At tonight’s Santa Monica City Council meeting, Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre are asking city staff to report “regarding bicycle and pedestrian improvements installed on 17th Street from Pico to Wilshire.” (Item 16D, read the agenda here.)
The item concludes with a request that the City Manager consider the costs, impacts, trade-offs, and possible funding sources associated with modifying the design of the intersection at Broadway and 17th…that will enhance vehicular movements while not compromising bicycle and pedestrian safety.
While it is far from unusual for councilmembers to make such a request, the timing is a little odd. The project is not even completely built yet, minimal striping still needs to be done and a hole needs to be filled near the intersection of 17th Street and Colorado.
But of course, the 17th Street protected bike lane is far from a usual project.
The intersection of 17th and Broadway now has a Dutch style crossing (see above) that Brock and de la Torre refer to as a “butterfly bump out” or “butterfly outcropping.” The curb-protected bikeway on 17th Street has been a hotly controversial topic; many bicycle and pedestrian advocates have raised alarms that this motion could be the first step in rolling back the project.
Not so, says Brock. “I am pro-bicycle. I am pro-bicycle safety. I am pro-this project.”
In both an email response to people who have sent comments on the item and in a call with Next, Brock noted that his support for this project goes back a dozen years when he was a Parks Commissioner and the city was first discussing north-south bikeways and a connected network. Brock says the reason that they are asking for the information report so quickly is because the project has been so controversial.
When the city first installed the curbs for the protected bikeway in the Spring, some residents along the street, let’s use the scientific term, freaked out. In response, Brock held a public forum at the corner of 17th and Broadway to hear the residents’ concerns. In response, the city made several changes to increase the visibility of lanes, improve ADA access for people arriving to certain destinations along the street and shaving the bump outs at intersections to make it easier (not faster, according to Brock) for sanitation and fire trucks. By asking for information now, the city can come back with a report in a month or two that shows whether or not the project is having the desired effects in its early phases and whether or not the smaller changes that have already occurred have alleviated the concerns of people living along the street.
“Honestly? I’m hoping to hear that the opposition has died down,” Brock stated.
Santa Monica Spoke’s Cynthia Rose has certainly noticed the strong opposition some people have to the project, but also says that the opposition cools when people learn more about it.
“We have held three events in the past couple of weeks and have received overwhelming support for what’s happening with the project,” Rose says. “Some people approach us that are negative about the project, but when we have had a conversation about specifics of the project they soften or even change their opinion about it.”
Critics of Item 16b point not just to the timing, but also the language about exploring how to “enhance vehicular movements while not compromising bicycle and pedestrian safety.”
Included in the critics of this motion is former Mayor Kevin McKeown who wrote to the Council to encourage them to vote down at least the second half of the motion concerning the intersection of Broadway and 17th Street and a study of how to enhance vehicular movement through the intersection.
“The intersection of 17th and Broadway was improved in stages. Until the work was completed, legitimate confusion and concerns arose from motorists and cyclists alike,” McKeown writes.
“Now that it is finished or near-finished, it is evident that the configuration fulfills the international standard for safety sometimes called a “Dutch crossing.” There is no need to “study” this, which may be just a way of demoralizing our dedicated staff and needlessly delaying further implementation of future elements of Santa Monica’s long-term bike plan.”
But Brock continues to contend that this isn’t about anything other than trying to make sure that bicyclists are safe, residents fears are allayed as best they can be and if the city can learn anything from this project that it be applied to future projects in the city.
“The only thing that I’m asking is that when the changes are done, I’d like to hear from residents if their concerns are allayed,” Brock said. “Since we’re about to do another segregated bike path (on Ocean Ave.)…that any lessons learned from this project be transferred to the other ones.”
But for Rose and other advocates, they are still concerned that attempts to study the project too soon, or through a lens of how to enhance vehicle access, could shade the results in what is intended to be a long-term investment.
“17th Street is a crucial investment that improves safety for all road users. It serves the Pico Neighborhood and connects to previous safety improving investments on the Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo),” she concludes. “It’s incomprehensible to me and the community that there’s even a thought to roll back a gold standard safety improvement project designed by experts in the field to serve multiple SM neighborhoods, SMC & SM schools, provides community connections to regional transportation on EXPO, serves the broader community and visitors with slower, safer traffic speeds and expands a first class protected bikeway network the community supports and is expecting.”