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Two-Way Dialog on One-Way Streets:

The Pico/Olympic “one-way pair” proposal came to town last week when Transportation Planner/Engineer Allyn Rifkin, the author of the “Initial Feasibility Report” commissioned by County Board of Supervisors Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky, spoke to – and listened to – a large roomful of Santa Monicans at the Ken Edwards Center on Thursday evening, July 12.

The proposal is to convert Pico and Olympic boulevards to a “pair” of one-way streets (Pico westbound and Olympic eastbound) so as to improve the combined vehicle-carrying capacity by as much as 20.5 percent. Actually – as Rifkin is the first to point out – neither street would be truly one-way, as each would have five lanes in the dominant direction and two “contra-flow” lanes in the opposite direction so that busses, designated van-pools and emergency vehicles could move in both directions on each street.

(Local traffic could use contra-flow lanes in off-peak hours, but that – and other – details get very complicated.)

Last Thursday evening, Lucy Dyke of the Santa Monica Transportation Management Division introduced Rifkin and chaired the ensuing dialog. Rifkin explained that Pico and Olympic now carry a combined 106,000 cars per day – fully half the number on the Santa Monica Freeway, one of the most heavily traveled roadways in the nation. As one-way (or dominantly one-way) boulevards, they could move more cars more quickly because of the reduction or elimination of left-hand turns, the synchronization of traffic signals in a single direction and other traffic economies.

He recognized that there were difficulties involved: how to engineer the snarl that would result at the end of the one-way stretch, which could be at Centinela Avenue if Santa Monica chose not to participate; what to do about the raised and landscaped medians on the Santa Monica portion of the boulevards if the City did choose to participate; how to predict and address the prospect of “cut-through” traffic on residential streets between the boulevards that concerns residents all along the route; where does Beverly Hills – which controls a strategic stretch of Olympic – stand in the plan (the city is still studying the idea).

Of course, even Los Angeles hasn’t yet signed on.

The “reversible lane” device is simply not an option, Rifkin said. Before the Santa Monica Freeway opened in 1966, when many people lived on the Westside and worked in downtown LA, cone-type markers were placed on Olympic so that more lanes ran toward downtown LA in the morning and more lanes ran west in the evening. But the traffic along the corridor today does not follow such a dominant-direction pattern. With all the people living east of Beverly Hills as far as the San Gabriel Valley and beyond, and working at employment centers in Century City, Westwood/UCLA and Santa Monica, for example, the traffic runs heavy in both directions during both rush hours.

And then Santa Monicans weighed in. How will all the westbound traffic on Pico be absorbed? How will this affect local businesses on Olympic and especially Pico that depend on two-way traffic for patronage? What is the cost of implementation versus the duration of benefit? (Re cost, Rifkin said he figures tens of millions for this, hundreds of millions for [Expo Line] light rail and billions for the “subway to the sea.”) Why Pico west and Olympic east? (Answer: to set up a clockwise rotation featuring right turns rather than left, but considering the westbound terminus of Olympic, that might have to be re-thought if Santa Monica joins the plan.) What’s the impact on neighborhood centers in the Pico area and the $7 million streetscape improvements on Pico?

And the interesting point was made that Santa Monica is the only stretch of this corridor where the Santa Monica Freeway runs between Pico and Olympic – it’s “like a river that divides the community, and this proposal increases that,” one resident said. And so on – a potpourri of remarkably thoughtful comments, on the whole.

It was announced at earlier community meetings sponsored by Los Angeles Councilmembers Jack Weiss and Bill Rosendahl that the LA Department of Transportation is due to report to the LA City Council by July 25 with a statement of its take on the proposal. And Rifkin’s “Initial Feasibility Report” clearly recommends more studies. And Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are studying the matter. Suggestions were made at the July 12 meeting that it all be coordinated in Santa Monica with the Land Use and Circulation Element of the City plan.

Stay tuned.

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