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L.A. full of roads to ruin for cars

The city gives its road network an average grade of C. But a Times analysis finds wide disparities, and they're not driven by wealth or political power.

May 04, 2013|By Ben Poston, Los Angeles Times
  • Gregory Leskin at Angus Street and Moreno Drive, near his Silver Lake home; he put in a request for repairs to the buckled and cracked pavement nearly three years ago, and is still waiting.
Gregory Leskin at Angus Street and Moreno Drive, near his Silver Lake home;… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

A drive along Angus Street in hilly Silver Lake requires navigating a gantlet of buckled concrete slabs and dirt-filled cracks.

But on South Seabluff Drive in Playa Vista the ride is smooth, the pavement is black and you can smell the fresh asphalt.

Despite the city's best efforts to keep up with the constant flood of road repairs, Los Angeles is a city divided — by its potholes, cracks and ruts.

Interactive map: See your street's grade

A Times analysis of street inspection data found wide disparities in road quality among the city's 114 neighborhoods.

The streets in the newer development of Playa Vista, which the city's database gives the highest ranking with an average grade of B, scored 80% higher than those in Silver Lake, which ranks among the worst with a D-minus average.

The differences are not driven by wealth or political power. In fact, some of the poorest parts of the city have some of the best roads.

The heart of the problem is aging streets, heavy traffic, undulating terrain and the sheer size of the network. The streets in the poorest shape tend to be in hillside neighborhoods, such as the Hollywood Hills, Mount Washington, Los Feliz and Bel-Air.

But layered on top of those problems is a street repair strategy that bypasses the worst streets in favor of preserving salvageable ones. Street officials have also made a political decision to bring the overall grade of roads in each City Council district to the same level.

For Angelenos waiting for their street to be rebuilt, abandon all hope: There is a 60-year backlog of failed streets — meaning residents might not see them fixed in their lifetimes.

"If you ask people 'How many of you have been a victim of crime today?' nobody will raise their hand," said Rusty Millar, a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council representative. "If you ask 'How many of you have been a victim of bad streets and traffic?,' everybody will raise their hand."

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With its stately homes and manicured lawns, Hancock Park is one of the wealthiest areas in L.A. and considered one of the city's historical gems. But that hasn't helped get its mostly ancient concrete streets repaired: The neighborhood has an overall D-minus grade.

Hancock Park residents Michael and Ruth Steinberger live on Rimpau Boulevard, which was graded F when last inspected. They have complained to the city that their street has a severe rut at the intersection with 3rd Street that has scraped the undercarriage of their Mercedes countless times.

"It ruins every car," Ruth Steinberger said. "And God forbid you don't know about it and you are coming in at normal speeds — you can get hurt."

After decades of neglect, Los Angeles is trying to play catch-up in places like Hancock Park.

It's a Herculean task, given the size of L.A.'s street network — the largest municipal system in the country with 6,500 miles of paved roadway. Factor the number of lanes into the equation and there are enough miles of road in the city to build a 10-lane freeway from here to New York City.

The average grade of the city's roads is a C. The network scores lower than all 10 of the most populous counties in the state, according to city and state data.

But the average grade tells only part of the story. More than one-third of the streets in the city have a score of D or worse, meaning they must be resurfaced or totally reconstructed.

"I not only sympathize with those residents, I also empathize," said Nazario Sauceda, director of the city Bureau of Street Services. "I can tell you with a straight face that we are doing the best we can with the money we have."

In some neighborhoods, such as Silver Lake and Hancock Park, more than half the streets are graded F, the Times analysis found. Those streets have foot-deep potholes and giant cracks that can flatten tires and ruin suspensions.

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly half of Winnetka's streets and more than half of Playa Vista's are graded A.

The city's goal is to raise its entire street network to a B average, but that can't be done without more than $2.6 billion in new money, according to the city.

This year, the aim is to work on roughly 800 miles of road. Most of that — about 70% — involves applying crack and slurry seal to preserve roads. The rest is the much more expensive work of resurfacing streets.

Even 20 years ago, the city employed what was called the "windshield method" to find problems — driving around the city and fixing whatever looked bad. At the time, the city adopted a "worst-first" strategy — fixing the broken streets before all others.

But that doesn't work in the long run because of limited resources. Rebuilding a street is five to 10 times more expensive than patching one. If work crews just replaced the worst streets, hundreds of miles of passable streets would fall into disrepair sooner, city officials said.

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