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Slowing Traffic on Santa Monica’s Michigan Avenue Greenway Sparks Battle

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 10, 2014 -- With the City Council set to consider Tuesday preliminary plans to turn 2.5 miles of a neighborhood street into a bike and pedestrian-friendly corridor, a battle is brewing.

But the battle isn’t about whether the stretch of Michigan Avenue from Bergamot Station to the beach should become the bayside city’s first-ever “Greenway” by adding landscaping, lighting, seating and biking infrastructure.

It’s about just how far the City should go to slow traffic, with the area's neighborhood organization saying the plans go too far.

“The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) voted to support the project based on the promise that there would be no loss in parking (and) no barricade/diverter," said Oscar de la Torre, co-chair of the local neighborhood group.

The PNA has vocally opposed plans to put up barriers at 11th and Michigan Avenue that staff proposed as a way of cutting back on the number of cars -- about 4,200 a day -- using the street as a shortcut to the freeway.

Since the diverter proved controversial, staff opted simply to restrict turns on to Michigan Avenue from 11th Street at certain times of the day.

Even that goes too far, according to de la Torre, who said the PNA wants a project “without turn restrictions or diverters.

“Let’s not inhibit the flow of movement and see how that works out,” he said.

But not everyone agrees that turn restrictions would be a problem.

Local bike activist and Michigan Avenue resident Barbara Filet said that turn restrictions are part of the “tool kit” used by planners to cut back on traffic.

“I don't see the point of removing tools,” Filet said.

She’s not alone. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and its local affiliate, Santa Monica Spoke, have endorsed the project.

And, at a City-sponsored event last September, residents got a chance to preview some of the changes planners were considering for the Greenway.

According to officials, about 55 percent of the people at the event favored a traffic diverter.

But the PNA said that nearby residents aren’t happy with the idea of restricting traffic in the area.

In December, PNA officials announced that a survey they conducted showed residents “roundly rejected” plans for a diverter, with 95 percent of those surveyed opposed to the idea.

Filet, who conducted the same survey, said she found the opposite to be true.

“Given the mixed response to this treatment and the importance of calming traffic for safety along the Greenway, staff is recommending peak period turn restriction signage as a compromise measure with ongoing monitoring,” staff said.

But for de la Torre and the PNA, that’s tantamount to “locking people in” the neighborhood.

For Filet, however, if it reduces the number of cars on the street, she’s for it.

“We don't know what it's going to take to bring the level of traffic down to make it safe for kids to ride their bikes to school,” she said.

She added that traffic needs to come down to that level in order for the Greenway to be a success.

If the Council approves the preliminary plans Tuesday, staff would begin seeking funding to build the Greenway in segments over the next eight years.

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