The City will test widening lanes and creating pedestrian-friendly walkways in order to alleviate traffic crunches in downtown Santa Monica during the holidays.
The tests include a temporary addition of one westbound travel lane on Santa Monica Boulevard between Fourth Street and Ocean Avenue, as well as the installation of a new pedestrian-only crossing phase at the intersection of Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. The City will begin testing the new strategies on Nov. 24 at 9 a.m. at the intersection of Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
City staff started examining the “known and recurring problem” of traffic backups this summer, especially traffic heading west toward the beach, said Sam Morrissey, principal transportation engineer for Santa Monica. Having a small breadth of options in terms of heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic downtown on few roads, Morrissey said Santa Monica Boulevard is the first start for traffic mitigation. He explained that traffic congestion is in all areas.
“To some degree we are doing this to monitor these effects very well, and communicate to the public what the pros and cons really are,” Morrissey said. “We are looking at downtown circulation constantly. It’s the heart of the city.”
To create an additional westbound lane, existing parking along the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, including taxi parking, will be temporarily removed. There is only a limited amount of street parking, he said, as well as police and fire safety stands that will relocate as well. City staff carefully approached any new parking restrictions, he said.
The test is occurring well before a proposed AMC theater project expected to demolish Parking Structure 3, resulting in 324 lost parking spaces downtown, making alternative transportation issues a major topic of concern. City planners anticipate renovating Parking Structure 6 during the theater construction resulting in 681 fewer spots during construction. After growing pains are completed, downtown will finish with 29 additional spaces.
“We have an interest in making sure a new theater doesn’t explode the number of cinema seats downtown beyond what the traffic and parking infrastructure can handle,” said Santa Monica City Council member Kevin McKeown, who sits on the Planning Commission.
These tests, described as two of the “constrained options” by Morrissey, will attempt to keep pedestrian and vehicle traffic from conflicting. The pedestrian traffic signal will stop all vehicle traffic at the Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard intersection to allow pedestrian crossings at all corners of the intersection, including diagonally, during the designated “walk” phase.
This has the potential to impede cars trying to make a left turn, Morrissey said. Many block traffic due to the heavy flow of pedestrians crossing the street, so by taking away time from cars in the end, City staff hope to alleviate backups for people and bikes.
“We might see a greater [flow] when we see all of the amount of people and bikes and traffic that gets to go through in that amount of time,” Morrissey said.
More people travel down the major boulevard, he said for “philosophical” reasons. For example, when traveling to Santa Monica, many take. The historic Santa Monica Boulevard. The City attempted, Morrissey explained, to mitigate the heavy flow by posting signs to encourage drivers to take Broadway Street or Arizona Avenue to no avail.
Instead, innovative traffic signals installed in 2008 with closed-circuit cameras will be able to count traffic, he said to show how many people, bikes, and vehicles are going through the intersections. If the tests are successful, staff is looking to apply these methods to Fourth or Fifth streets, but only if the signals are exactly right, he said. The pressure of only making matters worse is great and success may be limited.