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Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Says New Plan for Cars Needed


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 28, 2017 -- As they try to usher in a new era of “multi-modality,” City officials are embracing bicyclists and pedestrians but are neglecting the motorists who still dominate Santa Monica's streets, a neighborhood organization said Tuesday.

In a letter to the City Council, the Board of Directors of Friends of Sunset Park said that while the city has funded actions plans for bicycles and pedestrians, there doesn't seem to be a similar citywide plan for motor vehicles.

“Santa Monica's reality means that we have hundreds of thousands of car trips each day that need to move in and out of our city, so the City's plan to slow all car traffic is unrealistic,” the board wrote. “We need to identify the streets where the cars can move, rather than idle.”

“At a time when traffic congestion is one of the primary concerns of residents, it seems unacceptable for our city's Land Use and ‘Circulation’ Element to continue to omit a comprehensive circulation plan,” the board said.

City Manager Rick Cole told The Lookout that vehicles continue to be part of the City’s planning process.

“Cities, including this one, have spent the last fifty years organizing our streets, parking and land use policies around automobiles and we still do,” he said.

Cole cited the City’s “Go with the Flow” program. Started last summer, it boosts the number of traffic officers and other staff to reduce back-ups and other congestion from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every weekend and holiday.

In addition, signs are posted at major routes into town notifying drivers which lots have available spaces.

Santa Monica is notorious for gridlock, both on major thoroughfares like Lincoln Boulevard and in its popular downtown, and the City has spent decades preparing for a far-less car-centric future.

In the City’s new model of mobility, the congested downtown and other parts of the city are redesigned to be more enticing -- and safer -- for those willing to forgo cars and take the Metro Light Rail (which opened in May of 2016) or walk and bike to their destinations.

Sidewalks are being widened, crosswalks improved and multiplied and medians added in some areas (like Lincoln) to calm traffic. The City’s Bike Plan, adopted in 2011, is being updated.

Work on the plans is being accelerated in the wake of new statistics showing high rates of injuries to walkers and bicyclists from vehicles, including five pedestrian deaths in as many weeks this spring ("Pedestrian Killed Crossing Santa Monica Boulevard," April 4, 2017).

The council is poised to hire a safe-streets “czar” to oversee the work as well as enforce its “Vision Zero” policy ("Santa Monica City Council Calls for Safe Streets 'Czar,'” May 11, 2017).

So far, the success of its years-old alternative transportation campaign has been limited. The Light Rail line has healthy ridership, although the municipal bus system is still fighting six years of declining passenger numbers ("Expo Line to Santa Monica Marks First Birthday with Big Ridership Boost," May 18, 2017)).

A study by outside consultants showed residents overwhelming prepared to use their cars ("Study Finds Santa Monica Residents Still Sticking to Cars," March 7, 2017).

In its letter, the Sunset Park Board cautioned that the City is not fully cognizant of the impact on safety of not paying more attention to vehicles.

“We believe that the City's focus on multi-modal transportation is dangerous, and there are studies around the world to support the use of dedicated and segregated bike lanes, rather than sharing the road, as is the current situation in much of Santa Monica,” the board wrote.

The organization is asking the City to fund a motor vehicle comprehensive traffic circulation plan.

“When traffic on all thoroughfares is purposely slowed, it is only human nature that drivers would seek relief by diverting into neighborhood residential streets in an effort to find a path of lesser resistance,” the board said.

“Without the benefit of a Motor Vehicle Action Plan, we are not making fully informed decisions on the bicycle and pedestrian plan. It is an inefficient and wasteful use of public dollars to design and implement bike and pedestrian plans that do not coordinate with a motor vehicle plan."

City officials did not seem swayed.

"Drivers have been kings of the road in Southern California for all of our lifetimes, and yielding pavement to shared uses comes hard,” City Council Member Kevin McKeown wrote in an email to The Lookout.

“The reason we don’t have a ‘Motor Vehicle Plan’ is that for close to a hundred years, transportation in Southern California has BEEN a ‘Motor Vehicle Plan.’”

Cole, too, remained firm on the move to multi-modality, a theme picking up stream in different parts of the country, including the City of Los Angeles, as concern about pollution, gridlock and climate change become more dominant.

Santa Monica (and other cities) “have belatedly begun to also pay attention to pedestrians, bike riders and transit users,” Cole wrote in an email. "Before those who were too poor, too young, disabled or who choose other modes were an after-thought if they received any thought at all.

“The City’s current policies are ultimately about serving people, not bikes, cars or buses. All people are all pedestrians, many choose bikes (whether for work or recreation) and many rely on public transit," he said.

"Making Santa Monica less safe to speed traffic will not solve traffic woes,” Cole said. “Santa Monica is certainly not alone in experiencing traffic congestion and there are no magic answers for solving it.”


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