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Taking Action Now on Traffic
August 18, 2016
by Rick Cole
This has been a summer for the record books.
Warm weather, an expanding economy and the strength of Santa Monica’s brand have attracted record numbers of visitors to our Downtown this summer.
The May 20th arrival of the Expo line combined with the opening of the Colorado Esplanade have created a direct pipeline from the heart of the Los Angeles region, a direct pipeline right to our iconic pier, the 8th most Instagrammed location on the planet Earth.
While these transformative public infrastructure enhancements have created new and expanded choices for residents and visitors to our Downtown, we are now experiencing dramatically increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Our streets are jammed.
Recently City Hall fielded a complaint from a visitor who was trapped in one of our parking structures for an hour on a Thursday night simply trying to get out onto the gridlocked streets.
If you think traffic has never been this bad, you are not alone. Our traffic professionals say they've never seen this number of people and volume of traffic, especially on Twilight Concert Series nights.
Our "Go With the Flow" traffic management program at times has been overwhelmed. Last summer those efforts avoided the expected meltdown due to massive Downtown construction as we repaired the California Incline, finished Expo and built the new Esplanade. But this year, as crowds have grown bigger and stayed later, we finally hit the tipping point.
City government has not been idle, of course. We knew Expo would be a game-changer. Last August, our City Council identified improving Mobility as one of their Top Five Strategic Priorities.
We planned ahead for the crowds we predicted this summer:
- We inaugurated the region’s first ever bikeshare program, the wildly successful Breeze BikeShare sponsored by Hulu.
- We installed a dozen new pedestrian scramble intersections in Downtown.
- We revamped all our Big Blue Bus lines to mesh with Expo and offered a two-for-one sale when you load your Tap Card transit pass.
- We capitalized on the regional buzz around the Expo opening by launching an aggressive multimedia campaign to promote multimodal travel options. It’s called “GoSaMo” and it highlights all the improved ways to get in and around Downtown Santa Monica without using a car.
All these innovations have ushered in a new era of shared mobility in Downtown Santa Monica.
But all this innovation still wasn’t enough. So with support from our City Council, we’ve stepped up our efforts and reached out to our partners here at Downtown Santa Monica and at the Pier.
- We’re adding trained staff through our contract traffic management partner to expand Go with the Flow to Thursday evenings from 5:30 in the afternoon to 11:30pm at night. We’ve also expanded the hours throughout the weekend.
- We are installing delineators that block left turns out of the parking structures on 2nd and 4th Streets -- and we’re painting new right hand turn pockets on northbound 2nd
- We’re working with the hotels under construction by the Expo station to see if we can re-open Colorado from Thursday through Sunday evenings ahead of the completion of their work this fall.
- We’re doubling down on the GoSaMo campaign through ad buys, social media and creative marketing to promote bus, bike and pedestrian choices to residents, visitors and Downtown workers. Expo is adding cars every week and later this fall will be offering trains every six minutes during peak times.
We’ve also adjusted for the record crowds attending the Twilight Concert Series.
- We started offering $3 parking at Lot 4 South on the beach to divert traffic away from the Pier
- Our Police Traffic Services will have staffing at 5th and Colorado to deal with gridlock issues across the train tracks. Westbound Colorado will be closed from Main St. to relieve congestion at Ocean and Colorado.
- We have designated three locations for smoother Uber/Lyft pick-up and drop-off.
None of these immediate steps will solve traffic in Downtown this summer. But it is vital to reassure both our local residents and our visitors that Santa Monica welcomes them. Already too many local residents are saying, “Nobody goes Downtown anymore, it’s too crowded.”
We want both residents and visitors to enjoy their experience -- and particularly to encourage them not to drive, especially into the heart of Downtown.
Ultimately the answer is not to make it easier to drive and park in Downtown – it is to make it easier to use all the other options we are promoting with our GoSaMo efforts.
But right now, the one thing we can't do is do nothing. For guidance, I take the words of Franklin Roosevelt:
"It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."