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Hit the Brakes. Santa Monica Votes to Lower Some Speed Limits

SMNXT logo Santa Monica NextWhile debates on a proposed major development and the bungled hiring and firing of a public relations director, the City Council also quietly made a step towards becoming a more progressive city. The Council voted unanimously, and with little debate, to reduce motor vehicle speed limits on a half-dozen stretches of roadway.

The staff report, which includes a list of the streets that will see reduced speeds, can be read here.

Because state law restricts how much cities can control speed through limits, decreasing speeds on streets is more of a reaction to current traffic patterns than an attempt to slow down existing traffic. Los Angeles officials have been raising limits throughout high-traffic streets in the San Fernando Valley despite the opposition of community groups and local politicians. Conversely, lowering speed limits on residential streets has become a hot issue in New York.

There are certainly benefits to lowering speed limits. A study on the impact of lowering speed limits in London over 20 years showed an overall decrease in traffic fatalities, even on streets that did not have limits lowered. At “How We Drive,” Tom Vanderbilt explains, “…the introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends…The reduction, they also note, was greatest for young children.”

And that’s what Santa Monica is hoping to achieve. Creating safe streets is important. Lowering limits is just a means to an end.

“It is not that we are looking to slow down traffic; rather, the improvements we’ve made on certain street segments – traffic calming measures (curb extensions, medians, etc.), buffered bike lanes, on-street parking – cause motorists to recognize that our streets are the types of places where you shouldn’t drive too fast,” Sam Morrisey, a traffic engineer with the City, wrote in an email to Next.

Read more…

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Santa Monica City Council Scuttles Plans for Bergamot Transit Village

A view of the former Papermate factory from the future Expo light rail station at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard (photos by Jason Islas)

A view of the former Papermate factory from the future Expo light rail station at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard (photos by Jason Islas)

The Santa Monica City Council put to rest Tuesday night what has become one of the single-most divisive development projects Santa Monica has seen in decades when it voted 4-1 to rescind its approval of the Bergamot Transit Village development.

After months of acrimonious debate, a successful referendum drive, and several rallies by a coalition of anti-development activists, the Council voted 4-1 to rescind its February approval of the 765,000 square-foot residential and commercial project proposed by Texas-based developer Hines for a five-acre “super block” across the street from a future Expo light rail station.

While the decision settles the matter of whether project will be on the November ballot (it will not), it opens up the question of what Hines will do with the property, currently home to an abandoned Papermate factory.

On the south side of the former Papermate site, a barbed-wire fence lines Olympic Boulevard.

On the south side of the former Papermate site, a barbed-wire fence lines Olympic Boulevard.

“This is private property. They hold the cards and they get to decide what do with it,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis, one of the four who approved the project originally.

However, Davis joined Councilmembers Ted Winterer, Kevin McKeown and Tony Vazquez in voting to rescind the project because she said that the referendum drive to overturn the project had turned a land use decision into a political one.

“Putting this on the ballot in November will run a serious risk of creating great rifts in this city that will take a long time to heal,” she said.

People would pour “a lot of money into the election on both sides,” Davis said. “Inviting the kind of bloodletting – financial and political – that would happen in November if we were to have this project on the ballot really troubles me.”  Read more…

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Locals Nominated for National Bike Advocacy Award

Santa Monica Spoke's Cynthia Rose and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom cut the ribbon.  Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyseven/sets/72157629669284695/with/7013165951/##Gary Rides Bikes/Flickr##

Santa Monica Spoke’s Cynthia Rose and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom cut the ribbon. Photo: Gary Rides Bikes/Flickr

Congratulations to Cynthia Rose, founder and director of Santa Monica Spoke, and Samantha Ollinger, Executive Director of BikeSD in San Diego. These two local activists are among the ten finalists for the 2014 Advocate of the Year Award to be given by the Alliance for Biking and Walking today.

The award is for an individual leader at a bicycling and/or walking advocacy organization “who has shown tireless commitment to promoting active transportation at the state and/or local level” and who goes “above and beyond the call of duty” with the “highest standard of excellence.”

