The Santa Monica City Council took a historic vote last night to approve the conceptual design for the city’s first greenway on Michigan Avenue. The goal for the Michigan Ave. Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo) is to reduce and slow car traffic primarily through street design changes, making biking and walking through the neighborhood a safer and more pleasurable experience. The bikeway would also connect such destinations as Santa Monica High School and Virginia Avenue Park, eventually including the beach to the west, and the Bergamot Expo Line Station and Edison Language Academy to the east.
Council members also voted unanimously last night to approve the conceptual design for a partner project that focuses on making the area directly adjacent to Samohi safer for biking and walking with Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funding.
“MANGo is going to be such an exciting change for this neighborhood,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. “If this succeeds as well as I hope it does this, it will just be the first greenway we do in this city … It’s revolutionary what we’re doing with Michigan. I want this to be such a success that other neighborhoods come to us and say please do this to my street.”
Council members voted unanimously in favor of the design for MANGo with two changes—a requirement that any potential use of traffic diverters come back to council for vote first, and a reduction of the long-term average daily trip (ADT) target. Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day recused himself from the vote because he lives in the area. Now that the conceptual design has been approved, city staff will apply for grants and other funding to so this project can be built.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting supported the goals and basic designs for Michigan Ave. Designs include roundabouts, pedestrian-scale lighting, public art, greenery, mini-parks, and a number of other measures to encourage slower driving that are explained in more detail in a previous article and in the city’s plans. Most letters the city received—46 versus just 2—supported the project. However, when it came to giving the city the option to use traffic diverters to reduce car traffic on the street, a large portion of the public support at the meeting fell away. The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) was particularly vocal about not supporting the project if it came at the expense of residents changing their routes into and out of their neighborhood.
“We do not support the traffic diverters,” said Oscar de la Torre, president of the PNA and founder of the Pico Youth & Family Center. “We think it is unsafe for seniors and those who have disabilities and working parents who have to rely on cars to drive their kids to school or go to the supermarket. You can’t go shopping and drop off your kids to school on a bike. We know there has to be opportunities for parents and those residents in this working class, very diverse neighborhood to have those options.”
During early versions of the design, MANGo included a traffic diverter at 11th Street and Michigan and one at Lincoln Court and Michigan to reduce westbound car traffic toward Lincoln Boulevard and Samohi. Though city staff reported that traffic diverters were favored by 55 percent of participants at the Pop-Up MANGo event in September, a survey done by the PNA found that 95% of people polled opposed the diverters. A different survey, using the same questions, found that the majority supported traffic diversion. Given mixed response, city staff instead proposed the use of peak period turn restrictions onto Michigan Ave., which are in the current designs.
Some Pico residents expressed frustration with city staff and the public process, which included four community meetings. Councilmember Gleam Davis congratulated city staff on community outreach with such an innovative events as the Pop-Up MANGo—especially in a neighborhood that has historically had many burdens placed on it. Members of the PNA questioned the city’s willingness to consider community opinion, especially when it came to the traffic diverters and chicanes (alternating sidewalk bulb-outs on opposite sides of the street designed to slow car traffic).
“We want to believe that city staff works to implement a vision of the residents for improvements to their community; not the other way around,” de la Torre said. “Not the city coming into the community with a predetermined agenda, working with a special interest group, to try to shove something down our throat.”
Council members decided to leave traffic diverters as an option for the future, but to not consider them unless average daily trips (ADT) fail to meet targets. City council must also approve traffic diverters and hear public comment before they are installed. Council members also made ADT goals slightly more stringent, as suggested by some community members. Short-term ADT remains the same at 2.000 cars per day, but the long-term goal is to bring the count down to 1,500 cars per day. Current traffic counts on Michigan on the busiest segment between 11th and Lincoln are at 4,250 trips per day.
“We fully understand the fear and controversy surrounding traffic reduction goals and diversion as part of the plan since this is Santa Monica’s first neighborhood greenway,” said Cynthia Rose, director of Santa Monica Spoke, in a letter to council and at the meeting. “However, this cannot be a greenway without true traffic reduction goals. There is considerable experience and general agreement about appropriate maximum ADT and speed numbers. Staff have suggested an ADT goal of fewer than 2,000. The National Association of City Transportation Officials, based on research from cities across the U.S., suggests a goal of fewer than 1,500. Most cities (Portland, San Luis Obispo, Vancouver), aim for a goal of fewer than 500, Long Beach’s greenway has 800-1,000 ADT, so fewer than 1,500 seems reasonable and achievable.”
Traffic reduction goals also affect the partner SRTS project, which was discussed and approved at the meeting last night. The first phase of this project, which will now be able to move forward with construction drawings, a call for bids, and work on further phases, primarily focuses street design changes on the section of Michigan west of Lincoln Avenue right next to the high school and where it turns into 7th Street. Construction will ideally begin and end this summer in time for Samohi’s next school year. Senior Transportation Planner Michelle Glickert repeatedly referred to the plan as a way to improve the flow of city streets and bring order to the current chaos of pedestrians, bikers, and student pick-up and drop-offs.
Specifically, the project would turn 7th St. into a one-way street heading south from Michigan. The diagonal parking currently on the street would be maintained, as well as the car pick-up and drop-off points next to the high school. Bike lanes traveling in both directions would be added, as well as a raised crosswalk at Michigan and 7th. The designs call for a new signalized crossing at Pico Boulevard and 7th with crosswalks and opportunities for drivers to turn east and west. The bike lane would be continued through the median on Pico, where it would turn left with signal enhancements and paint, through the intersection onto 6th Street.
“It’s important for us to take this first step,” Davis said. “… I am hopeful that this will be the first of many implementations at Santa Monica High School and other middle and elementary schools. Imposing some order on the chaos is better than letting chaos reign.”
Community members overwhelmingly supported the SRTS project, including quite a few current, future, and former Samohi students. Many had seen or experienced a student biker get “doored” (had a car door open in the path of the bike) on his or her way to or from school. Many expressed the desire to walk or bike—but didn’t feel safe doing so currently. One young driver even said the plan would make him feel safer in his car.
“I am a student driver. Driving with bicyclists on the road is most terrifying thing that has ever happened. I have not been doored—I have probably doored bicyclists. Bike lanes would definitely be the greatest solution to this problem.”
Still, some council and community members called the plan imperfect and questioned some of the design choices city staff made. For example, the placement of the bike lanes on 7th requires cars backing out of diagonal parking spots to watch for bikes in the bike lane. On the other side of the street, parents dropping students off at school will have to cross the bike lane to get to the curb. Council members expressed concern about signal synchronization with the extra intersection on Pico and 7th, making three intersections in a row. Glickert said staff and consultants studied all available options, and the current designs reflect the best. Also, most of the changes are not permanent, so city staff can modify the project as needed.
“Access to Santa Monica High has long been a concern,” KcKeown said. “It is more difficult now with safety concerns. The intersection at Pico and 7th is chaotic and dangerous … This may not be perfect, but we shouldn’t let the lack of perfection prevent us from moving forward. This is a great thing for our community and our community’s children.”