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20th Street as seen from Pico Boulevard

(photo by Byron Kennerly)

PICO NEIGHBORHOOD — The long-awaited project to aesthetically revitalize a barren stretch of 20th Street and Cloverfield Boulevard will have to wait a while more.

About a decade after residents first approached City Hall about sprucing up the two corridors from the I-10 Freeway to Pico Boulevard, the City Council earlier this week sent conceptual designs for the streetscape improvement project back to the drawing board, dissatisfied that the plans were missing several elements, including bicycle lanes.

The council directed city staff to address the absence of bike lanes and work with planning and transportation management staff over the next 60 days before bringing back the designs.

The estimated $6.7 million undertaking in its current incarnation includes new trees, upgraded lighting, and landscaped curb extensions. The existing plans for both 20th and Cloverfield are to maintain the current street and parking configuration.

Several councilmembers criticized the current designs as insufficiently addressing the issues of pedestrian and bicycle safety on the streets, and just merely changing a few aesthetic qualities. Some said they would like to see a bike lane on 20th Street, which isn’t as heavily impacted as Cloverfield.

“I was one of the people who championed it about a decade ago and made sure we had the money in the budget to do it,” said Mayor Ken Genser, who was among the councilmembers who did not approve of the designs. “I recognize the importance of doing it, I just think it is wrong to speed ahead when it’s not thoughtfully done.”

Genser said he felt that the reasoning behind the designs was not thoroughly explained, including the lack of medians on 20th Street, which he pointed out would be a benefit to pedestrians with mobility issues.

Calvin Abe of Ah’bé Landscape Architects said that the fire marshall was against the median because it could impede emergency access.

Residents asked for the beautification project because of concerns of pedestrian safety and traffic on the two streets, which are located near an elementary school and park.

Maria Loya, who serves on the Pico Neighborhood Association’s Board of Directors, said she is surprised that the project was delayed again.

“The city is always talking about promoting walking and a pedestrian-friendly community,” Loya said. “We want the same kind of pedestrian-friendly streets and boulevards in the Pico Neighborhood and part of creating a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood is tied to the improvement of these major thoroughways in our community.”

Among the concerns raised by residents are speeding cars, some of which go down the boulevard at 40-50 mph, Loya estimated.

Residents are also concerned about restricting traffic too much on 20th Street, fearing that the cars will begin flowing into the neighborhoods, she added, referring to a proposal presented last year that eliminated one travel lane in each direction.

There were few people who spoke during the council meeting on Tuesday when the item came up for discussion. Those who did provide their input spoke solely on the absence of bicycle lanes on 20th Street.

The bike lane issue received the support of Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who is a cyclist himself.

“I can’t fathom why given the opportunity we have on 20th Street, why we would approve and spend money on yet another incomplete street,” McKeown said. “We’re hearing from residents that they are turning to bicycles and they feel unsafe on our streets.

“How can we in good conscious now approve a street that doesn’t incorporate bike lanes?”

Only two councilmembers voted to move the project along — Bob Holbrook and Richard Bloom, who pointed out that it’s been about a decade since the issue first came up.

“We promised this to the Pico Neighborhood,” Bloom said. “This is a streetscape plan that fundamentally benefits the Pico Neighborhood and we put it off at least twice that I can think of to address some of these same issues and we have to bring this to a conclusion.”

melodyh@smdp.com