A couple walking in a car lane on the way to get food from a foodtruck. Santa Monica, California. September 5th, 2019

By Martha Ramirez
SMC Corsair / Daily Press writer

The brightly-colored food trucks arrive every morning like clockwork. One by one, they pull into Pennsylvania Avenue, maneuvering their way down the narrow street, ready to entice hungry students and workers with their culinary offerings.

The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that is nestled between 26th St. and Stewart Street is colloquially known as Food Truck Alley. It is conveniently located near the northernmost boundary of Santa Monica College’s (SMC) Center for Media and Design (CMD).

Unlike main campus, which is located in a bustling neighborhood that offers a wide variety of dining options, the CMD is located in the industrial-heavy district known as the Bergamot Transit Village, where food options are limited.

While the proximity of Food Truck Alley is a boon for CMD students, faculty, and staff, there are, however, serious safety concerns involving Pennsylvania Avenue, most notably the lack of sidewalks.

Mike Rodriguez, who works as a parking attendant for the lot located next to the CMD parking structure, has often witnessed people walking in the middle of the street.

“You see here,” Rodriguez said, gesturing to where the paved sidewalk ends. “You see this sidewalk? After here, it’s not working. It’s very dangerous. And the other side is the same.”

From the end of eOne’s parking entrance all the way to 26th St, the only space for pedestrians to walk on is an uneven, narrow dirt path. Across the street, decorative plants and rocks impede pedestrians.

Rodriguez added, “We’re in the middle of offices, and the guys, the people, the employees, they have Monday through Friday the same process. So sometimes they’re coming in a rush to get this food and they don’t pay attention. It’s really dangerous.”

A Santa Monica City Council’s report from 2011 revealed that city officials have been aware of the situation for some time. The report states, “There are also public safety concerns that are unique to particular areas, such as the presence of food trucks on Pennsylvania Avenue…where the absence of sidewalks can force pedestrians to congregate in the streets, at risk from vehicular traffic.”

SMC student Iridian Arlene Gutierrez Perez shared a similar experience. “On the first day of class, I almost got hit by a black SUV even if I was super close to the food trucks,” she said.

Fellow SMC student Tobias Maramba, who lives near the CMD, added, “I try to avoid Pennsylvania Avenue when I can, especially at night. It’s not even that it’s unsafe, crime-wise; it’s that I have to walk on the road, and with reduced visibility at night, it may create a potential hazard.”

According to the city’s Bergamot Area Plan, the roads in the area were originally designed with the intent “to serve industry and good movement, and did not anticipate the level of commuter traffic experienced today.” With the population change in the district comes the need for updated infrastructure.

A city council’s report dated January 2018 outlines some of the improvements the city plans to make. These include installing new sidewalks on Pennsylvania Avenue, creating a protected bikeway on Stewart Street, and improved pedestrian-oriented lighting.

According to a representative from the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, “The installation of new sidewalks on Pennsylvania Avenue…are all components of the Stewart Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Improvements Project. We will be completing outreach over the next few months and anticipate completing design by mid-2020 and beginning construction by mid-2021. The timeline is based on having to coordinate with Caltrans because the project is partially funded with federal dollars.”

SMC officials are also aware of the food situation at the CMD. Ferris Kawar, SMC Sustainability Manager, said, “SMC is trying to develop options for food to satisfy student’s needs at CMD but it will be a little while before we have details on what kind and where.”

There is still a long way to go before more food options are available at the CMD and sidewalks are installed in Food Truck Alley. In the meantime, Kawar suggests exercising caution when walking on Pennsylvania Avenue.