DOWNTOWN – With the summer tourist season at about the half way mark, traffic conditions appear to be better than previous years according to local officials.
Several departments and organizations have been implementing programs and services to try to manage the seasonal spike in visitors with the accompanying downtown gridlock. While some programs, such as the City of Santa Monica’s “Go With the Flow” are specific responses to on the ground conditions, other efforts, like those at the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau aim to prevent problems before they arise.
“Go with the Flow” has been operational since Memorial Day and will run through Labor Day. The program puts additional traffic officers on the streets from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays, directs drivers to parking structures, manually manages intersections and facilitates the flow of traffic.
Sam Morrissey, City Traffic Engineer said the program has worked so far.
“I believe it’s going very well. We’ve not been seeing as many complaints from visitors, tourists and downtown business groups,” he said.
Morrissey said parking occupancy rates have held steady while complaints decreased, meaning the same number of people were coming to town but were experiencing fewer problems.
“Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. worked closely with the City developing the Go With The Flow traffic management pilot program instituted at the beginning of the busy summer season and so far the results have been positive,” said Mackenzie Carter, director of marketing and operations with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.
“We have received fewer complaints regarding traffic impacts and access to parking in Downtown. Visitors seem to like having extra bodies on the street and at key intersections to help guide them through the District.”
Morrissey said the program was designed to handle weekend beach traffic, not necessarily the flood of visitors related to the Thursday Twilight Concert Series but he said the lessons being learned on the weekend can be applied to other high traffic situations.
“We’ve specifically limited left turn access into some parking structures, targeted intersections that are key with officers and timed traffic signals to address heavy pedestrian volume,” he said.
Morrissey acknowledged that traffic is still a concern and said they City is continuing to look for solutions to known trouble spots such as drivers that cause traffic when exiting the freeway.
“One of the biggest challenges is the freeway off ramps,” he said. “No matter what we do on the surface streets, it still backs up on the off ramps. We’ve got some new beach parking signs and I hope with those permanent signs in place, they will have a better impact with traffic volumes. There will be less confusion and drivers will know exactly where they need to go.”
Carter said the ongoing construction issues have also been a source of frustration for some drivers.
“It has been a very labor intensive process and one that will need to be refined as we move forward,” she said. “Construction-related delays will continue to present challenges as key infrastructure projects, such as the California Incline and Colorado Esplanade, break ground, but we are committed to developing long-term solutions that will be of benefit for years to come.”
While weekend and special event traffic is being addressed with tactical measures, Kelly Nagle with the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau said her department takes a strategic approach to their work that undercuts traffic before it even starts.
“What we’re doing from a strategic standpoint is targeting visitors that won’t bring more congestion but who will stay in hotels and walk to the city,” she said.
Nagle said 80 percent of respondents to a CVB survey said walking was their preferred method of transport locally.
“One of the goals is to encourage people once they are here, if they are driving here, to park and to explore the city by foot and with alternative modes of transportation like the Santa Monica shuttle and that of course reduces congestion.”
The free shuttles transport locals and tourists between popular destinations like Downtown and Main Street. Nagle said the affect is fewer cars on the roads and therefore, a more pleasant city for everyone.
“It improves the experience for locals and tourists alike,” she said.