A suspected drunk driver crashed into a Main Street parklet on Friday and local neighborhood associations are looking at ways to slow traffic and close portions of the street to cars during peak dining hours.
Plans were already in the works, but they have taken on greater significance in light of the recent incident, which injured four diners.
At 8:09 p.m. alleged drunk driver Piper Pollard crashed a black BMW into the concrete barriers surrounding the outdoor dining space by Urth Caffe, according to SMPD Public Information Officer Roberto Villegas.
Pollard, a 21-year-old Pacific Palisades resident, was arrested for a felony DUI.
Three diners suffered minor injuries as a k-rail was knocked over and one person was transported to a local hospital to treat a suspected ankle fracture. The concrete barrier prevented the car from directly hitting bystanders.
“This is not an outdoor dining accident. This is a drunk driving accident,” said Main Street Businesses Improvement Association Executive Director Hunter Hall, who spearheaded Main Street’s al-fresco dining program. “You can’t stop a drunk driver 99 percent of the time from killing people. But luckily, this is about the 1 percent of the time that you can — with a 4,000 pound concrete barrier.”
This is the first traffic incident at a parklet in Santa Monica where any injuries were sustained, according to Villegas. Currently, the tables at Urth Caffe have been removed from the street space, however there is still outdoor dining open in the garden and deck areas.
There were preexisting concerns about traffic patterns in the area and MSBIA and the Ocean Park Association are working on strategies to manage the speed of cars traveling along Main Street and parallel roads.
“In the time of COVID there’s so much less traffic, so people have gotten used to driving faster than they ordinarily would,” said OPA President Marc Morgenstern. “We see that not just on Main Street but also on Neilson Way and in the streets like 3rd and 4th Street.”
The number of speeding citations issued in Santa Monica has increased by 50 percent during the pandemic — going from 819 in 2019 to 1,234 in 2020, according to Villegas.
DUIs, on the other hand, have dropped by 44 percent, likely due to the shutdown of nightlife. In 2019, SMPD made 197 DUI related arrests including four felony arrests compared to 111 arrests including three felonies in 2020.
OPA and MSBIA are looking into installing speed bumps and other resistive features such as rubber pads to help slow traffic on Main Street, Neilson Way, 3rd Street, and 4th Street.
“It’s part of a broader movement to divest in traffic and move towards a more bicycle friendly area,” said Hall. “You can expect us to be pushing for that in conjunction with residents in the next couple days.”
The two organizations are also working on an “Al-Fresco 2.0” program that would close off portions of Main Street to car traffic during peak dining hours. This would increase both the number of seats available and the distance between diners.
“The discussion now with various relevant city departments is about looking at how selective blocks could be closed for limited periods of time, say on the weekends,” said Morgenstern. “That way people could enjoy the retailers and restaurants with more space available and less concerns about traffic.”