From Sprouting Rail Bridges to Complete Streets, Santa Monica Advancing On Multiple Fronts

Santa Monica From Above

Following up on the passage and initial efforts of the Bike Action Plan, Santa Monica is kick starting the process on a new Pedestrian Action Plan.

For those who didn’t know, some commitments came up that demanded nearly all of my time the past few weeks so I took a break from the blogging. For my first post back I thought I’d quickly go through a few of the recent or developing Santa Monica stories I caught word of or have seen that have been mulling around in my brain during my blogging absence. Things are moving quickly these days in Santa Monica, on more fronts than just bicycling, and there’s a lot to talk about out.

Our Santa Monica weekly column is supported by Bike Center in Santa Monica.

As a component of the LUCE general plan, more specific plans are coming into shape around the city, such as the in development Bergamot Area Plan, and Downtown Specific Plan. The Bike Action Plan has gotten off to a solid start after it’s passage, and now the public process for crafting a Pedestrian Action Plan kicked off in mid-January. Santa Monica is further ahead in accommodating walkability than most areas of the LA region, but continued fatal incidents every year at crossings are a stark reminder of the consequences of inaction. There are also a few places in the city than remain without sidewalks up to ADA standards. A few of which I encounter on a regular basis that are obviously too narrow.

Something new this time around is a more layered web interface for the Pedestrian Action Plan, a “virtual town hall” for giving input as well. If you care about walkability in Santa Monica and missed the workshop, definitely check out the website. And if you aren’t already, you should check out the group Los Angeles Walks that has been hard at work advocating for pedestrian issues all around L.A.

Expo Phase II Santa Monica Progress

Phase II of the Expoline is moving right along, and the signs of it’s arrival into Santa Monica are increasingly feeling concrete, literally. I hear a lot more buzz about the project now even amongst the non-transit nerd set around the water cooler and food trucks these days in the jobs heavy Bergamot area. I know there is a lot of skepticism concerning whether  commuters will use the train. But, I hear some people already planning for their future Expo Line commute. Both excitement for the train and excitement about the bike path, is fizzing for people not far away, but still cut off from Santa Monica by uninviting streets.

Speaking of the bikeway, the speed of rail construction is tightening the wiggle room for what can or cannot be done. Speaking as one of Bicycle Advisory Committee members, one of the areas of contention is at the border between Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles at Centinela. As currently proposed, the alignment of the bike path crosses with the driveway entrance of the future Expo maintenance yard. The advisory committee did not find the original proposal satisfactory, nor do the representatives from city of Santa Monica planning. A suggested realignment of the Exposition roadway at the corner for a straight crossing skipping the driveways being explored, proposed by LACBC’s Eric Bruins and the bikeway committee members, has been considered out of the budget scope presently at an addition of what is estimated around $500k.

Expo Bikeway Driveway Conflict
As we get more detailed budget information, it’s worth noting the oversight cost for the bikeway within the city of Los Angeles’ portion of the project is considerably higher per mile than the city of Santa Monica (something the construction authority is trying to negotiate down). Yet even more maddening to me is that comprising the safety of the bike path for little kids who might ride it is acceptable, but displeasing park and ride patrons is not. Spending millions of extra dollars to build car parking beyond the original scope (pdf) elsewhere on the line is apparently a higher priority for Los Angeles. Even when we are planning for alternatives to driving, the car still often takes priority. I’d like to see someway for the realignment proposal happen so the crossing at Centinella doesn’t become a weak link for all ages safe riding along the path.

Ocean Park Blvd. Green Bikelane (Part of "Complete Street" project)The big Santa Monica news item this past weekend was the official opening of the Ocean Park Blvd. “Complete Green Street” project. Initially an idea proposed by the Ocean Park Neighborhood Association 20 years ago, this project has been a long time coming and evolved in scope. Once construction began it was completed on time and within budget. Although the bright green bike lanes, now slightly wider than they were before, are the most visually striking difference, the project scope included bioswales and new storm drains to reduce polluted runoff, seating, slightly quieter rubberized paving, new seating, more trees, and wider sidewalks. Santa Monica Spoke has more on the project at their blog with additional links to other related information.

Among the speakers at the opening ceremony was councilman Terry O’Day who followed his praise of the project features by announcing green buffered bike lanes on Main Street & Broadway coming later this year. At a presentation by staff to Santa Monica Spoke and the public earlier in the day, initial input was gathered for the neighborhood greenway project for Michigan Ave., one of the more ambitious projects in the 5 year scope of the Bike Action Plan that will involve further public process.

A more subtle and less discussed change so far has also been the roll out of new markings on the beach path within Santa Monica. The  markings are similar to typical road markings, defining a “shoulder” where pedestrians are encouraged to shift to, and center striping that varies between solid and broken to define areas safer for passing. Shark teeth marks are also popping up to indicate expected ped crossing points, and “look” icons are showing up for pedestrians to keep an eye out for bicyclists. My initial observations checking out the changes, were that they did seem to help some than without them there (but compliance by all parties varies), but the real test will be in the summer. A lot of people have been asking for more clarity on the path for a long time and the city is finally trying out some new ideas.

New Beach Path Markings in Santa Monica

New stripping on the beach path in Santa Monica.

The cloud of controversy for bikeway improvements in Santa Monica is gradually dissolving, but land use reforms such as relaxing parking minimum zoning, remain contentious. Parking policy is increasingly what worries me about striving toward a more sustainable urbanism and shifting away from car trips. The proposals from Jeff Tumlin’s Nelson Nygaard planning firm, characterized as modest by Paul Barter of Reinventing Parking, are being hyperbolicly attacked by some, as though legalizing a building in the future to have fewer parking spaces (but not required to have fewer) were a kind of government grab to take people’s cars away.

Santa Monica Daily Press motoring advocate and columnist and Bill Bauer, took a jab at “car and parking lot haters” (I guess that includes me) in his most recent column, and touted his belief that, “There is never enough parking.” Perhaps it’s time to bring back the long lost Santa Monica causeway idea (brought back into the spotlight by the Never Built Los Angeles exhibit in the works), and just build artificial islands to endlessly expand capacity for cars. The Daily Press in general also makes a point of using loaded language to stir up public sentiment on parking issues. Just compare the headline in the Lookout News and the Daily Press on the same story.

The city council has been slowly coming around to Donald Shoup influenced ideas about parking economics, but are also receiving a lot of vocal push back. I highly encourage writing to the city council to support parking minimum zoning reform if you can not appear in person. The council needs to hear from people who support a less auto-centric vision for a future Santa Monica and the importance of relaxing parking requirements to get there.

Each of these issues and stories could have been a blog post in their own right but I wanted to get down a blast through everything that’s been bottled up in my brain during my time off from blogging anything more than 140 characters. I’ll probably visit at least some of these topics more in depth later as well as they develop further. It’s an exciting time for change in Santa Monica these days, and impressive how many things moved forward in just in a months time.