There’s an old political expression, “You can’t fight city hall.” In Santa Monica, however, not only can you fight, you might win. That is, if you can spend a few years trying. Or, in this case, 10 ½ years.
Today’s tale goes back to summer, 2008, when I was having lunch with my good friend Dr. Andy Hurwitz, his wife Arlene and their two young daughters, Aleah and Adi. (Whom I call “The Four A’s.”) Andy, a renowned heart surgeon, was on call and sure enough, the phone rang alerting him to an emergency at the hospital.
Like Clark Kent and his Superman costume, Andy hurriedly changed into his operating scrubs, said a fast goodbye and flew out the door. I helped Arlene clear the dishes and also left. What I immediately saw outside was alarming.
There he was, Andy in his scrubs, in the middle of the street, pleading with drivers in a bumper-to-bumper Hollister traffic jam to please let him back his car out of his driveway so he could rush to the hospital. As I would discover, traffic on Hollister is often backed up for a variety of reasons. One is that the green light at Neilson Way is so short only one or maybe two cars can make it across before it turns red.
During summer, Hollister is frequently so jammed you can walk from Barnard Way to Neilson Way much faster than drive. Carbon monoxide fumes from the idling cars fill the air and car radios can blast rap music so loudly the combination causes residents to close their windows, even in extreme heat. So why is this narrow, otherwise peaceful one-way residential street with parking on both sides, subjected to such stress? The answer is nobody is totally sure. Swell.
Much of the beach traffic that creates havoc on Hollister comes from the Bicknell beach exit. Bicknell, as opposed to Hollister, is a wide thoroughfare and very close to the 10 Freeway, which many beach goers use to get home. The problem is, there’s a right turn only sign that sends cars south, the exact opposite direction. To get back, they generally pick Hollister, a street that has become barely navigable. Why or when this seemingly absurd setup began, nobody is totally sure. Terrific.
Some say it started in approximately 1984 as a result of the construction of Sea Colony III that basically closed Ocean Park Boulevard. I also was told the mandated right turn was only supposed to be “temporary.” Thirty-five years later, that gives new meaning to the word “temporary.”
Frustrated, I gave up exploring the history of the problem and reached out to see about finding a remedy. I contacted our then Police Chief, Tim Jackman, who was extremely cordial. (Often on the phone when I say I’m Jack Neworth from the Daily Press, the next thing I hear is a click followed by a dial tone. ) To my delight, Chief Jackman said he would take his Traffic Engineer to inspect Bicknell the very next day.
In reporting his findings to me, Chief Jackman said in his 15 minute inspection at Bicknell, he saw at least 15 traffic violations. (U-turns, running stop signs etc.) More importantly he confirmed my observation that the right turn only sign and the mish-mosh of cones and traffic guides in the asphalt, “Made zero sense.”
On the downside, Chief Jackman also shared, “Fixing it is another matter.” It would require money the city didn’t have and finding out the original logic behind the design. (Assuming there was any logic.) The configuration is so bizarre, it looks like stoners on LSD, designed it, “Far out, man. Let’s put up a right turn only sign and gizmos in the street to make people go in the opposite direction than they want.”
What has been happening every day for the last thirty-five or so years is, drivers, realizing they’re going in the wrong direction, make a fast u-turn and zip through the cross walk. This, in front of the Ocean House, home to many seniors. Cars in crosswalks with seniors on walkers, what could possibly go wrong? (How someone hasn’t been killed yet is nothing short of a miracle.)
Compounding the problem, the city apparently allows giant tour buses to use Hollister as a thoroughfare exiting the beach. With parking on both sides, it’s a wonder the buses don’t pick off the cars’ side mirrors one by one. But there is some good news.
Recently, Hollister residents have made great progress with the city’s top brass Traffic Engineers, Henry Servin and Andrew Maximous. Instead of fighting city hall “The Hollister 5” may finally be able to work with them. (I’m for anything that keeps Dr. Andy from standing in the middle of the street in his scrubs.)
Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org