LINCOLN BLVD — “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” is a quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (though the Abraham Lincoln Society Association can’t find proof that he actually said it).
This is precisely what some Planning Commissioners hope city planners will avoid in their quest to overhaul Lincoln Boulevard.
The commission reviewed the early plans put forth by city planners for the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor Plan, which seeks to beautify, pedestrianize, and decongest the boulevard from the I-10 Freeway to Ozone Avenue.
More than 30,000 cars drive up and down Lincoln everyday according to city planners and much of the retail is dedicated to auto repair.
Most agree that it’s not the most beautiful stretch of Santa Monica but some groups have already started to change that. Beautify Lincoln, a nonprofit organization, has added dozens of murals on private property along the route. Traffic remains a problem. Residents want to see a reduction in the number of auto facilities, according to a poll conducted last year.
Commissioners reviewed the tenets of the plan, which include streetscape design, a business improvement toolkit, and transit network enhancements.
They mostly concurred with the direction of the plan, which is going to be laid out over the next 18 months.
Some commissioners expressed a desire for immediate changes while others asked city planners to be careful not to get in the way of natural positive changes.
Commissioner Amy Anderson noted that adaptive reuse of buildings has worked well on other parts of Lincoln.
Commissioner Richard McKinnon agreed, noting that he’d prefer reuse to new, large buildings.
“We could have block-long new buildings that will encompass parking of some sort,” he said, “or we could have what (some) are suggesting which is adaptively reusing buildings along there, redoing the facade, encouraging people to get back on that boulevard, and as they repopulate they attract new sorts of businesses along there.”
McKinnon noted that people have been asking for years for Lincoln to be improved and he urged the city planners to progress quickly. Senior Strategic Planner Peter James said he believed they would move fast, with the exception of some of the major proposed changes to the street.
“That you are going to have a rolling program that gets underway is the best thing that I have heard for a long time coming out of the Planning Department because at least things are underway,” McKinnon said.
Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich said that lights on the boulevard change too quickly without allowing pedestrians time to cross, especially those with disabilities. This, she said, was an example of a change that should be made immediately rather than at the conclusion of an 18-month plan.
Himmelrich, fearing gentrification, also asked if it would be possible to limit the number of chain stores on Lincoln.
James explained that this might be complicated but assured the commissioners that the Planning Department is interviewing businesses about what specifically brings them to Lincoln. This information could shed light on how to incentivize the types of businesses that residents say that they want in the area.
“From some of the interviews we did last week, we found out that by and large a lot of people are moving to Lincoln Boulevard because it’s $17 a square foot on Abbot Kinney and it’s $2 a square foot on Lincoln Boulevard,” James said.
Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy expressed support for the plan and asked city planners to focus on giving the boulevard a signature identity.
“Prioritize that identity aspect of it — identity during the night and during the day,” she said. “Not just new fixtures but new fixtures and additional fixtures of lighting and so on.”
Commissioner Gerda Newbold asked city planners to be careful not to impede natural improvements.
“I think the economics of the situation are going to naturally make this place change,” she said. “The Westside has become so expensive that even if you did nothing, there’s going to be interesting things popping up. That leads me to think that let’s just be careful that we don’t over-manage the situation so that it in a way it does happen organically.”
Chair Jason Parry agreed with Newbold on this point.
Newbold went on to say that pedestrian crossings are key because they are what will allow the surrounding neighborhoods to engage with the boulevard.
The “big kahuna” of the plan, as James put it, is a proposal to have a dedicated bus lane on Lincoln during peak traffic hours.
Northbound traffic peaks from about 7:30 to 9 a.m., James said. People are leaving Santa Monica right after lunch all the way to 8 p.m., he said.
Big Blue Bus ridership numbers are lower than they could be on Lincoln because of this traffic, he said.
Commissioner Jim Ries, in particular, was supportive of the bus lanes.