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City Council Wants Better Wheelchair and Bike Access for New Santa Monica Pier Bridge

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 2, 2013 -- As plans move forward to replace Santa Monica's 74-year-old Pier Bridge, the City Council wants to make sure the new connector will ease access for bicyclists and people with disabilities.

The City Council also directed City planners Tuesday to look closely at the impact some of the plans to replace the “structurally deficient” concrete bridge, which connects Colorado Avenue to the historic Santa Monica Pier, might have on nearby businesses as City Hall begins State and nationally-mandated environmental reviews of the proposed project.

“We really have no choice. This is a project that must happen,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “The question is going to be how it happens.”

Mayor Pam O'Connor was particularly concerned that the new bridge allow people of all abilities equal access to the Santa Monica Pier, one of the bayside city's most popular attractions.

“While the old structure was considered an engineering marvel, it was made at a time that if you were disabled, you probably lived as a shut-in,” she said.

Unlike the current bridge, which is too steep to access by wheelchair, she said the new design should “not treat the person in a wheelchair as a second-class citizen.”

People in wheelchairs or who otherwise can't navigate the roughly 10 percent grade of the Pier bridge must use the elevator in the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. building to access the Pier from the beach parking.

There are ramps on the south side of the Pier, but they cannot be accessed from Colorado Avenue. One option staff recommended to fix that problem is to install an elevator at  the top of Colorado Avenue, near the Pier's famous sign.

Another plan would include zig-zagging ramps to both sides of a new Pier bridge, allowing for a more gradual descent from Colorado Avenue to the Pier.

All of the four major options looked at Tuesday night focused on reducing the amount of pedestrian, bicycle and motorizes vehicle conflicts at the access point of one of the city's most popular destinations.

As a result, staff has recommended building a bridge at Moss Avenue, just south of the Pier, that would allow cars to access the Pier parking lot.

But that idea was met with opposition from local businesses owners who said that another bridge would have too great a negative impact on the area where outdoor dining is popular.

McKeown reminded the crowd Tuesday that though the future of the Pier Bridge, built in 1939, has been a topic of discussion for nearly 20 years, current plans to replace the aging structure are far from final.

“Let me stress how early we are yet in the decision making process,” said McKeown, adding that the Council will take careful consideration of the concerns of surrounding neighbors before finalizing any decision.

Tuesday marked the beginning of the next step in the planning process which began in earnest in 2010 when City officials realized that the bridge was too far gone to warrant repairs. (“‘Deficient’ Pier Bridge to be Replaced,” August 16, 2010)

Now, City planners will move forward with environmental impact studies required by both State and national law, a process they said can last from 18 to 24 months.

The studies, mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), would look at various plan alternatives and how they would impact the surrounding areas in terms of traffic, pollution and other factors.

Former Santa Mayor Judy Abdo, who currently sits on the board of the nonprofit that oversees the Pier, welcomed the next planning stage, testifying Tuesday that it would provide “answers to a lot of questions” about the project.

Tuesday night, the Council considered several options for improving access to the Santa Monica Pier.

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