Pedestrians crossing the street Credit: SMDP Photo

Local officials have plans to help protect pedestrians on Santa Monica’s streets but questions persist over the amount of effort, and money, required to implement those ideas. 

During the City Council meeting held on March 21, Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick requested that the City Council direct the City Manager to report back in 60 days on the cost and timeline for the implementation of a pilot program augmenting the city’s Vision Zero plan with safety-enhancing signal improvements at select intersections.

Councilmember Phil Brock proposed a friendly amendment to expand the pilot program to look at intersections that are not signaled that could maybe use traffic enhancements. The motion, with amendments, was unanimously approved by voice vote with all members present.

The plan given to Council this week includes: safety-enhancing signal improvements at select intersections, banning “right on red” at all pedestrian “scramble” diagonal crossings in Downtown Santa Monica; reprogramming traffic signals to operate on “pedestrian recall” (a timing function that causes a walk phase to activate automatically every cycle); the utilization of a “leading pedestrian interval” — or LPI — (which gives pedestrians a few seconds head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel) at 10 priority intersections together with more effective utilization of data on frequency of pedestrian use.

The Vision Zero initiative itself was adopted in February 2016 and the aim was to bring the number of fatal and severe injury crashes on our streets down to zero by 2026. As the City’s website says, “The City’s Vision Zero commitment is part of a global initiative to promote safety and awareness of all users who share our roadways and will continue to be a resource for the community to learn about safety related initiatives and infrastructure projects.”

Proposed changes coincide with efforts locally and in the region to prepare for both the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in 2028. 

Staff said the current ideas are all proven to help protect people in crosswalks but they are not a panacea for traffic accidents.  

“If you’re asking, by deploying these three treatments, at every intersection in the city, will we achieve Vision Zero, I’m going to say no, it’s going to take a whole lot more than just making modifications and traffic signals at certain intersections,” says Jason Kligier, Mobility Manager for the City of Santa Monica.

For example, one component of the City’s adopted plans includes the installation of LPIs at key intersections in the City where collision data indicates a high number of conflicts between vehicle drivers and pedestrians, plus cyclists and scooter riders. 

According to the document, staff estimate that the level of effort to implement LPIs for all directions at an intersection is approximately 30 minutes per intersection since the task requires only staff time to adjust the signal timing in the field. However, on corridors where the traffic signals are coordinated, a new signal timing sheet will need to be prepared and may require retiming the entire corridor. In these cases, the cost is approximately $50,000 per corridor and 120 hours of staff time to review and implement. 

Kligier stresses that there are a lot of different elements that need to be factored in when considering how to achieve the Vision Zero commitment by 2026. 

“There are other legs to the stool, there’s education and training and teaching our roadway users … so that there’s a greater level of understanding between drivers and cyclists and pedestrians and wheelchair users and transit users and scooter users,” Kligier says. 

“And the police department is responsible for the enforcement of the rules of the roads. We, in the Department of Transportation, design them and get community support and then roll them out. But there’s also the enforcement and so all of those things work together to realize Vision Zero.”

However, not every element of Santa Monica’s road renaissance has met with overwhelming support. The new bike lane on 17th Street caused some controversy with opponents claiming it made the road more dangerous and supporters saying it made bike riding safer. While some see the pushback as purely a reluctance to change long-time car culture in favor of bicycle infrastructure, critics say the reality is more complex and that the City failed to address their concerns.

“So, the 17th Street bike lane project is not going to be removed,” Kligier says, adding, “But we have heard a lot of constructive feedback from the community about how it could be improved and in the last few months, we have evaluated and implemented a lot of these suggestions.”

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.