The Santa Monica City Council members to be elected on Nov. 4, 2014 will be responsible for guiding and shaping the city. Their decisions will affect each of us in practical ways – such as our daily travel in the city; the number of parks we have and how they are used; how we spend the public dollar and the social benefits that can bring; and the image and character of new development in the city.
In this, the first in a series of columns, candidates were asked to respond, in approximately 75 words, to the following question:
The intersection of Ocean and Colorado, at the pier, is one of the most congested intersections in the city. As a council member what would you do to improve traffic flow at this intersection and the overall quality of this intersection?
In alphabetical order, here are their responses (candidates Terence Later and Zoe Muntaner did not respond before time of press).
Whitney Scott Bain
Unfortunately, the die has been cast. With the attraction of the pier and Santa Monica Place being huge tourist destinations especially on the weekends where congestion is at its heaviest there is really nothing that can be done. The city has tried one-way streets in the past and that ended up as a failure. Construction of more parking structures is out of the question and even by doing so, that would create more of a traffic burden. As it is, the citizens of Santa Monica will have to cope with it by either parking further away and walking or bicycling to get to their destinations in that area.
As a council member, I will support enhancing multi-modal transportation to alleviate congestion and streamline routes from existing neighborhoods. The Colorado Esplanade Project has been greenlit for construction this fall with a relatively quick completion date of fall 2015. This redesign of the commonly gridlocked intersection will reformat streets to create a one-way vehicle flow to the west of 4th and 5th streets, expand bicycle and pedestrian lanes, and fully integrate the incoming Expo Line.
The intersection of Ocean and Colorado is the number stop for 7.4 million tourists each year. It’s the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier, Palisades Park, and the gateway to the beach. In the short term traffic will worsen. With the California Incline closing for replacement, Colorado becoming west bound only and the Expo Line nearing completion there is no way to soften the pain for our residents. There is hope, however, in our future. We can: 1. Eliminate parking on the pier. 2. Build a new service and emergency vehicle only ramp to the pier one block south. 3. A new pier bridge must be constructed due to earthquake standards. It will become a pedestrian only entrance. 4. Eliminate the “side show” now occurring in Palisades Park. The snakes, birds, and break-dancers need to go.
Reduce traffic by moving car parking off the pier (except handicap and deliveries) into the Civic Center, so people get off the I-10 freeway, park, then walk through Tongva Park to the pier, instead of driving first to Ocean/Colorado. Increase traffic efficiency/de facto road capacity – and simultaneously reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflicts, by installing a four-way ‘scramble’ diagonal pedestrian crossing at Ocean/Colorado, facilitating pedestrian flow between Tongva Park, Palisades Park, the Pier and the new Colorado Esplanade.
This intersection is among our busiest pedestrian crossings and an important crossroads for cars. Major changes are in the works already: construction has begun on the Esplanade, which will improve pedestrian access and re-route traffic, and the pier bridge replacement is in the planning stage. I believe the Esplanade will improve the situation, but we should not finalize plans for the new bridge until we see what the impact of the Esplanade is.
The intersection of Ocean and Colorado is constantly filled with pedestrians, cars, and bikes heading all directions. Some of the congestion will be alleviated when the Esplanade is constructed and turns Colorado into a one-way westbound street from 4th Street to Ocean Avenue. If we could make Colorado westbound one-way to cars today to eliminate all turns onto it from Ocean Avenue and add pedestrian scrambles to alleviate pedestrian backup, that might ease congestion today.
On the Planning Commission I’ve worked to address this as part of the Colorado Esplanade project by calling for wide pedestrian sidewalks along Colorado with no obstructions or fixtures in the pedestrian “through zone”, increased active open space not just landscaping, and better bicycle and roadway connectivity. The Esplanade project improvements are good but more needs to be done. Better zoning standards for future development along Colorado and further pedestrian improvements are top priorities.
I’m not a civil engineer, but something certainly has to be done to reduce the congestion. My approach is to hire engineers and planners who have the interest of the residents in mind, rather than making the Pier more accommodating toward tourism and ways to increase revenues.
I would also convene a board of qualified residents that the planners would have to satisfy. Another possibility is to widen that part of the street by removing metered parking.
I’ve already been actively engaged in solutions for this intersection, coming at the problem from both ends. From the east, I’ve helped plan Colorado Esplanade, which will calm and channel the chaotic traffic flow.
Then, from the ocean side, the new pier bridge will create greater pedestrian safety and less of a vehicle load accessing the pier deck. We must resist overdevelopment of the Windham site, which could exacerbate congestion despite our best efforts.
Movement sequence through the Colorado intersection needs to be predictable and complete. Once Colorado is one way next year, intersection lights have to be reconfigured. The intersection should become a giant pedestrian scramble. Then there should be three distinct moments; all and only pedestrians; cars out of Colorado only; Ocean Avenue cars only. Two different groups, cars and people have to be moved at different times but completely and effectively.
The Santa Monica Pier is a Historic Landmark; people love the pier and want to go there. The Colorado Esplanade project will provide wider sidewalks and a bike lane for greater access. At peak periods the City deploys “go with the Flow” program to keep vehicle traffic moving better.
Unless the Pier is closed – and I don’t believe anyone wants that – there will be vehicle congestion at times. Improvements planned to the pier bridge have potential to improve flow. Options such as building pedestrian overpass are outdated and would destroy the historic character of the pier’s entrance.
I would suggest trying a diagonal pedestrian crossing at the Ocean and Colorado very busy intersection. The Colorado Esplanade designers and city staff certainly need to work extra hard on improving the traffic and pedestrian flow at this most important intersection.