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Sunset Park Residents Ponder Options for Boulevard Redesign

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 22 -- Two lanes instead of four. Diagonal parking instead of field space. Even park benches and bike paths where the road now runs. These could become common features along a stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard and dramatically change the busy transit corridor for decades to come.

City officials presented the concepts during a meeting Tuesday at Virginia Avenue Park attended by some 30 residents of the budding business and residential area, who for years have demanded changes to the boulevard from 14th to roughly 18th street.

The concepts -- which would change the heavily traveled roadway into a slower-moving, pedestrian and bike-friendly route -- can be mixed and matched by the public, the City Council and traffic engineers in coming months.

"Ocean Park Boulevard is a place where people have had concerns for a long time," said Lucy Dyke, the City's transportation manager, who after years of interactions was on a first-name basis with many at the meeting.

Residents asked pointed questions and placed comments directly on several large aerial pictures of the area, which is home to several elementary and middle schools and Santa Monica College, whose students pose a major impact on nearby traffic and parking.

While some asked about parking and voiced concern over staff's recommendation not to place signals at 16th and 18th streets, perhaps the biggest change under consideration is to cut 10 feet from each side of the roadway, reducing the number of lanes from four to two with a dedicated turn lane in the middle.

If implemented, Ocean Park Boulevard's streetscape and sidewalks could one day look more like Main Street or Montana Avenue to the hundreds of shoppers, businesses employees, students and residents who use it daily, Dyke told residents.

"If we conform (Ocean Park Boulevard) to be one lane each way, we could have space for a lot of things that people have said they want," Dyke said.

Traffic engineers suggested extending the two lanes -- a feature of all the proposed concepts -- west of 14th Street all the way to Lincoln Boulevard.

Reducing the number of lanes to two would slow traffic on the boulevard, which is estimated to carry 17,000 and 19,000 cars a day, experts said.

"Narrowing lanes down by two feet on both sides reduces speed by two to three miles-per-hour total," said traffic consultant Eric Shimizu, who helped design a similar plan in Seattle.

It would also reduce the number of choices drivers have, especially at intersections where pedestrians have been injured in a number of recent accidents with motorists, traffic experts said.

Having only one lane in each direction would discourage drivers from switching lanes to avoid stopping behind a turning vehicle, Shimizu said.

While reducing the number of lanes should help reduce driver choices, it will not solve the problem, he said.

"The impatient drivers are not going to go away," Shimizu warned.

In addition, the narrower street could actually increase traffic, something that happened in Seattle, Shimizu said.

"I know it's counter-intuitive, but traffic volume actually increased," he said.

While all for concepts reduce the number of lanes, they differ in the way they incorporate diagonal parking and use center medians.

The first option would use slim medians and keep parallel parking on the north side of the street between 16th and 17th Streets and in front of several businesses.

14 street and ocean park blvd.
14th Street and Ocean Park Blvd. PLAN 1 (see full image)

This could pave the way for benches and wider sidewalks, offering a better pedestrian ambiance around the businesses, planners said.

The first option would also place diagonal parking on the north side of Ocean Park Boulevard between 14th and 16th Streets.

The second option offer no diagonal parking and wider medians as islands between 14th and 16th Streets.

14th street and Ocean Park Blvd.Plan2
14th Street and Ocean Park Blvd. PLAN 2 (see full image)

The third option could be the most controversial, because it would carve out about 10 feet of space for parking from the John Adams Middle School field, which hosts several community athletic events from soccer to baseball.

Ocean Park and 16th Street Design
16th Street and Ocean Park Blvd. PLAN 3 (see full image)

It also would provide the most parking on both the south and north sides of Ocean Park through scores of diagonal parking spots. There also would be diagonal parking on the north side of the boulevard between 14th and 16th streets.

The fourth option provides diagonal parking on the north side of the street between 14th and 16th streets, but none between 16th and 17th streets. Sidewalks would again be extending to allow for a more pedestrian-friendly ambience in front of businesses.

16th Street and Ocean Park Blvd. Plan4
16th Street and Ocean Park Blvd. PLAN 4 (see full image)

Each of the options include dedicated bike lanes and keep bus stops where they are, although they are expected to hold up traffic. The use of medians in the center lane has been known to slow emergency response vehicles, planners cautioned.

Also being considered are curb extensions, crosswalk designs and traffic lights, as well as more parking meters and a shared parking district in the alleys between 16th to 18th streets.

When came to the issue of installing traffic signals at key intersections, traffic engineers and residents remained strongly divided, as they have for years.

"Six different traffic engineers have looked at that intersection and it doesn't warrant a signal," Dyke said of a crossing on 18th Street which users flashers in a marked crosswalk. "It's a lot of signals close together, and it’s likely to increase traffic."

Traffic officials said they would take the community's input from Tuesday’s meeting and add it to suggestions received over coming weeks, before they take a final set of concepts to the City Council for final approval.

To weigh in on the Ocean Park Boulevard redesign, write, call, fax or email the City's Transportation Management Division at:
1685 Main Street, Room 115,
PO Box 2200, Santa Monica, California, 90407


"Ocean Park Boulevard is a place where people have had concerns for a long time."
Lucy Dyke


"The impatient drivers are not going to go away."
Eric Shimizu



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