Cynthia Rose founded Santa Monica Spoke, the first local chapter of the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, five years ago. “My mission is to make the LACBC local chapters program a reality,” she said, “to make sure that those connections and that collaboration happens.”

She sees her job as one of connecting people: local to regional to statewide to national advocates working on similar issues. “Everything else I do is regional,” she said. “My job is to work with our elected officials to make projects that we hope will be models for others.” She was particularly excited about the MANGo project, which will turn Michigan Avenue into a greenway to connect the beach with the new Expo line.

Read more…

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Thinking Ahead: Big Blue Bus Seeks Input on Expo Line Integration

Expo Phase 2

L.A. Metro Expo Line Phase 2, Image via Big Blue Bus

Big Blue Bus (BBB) has just begun the gargantuan process of figuring out how to best integrate its system with the Metro Expo Line Phase 2, set to open in early 2016. Three of the seven new stations being built are within the City of Santa Monica, but all are within BBB’s service area. The end of the line will be at Colorado Avenue and 4th Street, just a few blocks from the beach. The line connects to Downtown Los Angeles via Culver City, ending at Metro Center, 7th St. and Figueroa St.

Most of the future stations already have some overlap with existing bus routes, including four routes that already serve the current end of the line in Culver City at Venice and Robertson Boulevards. BBB is embarking on this Expo Integration Study to decide how to best serve its new and existing riders given its current budget and resources.

Last week, it held three community meetings at which consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard presented the current system and some of the questions it and BBB are trying to answer with the study. What the agency was looking for at the meetings—and is still looking for at the beginning of the process—is public comment. What people say now will help inform the direction of the planning moving forward.

In other words, the first step is to hear from the riders before they start working on updating its routes.

The project’s manager at Nelson\Nygaard, Thomas Whittmann, called Expo a “game changer,” because it will provide BBB riders with “fast, frequent service access to destinations throughout the region.” BBB already connects with L.A. Metro service, but Expo advertises 46-minute commutes from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica upon completion of Phase 2. Not only that, but existing Metro train lines serve places including the San Fernando Valley, Universal Studios, LAX, Hollywood, and many other city attractions. They also provide connections to commuter trains like Metrolink and nationwide train service like Amtrak.

Attendance at the meetings was light (about 40 people total at all three), but there is still plenty of opportunity get involved. BBB will soon release an online survey on its study website that will include multiple-choice and write-in questions, as well as a “create your own transit system” game. The results of the survey and preferences gathered at this stage will be incorporated into a plan, or a few options for a plan, that the agency will present in July. At this point the public will again have an opportunity to voice its opinion on the service. BBB projects that the changes identified in the study will be implemented by late 2015, as soon as Phase 2 is ready to open.

“This is like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” said the project’s manager at Nelson\Nygaard, Thomas Whittmann. “Big Blue Bus won’t have more budget to run shuttle buses to every Expo Line station. But when we’re making changes to the bus routes we’re messing with people’s lives. We need to understand what people want.”

Some of the questions BBB is looking at answering in these early days include, should it create any new lines? Should it truncate any lines at Expo stations or reroute nearby lines to connect? How should it accommodate buses, bus stops, and riders at Expo stations? How can it best continue to serve popular destinations like downtown Santa Monica and UCLA? Should it serve any new areas like Playa Vista? Should it expand hours or increase frequencies on popular routes? In short, how can it best “extend the reach” of Expo and Metro Rail?

At one of the meetings, Whittmann asked the audience what its vision for transit looked like. One community member said she envisioned walking to the end of her block, taking a blue bus to whichever Expo Line station was safest and most convenient to her needs, then using Expo to go wherever she needed to go. She wanted the bigger link to Expo—but she also did not want to lose the ability to take a blue bus for her local trips either.

“We want to leverage Expo as a primary resource, but we need to be thinking about the local needs and people too,” said BBB’s Chief Operations Officer Patrick Campbell. “This is about how to leverage a major resource with the reasonable constraints we have.” Read more…

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SaMo Advocates Unshaken by Ruling Against City in Airport Closure Case

Photo: Naomi Campbell

Photo: Naomi Campbell

A federal judge issued a harsh rebuke last week to Santa Monica’s legal efforts to wrest control of the city’s airport from the federal government.

