A joint meeting of the Santa Monica City Council and Planning Commission last week was devoted to traffic methodology.
The meeting was held in conjunction with the City’s revision of the General Plan’s circulation element, which sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways and other modes of transportation.
According to the City staff report, the revision will “establish goals and performance measures that reflect community priorities for the circulation system, including measures that address quality of life objectives important to the City.”
The report also noted that residents are very concerned about “the potential impact of new development on the transportation system and whether the methodology used to evaluate the impact of development on the system satisfactorily gauges the likely effect of this development on travel patterns and use of different travel modes.”
The City’s current methodology focuses primarily on moving private automobiles throughout the city with limited delay. Impacts on pedestrians, cyclists and transit users are not measured, nor are those modes of transportation given equal attention. “The standards and thresholds presuppose that an improvement is a change that allows more cars to flow through a particular intersection with less delay.”
Four traffic experts from other cities gave presentations and fielded questions during the four-hour session on how the city could improve its traffic measurement methodology so it can more closely track “its overall performance goals for the transportation system.”
Like most cities in Southern California, Santa Monica currently uses Intersection Level of Service (LOS) criteria to measure the efficiency of its road system. Intersections are given A-F ratings, with F being the most unsatisfactory.
Will Recker, Director of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Irvine, noted that this method “fails to identify who experiences what portion of the delay, fails to examine the trip delay or to account for adaptations due to project delays or to capture the interaction between alternative travel modes or to provide adequate information for elected and appointed leaders to make informed decisions on the trade-offs between mobility and economic development.”
Recker also described some means of dealing with the failures of the LOS criteria that included visualization of what the community wants to improve its transportation and traffic planning and community decision making, construction of a City model and or an adaptation of a regional model and/or using an integrated microsimulation model.
Another expert, Hasan Ikhrata, Director of Planning and Policy Development for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), noted that Santa Monica is part of a region that is comprised of “Six counties, 187 cities, 38,000 square miles, 18 million people and contains the 10th largest economy in the world.” These factors, he said, have combined to cause the worst congestion in the nation, air quality that is bad and getting worse, a severe housing crisis, a personal income level that is “ranked last out of 17 largest metro in the U.S.” and an economy that is “dependent on the efficient movement of goods.”
Ikhrata went on to say that it is estimated the regional population will increase by 6.2 million and freight volume will triple over the next 30 years, and that there is “a great infrastructure in place that is not keeping up with the region’s growth” and is expensive to maintain, but the federal government does not have enough money to expand that infrastructure to help the region keep pace with its growth.
“We can’t build our way out of this congestion and air quality… we have to grow right,” and the growth should be based upon the community’s ideas on mobility, prosperity, livability and sustainability. “The key here is to utilize capacity that we have in the system to make it work better for us,” he said, and then suggested that growth be held to two percent, which would mean not having to build more freeways, permit better utilization of the existing transit system, “provide better access to jobs and improved jobs/housing balance,” conserve open space, allow renovation of urban cores and create wealth through increased property values.
The other experts described what the cities of Seattle, Palo Alto and Boulder have done with their transportation systems to meet the challenges they are facing.
Mayor Pam O’Connor summed up the evening by noting, “The underlying theme I heard tonight is we have to be careful to not to put the cart before the horse; the methodology should come after the circulation element update.”
The Council and the Planning Commission will hold another joint session toward the end of April at which they will review an “emerging themes” report that will be developed by the Planning Department based on the work that has been done to that point on the update of the Land Use and Circulation Elements.