of Colorado and Sierra Villa several times last Thursday (Jan. 24). We apologize for adding to rush hour traffic, but we wanted some real-world observations of traffic conditions. Bob drove slowly, and made every effort to hit every red light he could. We started the stopwatch as soon as Bob started to slow down, and didn't stop it until we were well clear of the intersection.
"Whether he was going straight through or making a left turn, Bob never took more than one minute (and certainly never close to four) to get through the intersection, no matter how hard he tried. Our real-life experience came nowhere close to the predictions made by the report. Take Back the Boulevard is working with the Planning Department to resolve this issue.
"The Figueroa/Colorado intersection currently gets a "C," with average delays of 20-26 seconds. The report analyzed the impact of installing bike lanes on both Colorado and Figueroa. Here, Figueroa and Colorado each have two through lanes in each direction. If both streets are reduced to one through lane in each direction, traffic congestion increases somewhat to an average of 56 seconds in the morning peak and 40 seconds in the evening peak. That is still less than one traffic light cycle.
"The report also analyzed the impact of removing curb parking, instead of a traffic lane, at this intersection. On Figueroa, some curb parking could be removed between Colorado and La Loma, which would have minimal adverse impact because the handful of businesses along this short section of Figueroa has ample off-street parking. Under this scenario, average traffic delay would be about 40 seconds at the busiest times of day.
"More to come once we have had the opportunity to discuss the report results more fully with the Planning Department."
But why would proponents of Take Back the Boulevard want to refute city reports of horrendous congestion along Colorado when, on the face of it, such congestion would seem to strengthen one of their core arguments and demands—that the automobile-oriented boulevard is dysfunctional and needs to be friendlier to other modes of transportation as well, including bicyclists and pedestrians?
Here’s what Jacobberger told Patch in response:
“The goal of Take Back the Boulevard is to make Colorado Boulevard a street that works well for everyone in Eagle Rock. Much of our conversation with the community has been about striking the right balance among motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and customers of local businesses.
“The Traffic and Safety Assessment shows that Colorado works very well for motorists. Even at the busiest intersections at the busiest times of day, motorists face minimal traffic delay—far less than one traffic light cycle. By contrast, our community meetings, surveys, outreach and fieldwork establish that Colorado works poorly for nearly everyone else; it is uncomfortable for most bicyclists and difficult for pedestrians to cross. In short, Colorado is a street that is out of balance. The low levels of traffic congestion mean that, even after we reallocate some road space to bicyclists, pedestrians and customers of local businesses, Colorado Boulevard will still work well for motorists. We can have a street that is in balance.
“If it were true that the average motorist waits three light cycles to get through Sierra Villa and Eagle Rock Boulevard (which it certainly is not), and if bike lanes would mean that the average motorist would wait eight minutes to get through Sierra Villa and other eight minutes at Eagle Rock Boulevard (which they won’t), the conversation about the striking the right balance might be very different.
“In short, if Colorado Boulevard actually had horrendous traffic congestion, it would be harder to ask motorists to accept even more traffic congestion to make the street better for others. Fortunately, Eagle Rock doesn’t face that difficult choice. That is why we want the report to be accurate.”
Editor's Note: Jeff Jacobberger's response to Patch's question toward the end of this article was added after its initial publication.