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More Than One Way to the City of the Future

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

July 15 -- A plan to free up Westside traffic by turning Olympic and Pico boulevards into one-way streets met with skepticism at a meeting at Ken Edwards Center last week.

Under the plan, most lanes on Pico would be westbound, while most on Olympic would go east, forming a loop from the beach to downtown Los Angeles. During rush hours, parking would be prohibited while two “contra-flow” lanes would be open to emergency vehicles and buses on each street to go in the opposite direction of prevailing traffic.

Pico and Olympic Bouldevards 1
Pico and Olympic boulevards 2
Drawings courtesy of Allyn D. Rifkin, P.E., Transportation Planner/Engineer

The proposal -- discussed at a meeting Thursday -- is the latest idea from County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who says cheap short-term traffic solutions are needed because more expensive subway and light rail projects are likely many years away.

Outlining the idea Thursday night, Allyn Rifkin -- a transportation consultant working for Yarolsavksy -- said the plan was a starting point for discussion.

“This is an opportunity for people to say things,” Rifkin said. “This is a first step, hearing different thoughts and ideas.”

But the crowd of 50 or so Santa Monicans seemed wary of the idea.

Many of their comments reflected concerns raised during the City’s Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) community discussions of the past two years.

The LUCE discussions seem to have favored a pedestrian-and-bike-friendly city with small neighborhood business centers catering to local residents.

Several residents pointed out that Santa Monica is the only city in which the 10 Freeway divides Olympic and Pico Boulevards. The freeway limits north-south access between the boulevards.

“The freeway is like a giant river cutting our city in half,” Sunset Park resident Charles Donaldson said. “All of these little streets cut off north of Pico.”

Commuters use Pearl Street, Walgrove and other Sunset Park residential streets to get to the freeway, said Donaldson. “All of these jam up and they dump out on Pico,” he said.

And the stretch along Santa Monica College would be hit hard, Donaldson added. “One lane going west would be blocked with cars trying to get into college parking lots.”

One resident said that parking, already scarce, would be harder to find on Pico Boulevard, which is currently home to many small businesses that cater to the surrounding neighborhoods. One-way traffic would make it harder to get to those businesses, especially during peak hours.

Another resident pointed out that Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica College and the Water Garden are located on these boulevards, and eliminating two-way traffic would worsen the already-heavy traffic leading to and from the high-density destinations.

Other residents said:

“If all the traffic comes into Santa Monica on Pico, how does it get absorbed?

“What would happen to the recently installed medians and streetscaping on Pico? What about the medians on Olympic?”

“If the goal is mass transit, why are we accommodating single vehicle drivers?”

“This is a benefit for the commuters…this is not a benefit for Santa Monica. It will increase people coming down from the Valley.”

Can we “leave Santa Monica out of it, loop at Pico?”

“Is there any citizen that you’ve met with that’s in favor of this project?”

At this point, Rifkin said that generally people who live near the boulevards have more concerns than others. As a planner, he isn’t invested in any one particular outcome, he said.

“This is the beginning of a discussion,” Rifkin said. “I’m interested in the process of people discussing this.”

“We’ve been meeting with the community groups from one end of Pico and Olympic to the other," he said. Rifkin has met with groups in Los Angeles, Culver City, Beverly Hills and, now, Santa Monica.

Yaroslavsky’s idea came to him as the Supervisor spent nearly an hour trying to get from Cloverfield Boulevard near Michigan Avenue to the 405 Freeway one evening at rush hour, according to press reports.

Even before this epiphany, Yaroslavsky was on record emphasizing the need for immediate action to get Westside traffic moving. (see story)

At a meeting with Westside leaders in 2005, Yaroslavsky advocated for “bit-by-bit solutions” to get the Westside moving “here and now.”

We can’t wait for “something that takes 25 years to build,” he said.

A description of a preliminary proposal was contained in a written recommendation authored by Rifkin and passed out at the meeting. It discusses “the feasibility of converting Olympic and Pico Boulevards into a one-way pair between the City of Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles Central Business District.”

According to Rifkin’s abstract, during non-rush hours, each boulevard would have parking lanes on both sides of the street and a “contra-flow” lane for traffic going the other way.

During rush hours, parking would be prohibited, opening up one more lane going the dominant direction and one more “contra-flow” lane. During rush hours, only vans, buses and emergency vehicles would be allowed to use the “contra-flow” lanes.

While the boulevards in the City of Los Angeles would have seven lanes, five one way and two “contra” during rush hour, Rifkin acknowledged there wouldn’t be enough room for that configuration in Santa Monica.

Rifkin also handed out a sheet of key features at the meeting. (see document)

“This approach has the potential for…as much as 20.5 percent increase of vehicle capacity,” according to Rifkin, who also said this plan would cost in “the 10’s of millions compared with the 100’s of millions” for other traffic solutions.

City staff will prepare an informational report for the City Council, City Transportation Manager Lucy Dyke said. It will likely be on the agenda this fall.

“The LUCE will be the basis of making policy recommendation,” Dyke added later. “Our policies will continue to frame our choices.”

“We think of our streets not as conduits for cars but as places,” said Dyke.


“The freeway is like a giant river cutting our city in half.”
Charles Donaldson


“If the goal is mass transit, why are we accommodating single vehicle drivers?”



“We’ve been meeting with the community groups from one end of Pico and Olympic to the other."
Allyn Rifkin


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