CITYWIDE — It just may be the holy grail for the eco-friendly, active transportation-minded Santa Monica commuter. And yes, it’s European.
In Dutch it’s called a “woonerf” — a city street where children are encouraged to play freely, bicyclists and pedestrians get priority over cars and vehicle traffic is restricted to around 10 miles per hour.
In English the idea goes by the term “slow street,” and while the American version isn’t necessarily as restrictive toward cars, the concept is the same: a street that isn’t a right-of-way for motorized vehicles, but a shared space for all modes of transportation.
Just think of it as the anti-freeway, said Barbara Filet, a member of the bicycle advocacy group Spoke.
“They’re just a wonderful way to increase the quality of life in a neighborhood because they kind of take the street back from just the automobile and give it to everyone,” she said.
In an already traffic congested city, slowing down cars may seem like a backwards idea. But according to planners and active transportation advocates, slow streets encourage people to get out of their vehicles and can help reduce congestion.
That’s why they’re likely to play a major role in plans for the formerly industrial eastside neighborhoods referred to as the Creative Arts District and Bergamot Village now slated for office and residential development. Meetings to come up with specific plans for the areas are expected to begin in the next several months. And meetings to update Santa Monica’s bicycle master plan also are expected to get underway in November.
“This is an area where the city is anticipating major investment in alternative transportation,” said Lucy Dyke, City Hall’s transportation planning manager.
A good example of the need for more slow streets, Filet said, is the 38-acre parcel where bio-tech firm Agensys is planning its new headquarters on a City Hall-owned lot next to the recycling yards.
A lack of small, bike-friendly streets in the area prompted advocates to push for a dedicated bicycle path through the Agensys site. While that effort appears to have come up short, it’s possible cyclists’ enthusiasm for more connectivity on the eastside could translate into more small, bicycle friendly streets in the vicinity that would provide better access to east-west routes across the city.
At City Hall, planners said creating more slow streets on the eastside is a priority, though one that may take years to realize.
As projects like the planned redevelopment of the Papermate site and Bergamot Village come online, officials hope to receive grants that will fund a network of smaller streets.
It’s a plan articulated in the recently updated general plan, also known as the Land Use and Circulation Element, but one that hasn’t been fully fleshed out.
As meetings take place to finalize plans for the eastside neighborhoods, bicyclists are sure to be a loud voice pushing for slow streets.
“[What] keeps more people from bicycling is that they don’t feel safe on our streets,” Filet said. “Most people really need a street that is designed for much slower car traffic and streets that … are designed for the safety of its weakest users.”