SUNSET PARK — Lloyd Saunders remembers when Ocean Park Boulevard was his go-to route, driving on the neighborhood’s main drag daily to reach any points east and west.
Today, the 30-year Santa Monica resident avoids it at all costs, opting for other streets because of “bottleneck traffic” that he blames on the current configuration, which city officials changed from four lanes to two in December 2007.
“It’s hard to get onto Ocean Park because there’s just a stream of cars,” he said. “It’s the sign of the times, there’s so many darn people here (in the city) now.”
Responding to concerns over safety on a 12-block stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard after several pedestrians were struck over the past few years, City Hall launched a pilot project in which they condensed the busy corridor from Lincoln to Cloverfield boulevards from two lanes in each direction to one, hoping to calm the speed of traffic and eliminate some of the dangers posed in the previous configuration.
Nearly two years and several community workshops later, the project is still in its pilot phase, partly the result of an understaffed Transportation Management Division that lost two planners whose positions have yet to be filled.
“We’ve just had to focus on responding to the regulatory things and working on the Land Use and Circulation Element and responding to problems as best as we can,” Lucy Dyke, the transportation planning manager, said. “But we have not been able to circle back and close the loop with the City Council and the community on this project.”
Dyke said she expects to return to council with a report on the outcome of the pilot phase next year after which time officials are expected to decide whether to keep or change the existing arrangement.
Neighbors have long complained about the dangers posed to pedestrians that attempt to cross the boulevard at unsignalized intersections, mainly from 14th to 20th streets, which is home to several businesses and John Adams Middle School. Pedestrians have been struck, several fatally, in the crosswalks, prompting business owners and residents to call on city officials to make changes, many demanding a traffic signal or flashing red light be installed at 16th and 18th streets.
Both of those streets have a set of lights that are embedded into the crosswalk, flashing when activated by a pedestrian. While the flashing lights seem effective at night, many neighbors say it’s less visible during the day and gives pedestrians a false sense of security.
The restriping continues to draw a strong reaction from neighbors. Some residents said that traffic accidents remain frequent on the boulevard despite the changes.
Elizabeth Seiji, who owns Edelweiss Flower Boutique at 17th and Ocean Park Boulevard, said it’s difficult to leave from 18th Street going east on the boulevard every night because of congestion. She adds that the congestion on Lincoln Boulevard has become a “nightmare” in the mornings and late afternoon hours.
“Simple solution is to put in stop lights where the pedestrians can set off on demand in those troubled areas,” she said.
Grace Phillips said she was willing to give the new configuration a chance, finding that the stretch from Lincoln to 20th Street to be dangerous.
She feels that it’s much safer today.
“Eastbound traffic used to charge up the hill from 11th [Street] at ridiculous speeds and swerve violently when a left-turner blocked the lane they were in,” she said. “I like the fact that the whole stretch moves more slowly now.
The restriping has reportedly had the consequence of increasing congestion on the side streets.
But Dyke said that data based on overall bus travel times indicates that there has not been an excessive increase in delay on the boulevard.
City officials are also looking to see if there is better technology for the crosswalk flashers after experiencing some maintenance issues.
“They have not been as reliable as other traffic control devices we have in the city,” she said.
Phillips said that crossing the street has not been as daunting an experience.
“Being a pedestrian has become less unpleasant, mostly because the traffic isn’t going quite as fast now,” she said. “People don’t swerve around left-turn traffic the way they used to.”