Construction Can Begin on Bergamot First/Last Mile Plan After Unanimous Vote and Bizarre Discussion at Council

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Last night, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the contract for the First/Last Mile Plan for Bergamot Station (Agenda, Item 5A; Video, 2:59). After a decade-long public process the final hurdle for the project proved more difficult than expected despite a unanimous 6-0 vote that will allow the city to begin construction.

For more details on the plan for (mostly) pedestrian and some bicycle improvements for a 1.7 mile grid near Bergamot station; please read Next’s coverage from last week.

While most of the plan has near universal support, two Councilmembers pushed back against a couple of blocks of cement barrier protected bikeways that will be installed on the west side of Stewart Avenue between Olympic Boulevard and Kansas Avenue. The east side of the street will not be changed in this section.

As noted in the headline, the discussion of the plan was bizarre; because most of the complaints were about issues that don’t exist.

“The concrete barriers that were put down on 17th Street caused untold misery,” stated Mayor Phil Brock referencing the award-winning safety project on 17th Street. “It seems like we’re recreating part of that problem.”

Brock’s largest concern was for residents that might have to back across the bike lanes and openings in the concrete barrier to access the street from their property. Staff attempted to explain there were no houses along these few blocks on the west side that have the types of driveways where people have to back out. But, Brock was undeterred repeatedly asking staff what other options besides installing a two-foot concrete barrier similar to the ones on 17th Street and Ocean Avenue, could keep bicyclists safe.

At one point the conversation got particularly confusing when city staff pointed out that bollard protected bike lanes, while certainly better than nothing or regular or even painted bike lanes, are often overrun with cars that either drive through or around the bollards. When staff started to give examples of this with pictures in their presentation, Brock interrupted to give several anecdotal examples of drivers abusing bollard protected lanes that he had witnessed himself. He then went back to asking if the city could use bollards instead of concrete barriers.

A second concern of Brock’s is that the two-foot barrier, while meeting international design standards, was too large. He argued a smaller divider could leave more space for a wider bike lane, sidewalk, or mixed-use lane.

Later in the evening, it was Councilmember Jesse Zwick, a frequent bike commuter himself, who asked staff a leading question to have them state that the two foot wide buffer is to end conflicts between cyclists and inattentive people opening a car door. To his credit, Brock eventually voted to approve the project and contracts despite still having some personal misgivings.

Councilmember Christine Parra also voiced concerns about these couple of blocks of bike lanes on one side of the street on Stewart Avenue. Parra was concerned that the lanes would interfere with individual handicapped parking spaces along the route. Fortunately for everyone involved, there are no individual handicapped parking spaces along the route.

Faced with a deadline to accept or reject the plan before the funding agreement with Metro expired; all six Councilmembers voting Councilmembers consented. Councilmember Oscar de la Torre recused himself from both discussion and voting on the project because he owns property adjacent to one of the streets that will be upgraded.

Construction of the improvements to Stewart Street and Pennsylvania Avenue will begin in late summer and will take approximately 18 months to complete. could begin in the next couple of weeks and will be completed in 2-4 months.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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