SMNXT_SQ_Logo1In a word: dismissed. As in, go home, your legal arguments carry no weight here.

U.S.  Federal Court Judge John Walter’s ruling would seem like a tough blow to absorb for community groups seeking to close the facility.

Instead, those groups are acting as if the legal setback never happened. Ruling? What ruling?

The Airport2Park organization, dedicated to transforming the airport into a cultural and lush oasis, immediately issued an optimistically worded press release proclaiming that the group was “undaunted” by the judge’s decision.

“This isn’t going to stop Santa Monica getting its park,” said Frank Gruber, an Airport2Park member. “We are confident that when the dust has settled, it will be the wonderful green space residents are hoping for.”

And it’s business as usual for Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, an organization that has been fighting to close the airport for the past 10 years.

“We are going to continue doing what we have been doing all along,” said the group’s co-founder, Martin Rubin.

Part of this bravado is savvy political posturing, of course. But this cheerful spin is rooted in the belief that the ruling is more of a short-term setback. Both Gruber and Rubin said that they remain convinced that Santa Monica has strong legal standing for closing the airport should the city pursue further court action.

And more legal documents are likely to fly, according to Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, who hinted as much last Thursday just after the ruling was issued.

“Of course, we are disappointed. But there is likely much more work to come,” Moutrie said.

Just what that legal strategy might be will be discussed at the next city council meeting on February 25, Moutrie said. Read more…

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Early Returns: Few Trainers Paying the Price to Teach in SaMo’s Parks

Photo 2: Trainer Lynn Case leads a group of moms in a Stroller Strides class in Palisades Park in Santa Monica on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Photo: Saul Rubin

Photo 2: Trainer Lynn Case leads a group of moms in a Stroller Strides class in Palisades Park in Santa Monica on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Photo: Saul Rubin

Santa Monica’s new law regulating group exercise classes in city parks got its first full workout this week.

SMNXT_SQ_Logo1From the looks of things Tuesday morning in Palisades Park, what some city officials hoped would be a fair method to manage fitness classes in city parks might be choking them off altogether.

The clusters of kickboxers, weight-trainers, and other fitness-minded groups that once cluttered the park were missing.  Instead, the park slowly filled with solitary joggers, power striders and dog-walkers. They were treated to striking ocean views, open expanses of green, and something new: several sandwich-board signs placed throughout the park. The signs were reminding everyone that group fitness classes in all city parks, especially Palisades Park, were now strictly regulated.

Trainers must purchase permits from the city that could potentially cost them $8,100 a year to use Palisades Park for classes. And trainers must also follow strict rules on where, when and how they whip their clients into shape.

The new rules range from the practical (no group classes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.), to the ear-pleasing (no boom boxes, whistles or bull horns) to the obvious (no exercise classes in Chess Park) to the absurd (barbecue grills cannot be used as exercise equipment).

The rules were intended to reclaim outdoor public spaces for general recreational purposes and make them look less like the outdoor gyms that many residents claimed they had become.

“It was private enterprise co-opting public land for profit,” declares Phil Brock, chair of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission. Read more…

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A Photo Essay of a Tour of Expo Phase II

Crews hard at work in a trench near Palms installing utilities for the future Expo Phase II. All pictures, Damien Newton/Streetsblog Los Angeles

Crews hard at work in a trench near Palms installing utilities for the future Expo Phase II. All pictures, Damien Newton/Streetsblog Los Angeles

When Stephen Villavaso, known to many Streetsblog readers as the volunteer traffic engineer who makes CicLAvia possible, asked me if I would like to ride along on a tour of Expo Phase II construction, I jumped at the chance. Villavaso is also one of the engineers working for Skanska-Rados Joint Venture – the design-build contractor of the Expo Line Phase II. Villavaso manages the design for the construction project which involves regularly driving up and down the future light rail and bike path talking to workers, monitoring construction, and just keeping abreast of everything that’s happening on site.

