With the holiday shopping season upon us, City Hall is pulling out all the stops to make sure we shop locally.
It took nearly 10 years but it looks like the City Hall bureaucrats have finally realized that traffic Downtown is a mess and getting worse. After literally decades of trying to discourage people from driving anywhere in Santa Monica, let alone into the Bayside District, it has finally dawned on someone that all that traffic calming and lame-brained mitigation efforts such as the disastrous Downtown “transit mall” were driving customers away.
All those pie-in-the-sky, utopian schemes of forcing people to walk, ride bicycles or get aboard a bus weren’t working. Residents just went elsewhere. With traffic increasing one to two percent annually and the congestion worsening, many of us head to the Westside Pavilion, the Grove, the new Westfield Culver City, Westfield Century City or outlying stores such as Costco and Target, leaving Downtown’s Bayside to the kids and tourists.
At privately-owned shopping malls, traffic and parking is designed to move people in and out quickly, conveniently and cheaply. Patronizing these locations is less stressful than dealing with Downtown Santa Monica because the private mall operators there are more interested in you having a positive experience than trying to change your lifestyle.
Even with Santa Monica Place now re-opened as an up-market shopping mall, the out-of-town shopping centers including big discount stores provide a great alternative for those of us looking for competitively priced merchandise, food and entertainment without Santa Monica’s hassles.
About 10 years ago, City Hall planners concocted the “transit mall” that eliminated the one way streets on Broadway and Fifth Street and reduced the number of traffic lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard between Fourth Street and Ocean Avenue to accommodate bus lanes and widened sidewalks — not necessarily to serve hordes of pedestrians but to facilitate sidewalk dining for the Bayside’s restaurants.
A traffic lane on busy northbound Fourth Street between Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard was turned into a parking lane, thus creating a classic bottleneck as dual lanes of traffic merged into a single lane at Broadway.
The reason for the changes was to “improve the pedestrian experience” but folks don’t come here to walk around. They come here to shop, eat and see a movie or visit the beach.. When I was in London a few weeks ago, I was stunned by how busy the shopping areas were — whether it was Oxford Street, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, Brick Lane, Canary Wharf or Portobello Road.
The liveliness even carried to downtown Lincoln, England in the East Midlands, 90 miles north of London. There, even during midweek, stores were busy and most folks were carrying bags crammed full of purchases.
Shoppers ranged from children with family members to the elderly, not just the teens I mostly see on our Third Street Promenade. The better shopping areas in the U.K. have an exciting mix of stores, eateries and services. Movie complexes are few and far between.
A major reason for the young Bayside crowd is the movie theaters which generally attract a youthful demographic. But with the limited funds most young people have, especially after admission and movie snacks, there’s not much left to spend outside the theater.
But, here in Santa Monica, City Hall wants to build 12 more cinemas that primarily appeal to teens and young adults. It makes me wonder if the "quantity over quality,” and “bodies over income" dynamic is really the smartest way for Bayside to go.
Granted, in London, most people take the Tube (Underground) or bus, so driving and parking aren’t an issue. Here, the Subway to the Sea is three decades away. Expo Light Rail expected about 2015 will travel the industrial Downtown Los Angeles/Crenshaw/Culver City corridor. This leaves private vehicles as the choice means of conveyance for Santa Monicans and area residents now and far into the future.
I’ll give credit to Sam Morrissey, City Hall’s relatively new traffic engineer for suggesting temporarily removing the entire westbound parking lane on Santa Monica Boulevard from Fourth Street to Ocean Avenue so traffic can flow smoothly. The pedestrian-only signal phase at the intersection of Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard that allows pedestrians to cross diagonally while vehicular traffic is stopped is also a smart move. Let’s hope City Hall makes these changes permanent.
I’d recommend removing the parking from Fourth Street to facilitate traffic flow and putting in another pedestrian phase signal at Second Street and Broadway. In any case, the baby steps taken to undo the decades of traffic mismanagement in the Bayside District are a welcome improvement, small as they may be.
Here’s hoping that the trend toward a more user-friendly and hassle-free Bayside continues. It may offset the impact of our 10.25 percent sales tax coming next April.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.