Fostering a culture and built environment that embraces walking is at the very core of sustainable urbanism, and frankly, the human experience as the endurance adapted bipeds that we are. However I must admit looking back over my Santa Monica columns thus far, I haven’t given pedestrian issues a lot of specific attention yet. In many ways Santa Monica is a ahead of the curve on walkability. That so many travel from elsewhere in the region to come walk around in Santa Monica is evidence of this fact. However some areas of the city are better served than others, and safety remains a significant concern. Pedestrians being killed or seriously injured by collisions involving vehicles looms large among the most tragic headlines annually.
At a public workshop back in January (presentation pdf) the city of Santa Monica kicked off the process of crafting a new Pedestrian Action Plan, which unfortunately I had to miss at the time. Much like the Bicycle Action Plan process, it was initiated specifically to set the direction for pedestrian planning in the years ahead, although a new direction this time around is the city has adopted an online “virtual town hall” to solicit feedback on an ongoing basis and in the hopes of engaging some people that might not otherwise be part of the conventional public planning process. The Santa Monica Daily Press has some more detailed background on the new forum system, the involvement of Alta Planning, and some of insights gathered from it so far.
I am cautiously optimistic about the forum, which has in recent weeks also offered incentive rewards for participants. While on the one hand I think the regular meeting schedule ends up excluding a lot of valuable perspectives, online comment threads can have a way of getting divisive at times in a way that differs from face to face interactions. In any case I know city staff really are looking at the feedback, which has already informed some areas to focus on that weren’t anticipated as the highest priorities, such as how much lighting is important to people walking at night, and where it is lacking. If you have the inclination to leave some comments on enhancing the pedestrian experience of living and visiting Santa Monica, please direct some of that commentary to the virtual town hall, I won’t mind if that means fewer comments here.
One thing I will take issue with though is the following phrase that appears in the page text, “Maybe nobody walks in LA, but (just about) everyone walks in Santa Monica.” I am totally with Alissa Walker on banishing the overuse of this trope. At any given time of the day in Los Angeles there are probably more people out walking than the entire population of some states in the union, so can we give that tired line a rest already?
I know bicyclists using sidewalks despite Santa Monica’s laws against it is a never ending complaint, and in this new forum like others, heated rhetoric and finger pointing come out on this issue. I covered this topic back when new signage first appeared discouraging sidewalk riding on some sidewalks, but it is a problem rooted in our aggressive road culture and defies simple resolutions regardless of the state of local bicycling regulations (which also differ just outside our borders).
As a longtime walker of Santa Monica (yes I do in fact leave the bike parked quite a lot), I consider the big elephant in the room to be vehicle speeds. Moderating speeding is critical for the safety of crossing, or even just being on the sidewalk for that matter (drivers do jump curbs somtimes). Both in the real terms of risk, collision severity, and the degradation of the public soundscape, as well as perception of safety. People complain really loudly about those certain hours of the day and places where vehicular traffic in Santa Monica consistently hit a wall of it’s doing with pronounced congestion, but on most of our city streets, at most hours of the day (and night), speeding is more prevalent than being stuck. It is not by coincidence that a disproportionate amount of traffic collisions severe enough to maim or kill occur outside the times of heaviest travel.
High on the list of pedestrian deficiencies from my own experience is the absolutely deplorable conditions facing those trying to walk between the downtown area and Pico Neighborhood residences just south of the freeway near Lincoln Blvd., where I used to live for a few years. In air distance it is not any radically different distance from downtown than where I am now north of the freeway and a little further east, but the experience on the ground is worlds apart, and consequently I walk to downtown a lot more often now. Options to cross the freeway are highly limited, and any backtracking for a more desirable experience is far more problematic and time consuming on foot than by faster modes of travel. This is a systemic problem for many routes attempting to make north/south walking connections across the bisected Pico Neighborhood. With the transfer of Lincoln Blvd. within Santa Monica to the city from Caltrans, I hope something can finally be done soon to start improving one of the bleakest, most threatening and disheartening walks in the city, along an important bridge connection with no convenient alternatives.