For those just joining us, the Expo Line is a 15.2 mile, $2.4 billion Exposition Light Rail Line that will connect Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica via Culver City. Construction on Phase I of the line, from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, began in 2006 and opened to the public in 2012. Phase II of the project, which will extend the line out to Santa Monica, is now underway. Construction is expected to be completed by 2015 with revenue operations beginning the following year. The Expo Line is and will be run by Metro.

While I’ve been covering the Expo Line since before Streetbslog launched in 2008, it seems there is always something new to learn about it. On this day, I learned something that should seem obvious…building a light rail line is hard. I mean really hard.

I unexpectedly ended up discussing how to move power lines, how to protect existing underground utilities, how many different types of concrete are needed, how to protect workers during excavation, that maybe some federal safety requirements are a little over board, and a lot of other things.

But the good news is that progress is definitely happening. Even if it’s sometimes hard to see.

Where the Expo Line runs under an existing bridge just west of Motor Avenue, Villavaso explained that the last time he was there, a large trench was in the ground. This time, the trench had been filled and there was no sign that a lot of work had happened in the area.  ”This is really exciting,” he said gesturing to what now appeared to be just a dirt road. The last time he had done one of these tours was about a month and a half earlier, when he had been accompanied by Nat Gale from the Mayor’s Office.

We made six stops on our tour, starting at the Cloverfield/Olympic Bridge, going back to the start of Phase II at Venice Blvd., and stops at Palms and Motor before heading back into Santa Monica. In Santa Monica, we stopped at the Bundy/Centinela Station and the terminus (or beginning pending your point of view) at Downtown Santa Monica.

Our thanks to Stephen Villavaso for leading me around and answering my questions. My wife, who is also an engineer, was laughing at me while I was listening to the audio to write this story, so it must have taken some real self-control for Stephen to keep a straight face.

A full essay, with more of photographs from the project sites, is available after the jump. Read more…

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Range of Proposals Considered For Michigan Ave. Greenway Begins To Narrow

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Jason Kligier, city of Santa Monica Transportation Planning Associate, presents to meeting attendees at Virgina Ave. Park in the Pico Neighborhood.

At this week’s Virginia Park meeting for the Michigan Ave. Neighborhood Greenway proposal, a slightly clearer picture of what we might see for the project emerged. There was particular controversy in the neighborhood over the proposal for a diverter at 11th St. & Michigan, proposed there because the blocks from Lincoln to 11th have the highest number of car trips in the study corridor. The trips are created by the school and cut throughs for the freeway ramp on Lincoln just north of Michigan.

The Pico Neighborhood Association created their own survey (supplementing feedback the city solicited at it’s meetings and events) conducted by volunteers (apparently having sought but were denied funding from the city to hire a professional polling firm) and found the strongest opposition to diversion, nearing on unanimous. This information was presented at the meeting alongside the presentation by city staff and consultants from the planning firm Meléndrez. Barbara Fillet conducted her own survey as well, information from which she presented, and found different results, and more support for diversion (disclosure: Fillet is on the advisory panel for Santa Monica Next).

I don’t doubt these surveys were conducted with earnest effort, but skepticism is warranted with this kind of polling for a variety of reasons. Question phrasing, and whether or not recipients are informed of what a feature looks like, how it works, and what the trade offs are, effects outcomes. Going door to door preferences home owners over rental apartments, as many apartment units are behind gated entry. Locked gated entry to the apartment building was the case where I lived right off of Michigan on 9th St. in the area diversion would most greatly potentially benefit.

Pop-Up MANGo (Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway) Planning & Community Event

Pop-up diverter at 11th St during Sep. 21st Pop-Up MANGo event.

I don’t want to get wrapped up in comparing validity of various input methods, which created a few slightly heated moments of it’s own, but I can speak for myself in saying I believe even just one diversion would greatly benefit the comfort and safety for the entire Michigan corridor, and most especially reduce the morning rush headaches for residents who live directly adjacent the high school and Lincoln Blvd. The greenway treatments I have experienced elsewhere that have been very successful, in Portland Oregon and most recently visiting Berkley, featured both low traffic speeds, and low traffic volumes, with diverters employed at infrequent but key areas to facilitate the calmed atmosphere.

