Council Extends "Traffic Calming" to Four Major Thoroughfares
By Jorge Casuso
Citing precedents in cities as far flung as Paris and Berlin, the City Council Tuesday night voted to expand to four of Santa Monica's busiest streets traffic calming measures experts say enhance pedestrian safety.
The measures - which were decried by several angry residents - are expected to be in place by 2002 along Wilshire, Santa Monica and Ocean Park boulevards, as well as Broadway. The $4.175 million plan will mirror similar measures already used on several streets - most notably Pico Boulevard - and add some new features.
The ambitious plan calls for pedestrian refuge islands (mostly on Wilshire), lights imbedded in the pavement that flash when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, curb extensions, and countdown signals at busy intersections of the Third Street Promenade.
"It's a phenomenon that you're seeing across the country and it's growing," said John Kaliski, a consultant on the project. "We're not doing this on an aesthetic basis. We've used all of the best knowledge and practices out there and we're doing it as a human factor approach."
Some residents angrily opposed the measures, warning that they will only bottleneck traffic on already congested streets and lead to unsafe driving, even road rage.
"Stop the insanity," said Robin Waner. "This has gone way too far. You have limited the capacity of our wonderful streets. It's time for a revolution. It's time for drivers to take back the streets."
"You guys must be brain dead," said Chuck Allord, who is runing for City Council in November. "Curb extensions and islands slow down and stop traffic."
But city officials said that the measures struck a balance between keeping traffic flowing and protecting pedestrians trying to cross busy intersections.
"On balance the safety of people is worth it," said Mayor Ken Genser. "This is good for the community and there shouldn't be fear."
Some of the most heated debate centered on the pedestrian refuge islands that will be placed at 14 intersections along Wilshire, an exceptionally wide and busy thoroughfare. Some council members feared that the islands would give pedestrians a false sense of safety, confuse motorists and force them to drive on narrower lanes.
"I don't think it's safe for people to stop in the middle of the street," said Councilman Robert Holbrook. "I think we're going too far with narrowing Wilshire and putting islands in the middle."
"It puts the burden on pedestrians rather than on cars to stop," said Genser, who went along with the islands after staff assured him they enhanced pedestrian safety.
While most of the measures have been instituted in intersections across the city (most notably the pavement flashers, medians and curb extensions along Pico), others - such as the countdown signals on the Promenade - are new. The signals will countdown the seconds remaining for a pedestrian to cross the street.
Council members noted that many of the traffic calming measures have been used for years in other cities, especially in Europe.
"Paris, Stockholm and Berlin have had curb extensions for 30, 40 years," said Councilman Mike Feinstein. "I've seen it work."
"You don't have to go that far," Genser said. "They're used in Glendale, West Hollywood and other parts of Santa Monica."
Council members countered criticism from some residents by noting that public workshops were held for each of the streets, with residents helping to directly shape the plan.
"This came from the public," said Councilman Kevin McKeown. "This did not come from some pie in the sky idea. It came from the people of Santa Monica."
Following are the "traffic calming measures" by intersection:
Santa Monica Boulevard
Ocean Park Boulevard
Commercial Area Between 16th and 18th
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