Last week, I wrote about the horrible traffic in Sunset Park and how it was most likely the number one contributor to air pollution in that neighborhood, Santa Monica Airport notwithstanding. Traffic congestion is probably the number one complaint here in Santa Monica. The number two complaint is development/over-development, however the major reason people are complaining about more development is the traffic that it will generate.

I recently read an article in the London Daily Mail (Feb. 16, 2015) about how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights. The research was conducted at the University of Surry in the UK.

Most people focus on stopping and going, rude drivers and reckless driving moves, pedestrians who walk in front of moving cars, bicyclists who don’t obey traffic laws, the frustration of being late for appointments and the costs associated with wasting fuel and the wear and tear on our personal vehicles when stuck in traffic.

In addition to the stress, there is another downside of traffic congestion: air quality, especially for people who live close to major streets and intersections. We all know that gasoline and diesel powered vehicles spew polluting nanoparticles which contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. The University of Surry research showed that “pollution is 29 times higher at traffic lights where cars rev engines.”

Professor Prashant Kumar said his research team, “found traffic intersections were high pollution hot-spots due to the frequent changes in driving conditions.” It turns out that stopping at traffic signals could be killing all of us because of the toxic pollution generated when cars stop and go.

“With drivers decelerating and stopping at lights, then revving up to move quickly when lights go green, peak particle concentration was found to be 29 times higher than that during free-flowing traffic conditions … Though drivers spend just 2 percent of their journey time passing through intersections managed by traffic lights, this short duration contributes to about 25 percent of total exposure to these harmful particles,” he added.

Kumar suggested some remedies for avoiding the intake of particulates and other pollutants. Keep car windows rolled up. Don’t stop immediately behind the car in front of you, as pollutants are concentrated the closer you are to its tailpipe. Pedestrians could avoid pollution hotspots by crossing streets or finding other paths less dependent on traffic light crossings. The only problem is that pedestrians are putting themselves more at risk at un-signalized intersection of being hit by inattentive drivers.

Professor Kumar also suggested that, “local transport agencies could also help by synchronizing traffic signals to reduce waiting time…” Holy Synchronized traffic signals!!! I’ll bet that’s a tool in the traffic engineer’s bag of tricks that our planners never thought of.

Residents in residential neighbors often push for stop signs to slow traffic. The thinking is that cars won’t or can’t accelerate to high speeds if they have to stop every block or two. Using stop signs to control bad driving habits doesn’t work. It leads to accidents, creates noise and excessive amounts of pollution and detrimentally affects the health of nearby residents.

Yet, on 14th Street north of Montana Avenue, there are stop signs at almost every block to San Vicente Boulevard. Because there is little cross traffic, these signs are there for one reason only: to reduce speeding. But they don’t. Plus, drivers on 14th run them continuously. The same with Broadway east of 26th Street. More bad traffic planning based on folk tales and social agenda-driven traffic engineering.

Typical of the misguided nonsense proffered by Santa Monica’s director of Strategic and Transportation Planning, David Martin, is this item before City Council tomorrow evening. Martin asks that City Hall accept a total of $1,250,000 in Open Street grants for pedestrian and bicycle enhancements between the Expo rail terminus, Downtown and the Civic Center. The grants also include $200,000 to stage an Open Street event to promote walking and bicycling. Really?

This program is funded through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program. But, we all know the result of these efforts will end up further restricting traffic flow, exacerbating congestion and contributing to even poorer air quality; as have all the other City Hall traffic initiatives over the years.

Kumar suggested finding more appropriate placement of traffic signals. “Use of them in built up residential areas, near schools or hospitals may serve to manage traffic flow, but at the cost of trapping higher concentrations of harmful pollutants in exactly the areas where residents and vulnerable members of society will most regularly commute or walk.”

Bad traffic management planning is a mantra here. I can’t wait to see the mess that the Safe Routes to School alterations to Michigan Avenue, Pico Boulevard and 7th Street bring to the table when school starts. This ill-conceived plan mixes bicycle riders, pedestrians and auto traffic from folks dropping off and picking up their kids next to Santa Monica High School. In addition to the safety concerns resulting from the ungainly mix of transit uses concentrated in one, already heavily congested area, we can add dramatically increased air pollution next to a public school. Insane.

In a city that prides itself on being sustainable and environmentally friendly, the way city planners handle traffic is laughable.

In conclusion, it’s only through understanding where pollution hotspots are that enables us to take more direct action and push, “for real greener, cleaner planning.”

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