The city of Los Angeles' plan for managing increased traffic resulting from the millions of square feet of development proposed for the Venice-Westchester area will actually result in massive traffic jams and increased air pollution, according to a new analysis of the plan.
The study by Rubell Helgeson, a UCLA graduate student in urban planning, was conducted while she worked for Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) earlier this year.
"The analysis is the most devastating critique of city planning I have ever seen," Hayden said. "It lays bare that the assumptions (in the city plan) are false. If the plan is wildly incorrect, then politicians have been misled in dangerous ways."
The city's traffic plan, called the Coastal Transportation Corridor Specific Plan, outlines a long list of proposed road improvements to accommodate increased traffic that large developments such as Playa Vista, Continental City and the Hughes Center will bring to the area. Developers must finance the improvements by paying fees based on the number of commuter trips generated by their projects. They are also required to institute programs to reduce traffic, such as car pooling.
Russell Backs Plan
Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell supports the plan, which was adopted as an ordinance by the City Council last year.
But Helgeson has concluded that the city used flawed, conflicting and inadequate information as the basis for its predictions of increases in traffic and air pollution. She also said the city may have erred in its calculation of how much it will collect in fees to pay for the improvements called for in the plan.
Russell said she had not seen Helgeson's analysis, which was released Sept. 10. "But the issues that appear to be raised are issues that have been addressed in the plan itself.
"When we did the transportation ordinance we spent many months on it and the city hired several consultants," she said. "There was a lot of professional time given to the environmental impact."
The plan is designed to ensure that developers pay for road improvements needed to handle the increased traffic caused by their projects, that development be limited if the road system is inadequate to handle the traffic in the area and that development be phased in so road capacity can be expanded before traffic increases.
Helgeson concludes that the plan fails to meet all three goals, in part because:
- Many key street improvements are dependent on state or federal funding, which the city may not get. "There is great competition for those funds and those funds are in decline," she said.
- The plan uses two different projections for increases in traffic. A projection of a 35% rise in traffic from 1980 to 1992 is used to project what Helgeson said is an unrealistically low estimate of the impact of increased traffic on air quality.
- The higher projection of a 100% increase in traffic over the same time period was used to calculate the fees that would be paid. But if the lower estimate is correct, then the fees raised would be less than a third of the almost $140 million needed to pay for road improvements.
Smog Study Inaccurate
Helgeson also criticized the lack of an attempt to project increases in smog levels caused by increased traffic in the area. The only pollutant monitored in the plan's environmental impact report was carbon monoxide. She said even that projection is inaccurate because the computer model assumed a carbon monoxide level already present in the area of six parts per million when in fact the level is about 19 ppm.
The findings of Helgeson's analysis support neighborhood critics of the plan, such as Pat McCartney, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities.
"Helgeson's work is a breath of fresh air in an analytical vacuum," he said. "People in the community raised these points during public testimony on the ordinance. But the public was steamrolled at the time. The plan is a way for everybody else to pay the price for the wants of a few large developers.
"This analysis proves that the plan deserves a second and a third look," he said.
McCartney said his group may propose amendments to the plan during an annual public review scheduled to take place later this year.
Russell said she intends to study Helgeson's more than 100-page analysis and will propose changes if defects in the transportation plan have been uncovered.
"The issues raised are important and should be addressed," Russell said. "We did not think the plan was perfect." That is why an annual review was built into the plan, she said.
But Helgeson has suggested that the city drop the plan entirely and limit growth in the area as a way to control traffic congestion and air pollution.
She contends that changing the area's zoning to reduce the size of proposed commercial projects and encouraging construction of more housing in the area would be a far more effective means of limiting traffic than the road-building program outlined in the plan.
"All you do when you expand road capacity is bring more traffic to the area," she said.
But David Gay, a city planner who worked on the transportation plan, said it was necessary to devise the plan to handle projected increases in traffic caused by new development. Developers, he said, would have gone ahead and built their projects with or without the plan.
"The plan does not make things worse. That is nonsense," he said.