by Alejandro Magallanes
The April 8 Streets Committee meeting went off without a hitch. It was a great turnout. Local authorities came out to talk. Foothill traffic officers were on hand, welcoming input from the community. Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra spoke about changes he’s trying to make to curb street racing. Vision Zero’s top engineers gave a complete explanation of the program, its involvement with Los Angeles, and its concern for Foothill Blvd. Even the two candidates running for the CD7 seat showed up to hear what everyone had to say. It was a great day.
Days later, the street changes began. That is when all hell broke loose. People who didn’t know about Vision Zero, our Safe Streets Committee, or the Saturday morning meetings buckledup behind their computers, laptops, and mobile devices to let loose on Facebook, detailing their anger about the local street changes.
Citizens were angry that no one warned them about the lane changes. Paranoia set in about what changes would be coming next. Eve Sinclair, Chairperson for the STNC appointed Safe Streets Committee, jumped into the Facebook fray, giving factual data about when, where, and why the changes were happening. That only brought her out into the open to become the target where everyone could throw their blame.
The funny thing is, this is what we have been dealing with since the committee began in August. Everyone reacts. Many don’t even ask questions. They shoot and ask questions later. We know this. We’re used to it. We usually just wait for the dust to settle, then explain our collective mission. And that’s what we did at our follow-up meeting one week after the town hall.
A Safe Streets meeting took place days after the street changes. We had a slightly larger crowd than usual, which was great. There were no local authorities this time. There were only the usual committee members and Doc from The Foothills Paper, who has been covering the meetings since August.
Eve Sinclair opened the meeting with the same detailed traffic information the committee has been giving for months; however, there are always new faces at the meeting, so we must inform everyone again, every time. Eve also gave new information and updates. Then, she opened the floor to public opinion.
As a committee member, I was completely grateful to hear from everyone. One guest explained how some in the community felt that the changes were being forced upon them. Another shared their view that Vision Zero was part of a global scheme to force drivers out of their cars and get them onto bikes. These audience members explained their complete distrust in Vision Zero.
Then there were the people who welcomed the changes. Some citizens who live nearby said that the street changes made no dramatic change in their commute, and they were completely happy. Cyclists stood up and shared their gratitude for the new safety measures. They were overjoyed that they were given their own lane, and they would no longer be inadvertently pissing-off drivers. Neighborhood councilmembers from Sylmar and Lake View Terrace applauded the entire audience and committee for their participation and concern for our city.
After Eve carefully explained the process our streets are going through to make it safer for everyone, the audience seemed to understand. Those who fought for their anger simply stormed out of the meeting in a huff, but that was only a couple of people. I wish those people would have stayed, because the biggest attitude shift in the room came when Jennifer Knopp, widow of the cyclist who was killed on Foothill Blvd. in November, took a moment to speak.
“It always takes a death to change things. To get a traffic light. To save a life,” she explained. “Is this what my husband’s death was about? To help save a life? Well, if these changes are part of it, I think it would be a good thing.”
Looking into the eyes of a woman who lost her husband in a traffic collision is a sobering feeling. All of the online bashing dissipates. Reality sets in. I remind all of you reading this that Vision Zero’s goal is to eliminate all citywide traffic deaths by 2025. Zero traffic deaths by 2025. Stay the course. Hold the line. We’ll get there.
Follow us at Sunland-Tujunga Safe Streets on Facebook to find more information on meetings and updates.