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Santa Monica City Council Approves Concept for Lincoln Streetscape Re-Design  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 27, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday approved a radically different streetscape for Lincoln Boulevard it hopes will made it safer for those using alternatives to driving on one the city’s most car-clogged thoroughfares.

In a 5-1 vote, the council approved the concept of the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor plan (or LiNC) as well as a new transportation blueprint. (For details of the plan click here)

“This street really needs help,” said Council Member Kevin McKeown. “Let’s give it the help.”

Lincoln Streetscape design
View of proposed streetscape (Rendering courtesy of the City of Santa Monica)

Although LiNC has been in the works almost three years, Tuesday’s vote included a new sense of urgency, prompted by the death of a woman last month hit by a car as she tried to cross Lincoln.

It marked the first pedestrian fatality on Lincoln Boulevard in a year and the fifth citywide ("Pedestrian Killed Crossing Santa Monica Boulevard," April 4, 2017).

“We need to do something,” said Mayor Ted Winterer, “and we need to do it quickly.”

In all, the boulevard was the site of 660 traffic accidents involving various combinations of vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles from 2005 to 2015, according to police data. An estimated 50,000 vehicles travel Lincoln daily.

LiNC includes the following notable changes:

- Street parking will be eliminated at peak traffic hours on the corridor to make way for municipal buses, which have their own marked lane.

- “Traffic calming” and safety measures that feature new landscaped center medians (or “pedestrian refuges”) will be installed.

- Improved crosswalks, flashing warning lights, new pedestrian lighting, curb-extensions and bulb-outs will be added.

- And 48 new trees will be planted.

“The primary objectives of the LiNC streetscape are to guide the transition of Lincoln Boulevard into a pedestrian-friendly environment and to improve transportation conditions for vehicles, transit and bicycles,” a report to the council said.

A formal bike lane is not included. Instead, bicyclists will need to squeeze into the five-foot space not occupied by the buses in the 12-foot-wide bus lane, said Peter James, the City planner in charge of LiNC.

No bike lane is marked, but for “21 hours of the day, there will be five additional feet” for “competent cyclists,” he said.

Signs and markers will be added for all those trying to negotiate the new design.

The Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor stretches about a mile and a quarter, from the southern City limit at Ozone Avenue to the I-10 and runs through the Ocean Park, Sunset Park and Pico neighborhoods. The 17-block stretch is lined with numerous small businesses.

The state relinquished Lincoln to the City in 2012. It was a mess by then, City officials say. Traffic jams were often the norm. Lincoln was known as a place people drove through, not a place they wanted to go to.

The boulevard is being re-created to become a neighborhood, not just a thoroughfare dominated by commuters ("Another Step This Week in Transformation of Santa Monica's Lincoln Boulevard," September 20, 2016).

A string of mostly five-story mixed-use apartment complexes are in the works; a few have already been approved, with others in the development pipeline.

On Tuesday, not everyone was on board with the plan.

Council Member Gleam Davis questioned how effectively the plan could alter pedestrian habits, such as crossing the street without a crosswalk.

“How do you get people to go the extra yard to get to a safe place,” she said.

LiNC proposes diverting cyclists to nearby streets, although that begged another question: Even with street signs, can City planners overcome the instinct to keep going forward, instead of veering off to entirely different streets?

In an era of eyes glued to smartphones -- not traffic -- will the plan be able to grab the attention needed to safely navigate the busy street?

Police “enforcement really needs to ratchet up,” James said.

He also noted Tuesday’s vote only approved the concept, and that many of the nuts and bolts still needed to be finalized.

Council Member Terry O’Day cast the lone dissenting vote against the plan, saying it gives more attention to landscaping than to bicyclists like himself.

It “prioritizes beautification over safety,” said O’Day, who lives nearby and often bikes on Lincoln, sometimes with his children.

He added that the ride is so hazardous he has had to veer onto the sidewalk. “There is a real lack of thought about bikes,” O’Day said.

A handful of business owners along Lincoln also complained. Losing the parking spots in front would hurt business, the owner of a vintage furniture store on Lincoln complained.

Furniture doesn’t fit on buses or bicycles, she said. “No one wants to lug furniture up a hill” to the nearest parking spot, which would be on a side street, she said.

McKeown said patience is needed, though. “This is a work in progress,” he said.

City Manager Rick Cole said City staff would look at some changes suggested by O’Day, which include more protection for bicyclists and more medians.

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