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Santa Monica's Streets Are Paved with Green

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 17, 2013 -- “We got about two or three more days of work,” the man in the orange vest said. “We're almost done.”

Across the street a team of workers were putting another layer of green paint on the street. They had just reached the top of the hill where Ocean Park Boulevard meets Highland Avenue.
Photos by Jason Islas

The green bike lanes, part of the City's $4 million plan to make the stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard from Lincoln Boulevard to Neilson Way a “Complete Green Street,” is almost done after more than a year of work.

“You should go up to the bridge to take a picture,” said another member of the construction crew through an accent as thick as his mustache. “It looks amazing.”

In the early 1990s, the stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard from Lincoln Boulevard to Main Street was a four-lane road with two lanes in either direction, narrow sidewalks and no bike lanes to speak of.

That changed in the mid-90s when the stretch was converted into a three-lane road: one lane in either direction with left-hand turning lanes in the middle. The City also added bike lanes.

Now, the sidewalks are wider, the street is lined with new trees and benches and vivid, green strips clearly mark paths for bicyclists.

“I like it,” said Deborah, who moved to the neighborhood from Ohio about a year ago. She was walking a golden retriever on her way back from the Ocean Park library.

“Though I don't know why they had to put trees in the middle of the street,” she added.

The stretch of Ocean Park is now dotted with islands where the City planted Chinese Flame trees, Hesper Palms and Paper Bark Birch trees.

“The green lanes look very nice,” she said. “I might try them sometime when I don't have the dog.” She paused. “And I have my helmet.”

She glanced at my bike leaning against a “no-parking” sign behind me and then gave me a look only a mother could give as she noticed I didn't have one myself.

“The paint should last five to seven years,” the man in the orange vest told me. “Then it needs to be touched-up.”

“It won't disappear over night. It'll just fade a little,” he said.

Hans, a three-year resident of the neighborhood, was on his way to the library.

“I used to bike more before he was born,” Hans said. He was carrying his new-born son in a sling against his chest.

“L.A. doesn't really have a bike culture, but it's kind of the perfect place for it,” he said. “The weather's great and it's not that hilly.”

He added that he thought the green lanes would make it safer for his son to ride a bike, once he is old enough.

The green bike lanes are very much about visibility and making it clear to drivers and bicyclists where they should be, said Strategic and Transportation Planning Manager Francie Stefan.

“We wanted to create a street that was more landscaped, more multi-modal and safer with easier connections across it,” she said.

Santa Monica could see more of these green bike lanes in the near future, too. The City just got a Metro grant for similar lanes connecting the EXPO stations in Santa Monica, Stefan said.

The complete green street project is about more than just bike lanes, though. It includes improvements to storm drains and the Los Amigos park filtration system in order to prevent polluted water from dumping into Santa Monica Bay.

I used to walk this stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard nearly every day after school on my way to my friend's house, usually to play computer games.

And every day, I would see the two murals under the 4th Street bridge: on one side of the street was a school of whales and dolphins. On the other, horses fleeing their captivity at Santa Monica's famous carousel on the Pier.

The bright green paint that now runs under the murals is a stark contrast to the paint on the walls, which has faded from exposure to the sun and sea over the years.

As I got on my bike to head back to the office, I noticed more people in the new bike lanes -- at least the parts where the paint had dried -- riding past the line of cars backed up from 6th Street to Lincoln Boulevard.

I wondered if any of these drivers would consider riding their bikes a couple days a week. Or if they just cursed the construction, blaming it for their traffic woes.

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