How We Roll: is downtown Santa Monica the new all-time epicenter of gridlock?

From the Department of Tweets About Traffic Signal Priority: 

BTW, Laura is the transportation reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Joshua is Metro’s Chief Innovation Officer who heads up the agency’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation.

As I’ve written before, Metro has responsibility for the equipment — i.e. crossing gates, etc. — that would give trains complete priority over traffic (also known as traffic signal exemption). The city of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation has responsibility over the degree to which traffic signals prioritizes transit over traffic (i.e. the length of the green lights for transit). Several Expo Line crossings were built without gates — sometimes for lack of space or to preserve left-turn lanes — meaning trains must obey traffic signals.

Attentive Transit Riders know this issue impacts more than the the Expo Line. The Gold Line — especially on the Eastside — and the Orange Line also have street-running segments in which trains and buses, respectively, are given the opportunity to sit and watch car traffic pass.

Taking action now on traffic (City of Santa Monica blog) 

Remember when the Expo Line to Santa Monica was a novelty? Those days appear to be o-v-e-r. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Remember when the Expo Line to Santa Monica was a novelty? Those days appear to be o-v-e-r as many riders have apparently found the train to be an alternative to traffic. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

SaMo City Manager Rick Cole pens the kind of government blog post that we like to see. He’s brutally honest about Santa Monica traffic, saying that car and pedestrian traffic in DTSM this summer have set new records, partially because of the Expo Line.

One visitor recently complained to City Hall that it took him an hour to exit a parking garage in DTSM, which strikes me as the kind of thing most SoCalers would find scarier than a stuffed clown hiding under their bed.

Rick lists a number of traffic mitigations that the city is taking that seem to be helpful. He adds:

None of these immediate steps will solve traffic in Downtown this summer.  But it is vital to reassure both our local residents and our visitors that Santa Monica welcomes them.  Already too many local residents are saying, “Nobody goes Downtown anymore, it’s too crowded.”

We want both residents and visitors to enjoy their experience — and particularly to encourage them not to drive, especially into the heart of Downtown.

Ultimately the answer is not to make it easier to drive and park in Downtown – it is to make it easier to use all the other options we are promoting with our GoSaMo efforts.

A few observations/thoughts from yours truly, who once upon a time (1996 to 2003) cribbed in a tiny but cheerful rent-controlled apartment in southernly SaMo:

•On my trips to SaMo this summer, I’ve thought car traffic was yucksville but mostly no worse than it has been in the past — although I did think there was a noticeable uptick in pedestrians, especially on the Pier, the Promenade and Santa Monica Place. It’s also worth noting that it has been many, many moons since I’ve tried to drive into DTSM. I’m not one to tempt fate or the Traffic Gods.

•I think it will be really hard for the city to discourage driving at the same time that downtown Santa Monica has literally thousands of parking spaces in the vicinity. The spaces are nearly all paid parking and demand often seems to be keeping up with supply.

•DTSM (and the rest of the city) is still, IMHO, a pretty nice place to visit. It’s popular for a reason. And it’s great that there is finally, and belatedly, a good transit alternative to getting there. Metro officials have said they hope to boost Expo Line service to every six minutes during peak hours in December — which would be good for anyone traveling to/from SaMo.

•Neither this post or any of the media coverage of the post that I’ve seen mentioned another transit alternative: the Purple Line Extension, which is funded no further west than Westwood at this time. But in days of yore — by which I mean less than a decade ago — it was still somewhat common to hear the phrase “subway to the sea” get kicked around.

•Putting on my PR hat, two future Metro projects, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, may make it easier for folks from the SFV, South L.A. and the NorthSouth Bay to get to SaMo via a transfer to the Expo Line.

•It’s also nice to see Metro Rail continue to prove that Metro Rail does actually hit big regional destinations. In the past, the rail system was a bit of a punching bag for not having stations directly serving places such as the Hollywood Bowl or the Getty. But these days there’s a lot more happening in DTLA, Pasadena, Exposition Park and now Santa Monica (and the Miracle Mile in the soonish future). Either the rail system is growing up, the urban area around it is growing up or perhaps a bit of both. Either way, good news.

Quasi-related: has anyone tried the new burger place that replaced the Omelet Parlor on Main Street? I have fond memories of those breakfast tacos. Sigh.

Quasi-quasi-related: could be worse, SaMo!