Michigan Ave. is fairly low traffic during much of the day and especially later evening on it own, however that morning and afternoon rush typically involves volumes of traffic well beyond “greenway’s” (or similar corridors that go by different names) in other cities. Responding to the particularly sharp criticism, of diversion, city staff appeared to be taking it off the table, but with potential for a comprise of sign based turn restrictions from 11th limited to rush hours. Read more…

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Mainstreaming Bicycling, Lessons From Davis California

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Path grade separations on the main path loop network around town meant that if you didn’t want to, you could largely skip crossing busy streets.

I’m returned to Santa Monica this week from attending the California by Bike Summit in Oakland, with the theme of mainstreaming the bike in California, and a few extra days in the Bay Area and San Francisco as well. There were numerous sessions and discussions with valuable lessons that will inform my writing, but I thought I would start with reflecting on the experience on day one, attending the optional bike tour of Davis California by way of the Amtrak Capital Corridor from Oakland. The tour was led by local advocates Steve and Emily Tracy of Davis Bicycles!.

IMG_1473Lore of Davis is impossible to not come across in the writing on American bicycling, but until this trip I had not experienced the only city distinguished with a platinum bicycling friendly community award by the League of American Bicycling. After a bit of a let down in the gap between the cycling paradise mythology of platinum rated Portland Oregon and the more moderate reality of being better than most everywhere else, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Davis did not disappoint in providing miles of seamless and continuous idyllic cycling that ties the small city together (the scale makes the task of a bike network a bit easier). While not perfect, it did exceed my expectations in several regards.

One of the things that struck me most of all about Davis though was the high bicycling mode share in the context of what is a fairly low density, low to mid-rise urban environment. Apart from the network of dedicated bike paths and a few other subtle differences, Davis is predominately the sort of land use pattern most often associated with a near monolithic dependency and orientation around driving in much of the U.S.

Some of this can be attributed to Davis being a college town, but not all college towns have fostered a culture of cycling around them quite like Davis, nor do I think we can’t learn from or apply lessons from such a context to other environments, like suburban office parks.

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Bike parking at Patwin Elementary School, connected by an extensive loop of class I bike paths that reach nearly every educational institution at every level in the city.

The orientation to relaxed and comfortable cycling also reaches every level of education, and every part of the city, with nearly every school for every range of grades, connected by a loop of high quality class 1 cycle path facilities. The long standing commitment to safe routes to school was both exciting to behold, but also frustrating in light of how lacking progress has been on creating comfortable spaces to ride to school in most of the state and the country, including the debates here in Santa Monica. Read more…

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Santa Monica Leads on Bike Share, But Is Willing to Let the Region Catch Up

While researching the Streetsblog Los Angeles story concerning the new regional push for bike share, I had a chance to talk with Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor about what role Santa Monica has in the regional effort. As Gary Kavanagh reported last month, Santa Monica leaped Long Beach and Los Angeles in the race to be the first L.A. County city to have bike share when it approved a motion to pursue proposals for a city-wide bike share system.

Yesterday, Streetsblog reported that a near-majority of the members of the Metro Board of Directors, including O’Connor, is pushing a motion for the county’s transit authority to pursue a regional bike share. So what does the Metro motion mean for Santa Monica?

It depends on your point of view. O’Connor promised that Santa Monica would continue to pursue a city-wide, or sub-regional, program even as its neighbors, including Los Angeles, Culver City, West Hollywood and Long Beach, examine what it can take to bring a regional system.

“Hopefully, we’re all going to work together, but we can also get something going sub-regionally, ” O’Conner commented. ”Santa Monica shouldn’t have a different bike share system than Los Angeles or Culver City,”

Santa Monica’s bike share grant is funded through the California Transportation Commission which requires the city to have its Request for Proposals released this December. When it became clear that regional interests were interested in regional bike share, Santa Monica staff through O’Conner authored a motion to allow an extension of the grant. The motion, now co-sponsored by Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, concludes: Read more…