I’ve been writing “My Write” for nearly 16 years. Prior to that, I contributed my creative skills to the online Ocean Park Gazette. That’s nearly two decades of pithy commentary, astute observations and unearthly revelations.
I don’t remember a time when traffic congestion (and homelessness) weren’t “Number One” or “Number Two” on my list of community problems that never get fixed.
For nearly two decades, City bureaucrats have been trying (and failing) to force us out of our motorized vehicles in favor of walking, bicycling or using mass transit such as the bus.
After all this time, amenities such as dedicated bicycle lanes, planted medians and flashing crosswalks aren’t the “magic fix” we were promised. Same with physical barricades for limiting access and preventing cut-through traffic. Speed humps and narrower one-lane streets aren’t working, either.
Landscaped concrete center islands and sidewalk extensions at major intersections give motorists the impression of narrower passages ahead, thereby triggering the foot to come off the accelerator and onto the brakes.
As congestion worsens, motorists veer off into quiet, family-oriented neighborhoods looking for unencumbered and faster moving alternate streets adjacent to major thoroughfares.
With planted, landscaped islands occupying the middle of Pico Boulevard (from Ocean to Centinela avenues) and landscaped parklets sprouting from repurposed parking spaces into encroaching traffic lanes, this major thoroughfare – like others around town — has become one dangerous, air polluting slalom course, unsafe for motorist, bicyclist and pedestrian alike.
The new Expo Line is a classic example of terrible traffic management. The light-rail track runs on Colorado Avenue at grade throughout most of the City as opposed to elevated on its own exclusive alignment.
Roundabouts, like at 26th Street and Washington Boulevard, encourage cars and other vehicles to bounce over sloped, mid-intersection islands while commuters speed around its outskirts. Motorists on the larger arterial think they have preference, but they don’t. It’s another confusing and dangerous “fix.”
Even worse is the new island installed at 10th Street and Michigan Avenue as part of a school/city traffic mitigation collaboration, “Safe Routes to School.” It’s almost as bad as 7th Street next to Santa Monica High School west of Lincoln Boulevard where students on foot and on bicycles compete for space with those just “picking up” and/or “dropping off.”
Whoops! Did I say Lincoln Boulevard, where City transportation planners and residents alike share a vision of landscaped traffic islands from the Interstate 10 freeway to the Venice-Santa Monica border?
This mile-plus stretch of Lincoln is one of the busiest and most congested routes north and south, in and out of Downtown Santa Monica. Approximately 40,000 vehicles a day use it. Installation of single (bus-bicycle only) curbside traffic lanes in each direction has already been designated south to north and north to south during weekday rush hours.
And, already hundreds of commuters are diverting through adjacent residential neighborhoods adding more noise, traffic, air pollution and confusion to already negatively impacted family neighborhoods.
Traffic is no longer a dirty word in Santa Monica. City Hall is using the word “traffic” in ways never heard before.
City Manager Rick Cole is blogging about it. Councilmember Kevin McKeown could be overheard saying, “Traffic is terrible” at a recent Downtown Santa Monica Inc. meeting while debating City Council candidate and Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians.
Why the about-face? What happened to the “Just ride a bike!” or ‘Walk!” as the admonishment from city planners to car-hugging residents?
Instead of telling residents to ride a bike or walk, the policymakers and politicians are admitting, “You’re right! Traffic sucks. We’re on your side.” But what are they going to do to fix it? Are we in for 16 more years of bogus social engineering and traffic jams?
Measure LV on the November ballot would turn control of growth and overdevelopment (and the traffic and congestion it creates) over to Santa Monicans who could vote to approve projects that exceed current zoning and/or changes to zoning. Thus, permitting new construction exceeding current standards would be allowed.
This all appears to be nothing more than another public relations move and a strategy for diffusing resident anger and frustration. Politicians and administrators want residents to feel they’re being heard — even though previous demands for fixing congestion have been ignored.
The last thing anybody in City Hall and the all-controlling Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights political cabal wants is new rulemaking that would reduce or eliminate their power.
Traffic engineers and transportation planners’ answer to Santa Monica’s ever-increasing gridlock is to bring back traffic calming. The latest tool in their toolbox is the “Creative Arts Walk.”
According to the City’s mobility Manager, Francie Stefan, “There are plans to draw or paint artwork on the sidewalk at 2nd Street and Arizona Avenue” that she says will “raise awareness and celebrate downtown as a walking experience.”
Graffiti on the sidewalk is the latest tool for mitigating congestion and improving traffic flow? How long before we’ll see these “arty scrambles” throughout Santa Monica?
What has City Hall done to control the out-of-hand traffic over 16 years? Nothing. But, they’ve upheld promises to make things worse.
City Manager Rick Cole recently commented online: “The city is not taking the traffic problem lightly. Santa Monica recently added scramble crosswalks and the Breeze Bike Share program. Officials have long-term plans to further promote walking, biking, and public transportation in Downtown Santa Monica with the ‘GoSaMo’ marketing program.”
I guess that’s all we should expect — more public relations and more verbiage. Even an old curmudgeon like me might be convinced that the City’s transportation planning staff has nailed it.
Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.