Michael Folonis Architects crafts a new approach to Santa Monica’s setback guidelines (Architects Newspaper) 

Credit: Michael W. Folonis Architects

Credit: Michael W. Folonis Architects

Speaking of DTSM…cool building. Zoning code and setback enthusiasts will be cheered by a novel approach the project is taking to comply with Santa Monica’s rules for new buildings.

California lawmakers advance steeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions (KPCC)

State receives only trickle of cash from state cap-trade program (LAT)

Reducing greenhouse gases and raising $s through cap-and-trade is vital to the state's bullet train program. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Reducing greenhouse gases and raising $s through cap-and-trade is vital to the state’s bullet train program. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority.

A wonky but critical issue (well if you believe climate change is critical) getting the attention it deserves from the media.

The bill is SB 32, which would set guidelines for the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This bill would set a goal of reducing the state’s 1990 levels of gases by 40 percent by 2030. That’s aggressive, but not as aggressive as originally proposed. Notes KPCC in my favorite passage from the article:

The nation’s single largest political donor in 2014, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer looked on from the side of the chamber as the Assembly considered SB32 Tuesday. Steyer has given millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes in California, including a $500,000 independent expenditure in May supporting Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, in his race against a Democratic challenger with a voting record less favorable of environmental issues.

Funny, what a billionaire observer can accomplish!

The LAT blog post is also very important. Without capping greenhouse gas emissions, the state’s cap-and-trade program — in which permits to pollute are sold to businesses — would be undercut. It’s already being challenged legally and, as the LAT notes, sales of permits have been very underwhelming in recent months.

Why should you care, Source reader? With transportation funding almost always in short supply, the cap-and-trade program is being used to fund a number of improvements. The really big one is high-speed rail, which is depending heavily on the program to supply money the project needs to expand in and beyond the Central Valley. But just last week, two much-needed Metro transit projects won $109 million combined in cap-trade funds.

To summarize: if SB 32 doesn’t pass, expect transit agencies to be looking for a new forest of money trees. #badmetaphoriknow


24 replies

  1. Great to hear that update on signal priority. Glad Metro is taking this issue seriously! It means a lot to us riders

    • Possibly never. SM and the rest of the west side prioritized LRT on Lincoln blvd and the train from SFV to LAX through the Sepulveda pass over a purple line exstention. If those are the funding priorities, then they will get built before the purple line reaches the sea.

  2. Santa Monica’s new scramble crosswalks are great when you’re a pedestrian, but the longer red lights could very well be a contributing factor to the increased gridlock. I’m not surprised traffic is worse, but I would be surprised if nobody saw it coming.

  3. Steve, I’m a little confused about what you saying in regard to signal priority. My understanding is that the trouble spots are on the DTLA end of the Expo Line –spots like Flower, Western, etc..

    Your comments lead me to understand that the issues are also on the Santa Monica end of the line as well? Didn’t the City of Santa Monica give some kind of signal priority already?

    That said, ever since Expo took up 6-minute headways on game day Saturdays there does seem to be additional delays on the Santa Monica end. My westbound trip last weekend had the train holding at Bergamot, 17th street, the Lincoln Blvd crossing as well as 7th and 5th street. Things were really getting backed up. So, signal priority is not a thing on the western end of the line?

  4. Expo’s been open for 4 years and already there’s been more talk about signal preemption than in the 25 years the Blue Line has been open. When’s the Blue Line, which carries more people by far than Expo, going to get the same treatment?

    • Hi Jim;

      The talk is mostly about signal priority — i.e. longer green lights for trains. Signal preemption — trains always get priority at intersections — would likely require crossing gates or other equipment.

      In terms of signal priority, the lights were adjusted on Washington Boulevard for the Blue Line a while ago. The city of Long Beach — with funding from Metro’s Call for Projects — has a project that should help more trains get more green lights there. The stretch of tracks shared by Expo and Blue between Washington/Flower and entrance to underground section in DTLA will remain challenging.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Signal preemption does not require corssing gates anywhere but in LA. It’s time to face the reality that our government is the only things slowing the trains down and force them to change it or vote them out.

    • The poor and politically weak always have a rough go of it. The expo line is increasing the number of weathly and politically powerful who ride metro and hopefully we can get signal preemption for the entire system, not just the expo line.

  5. In my experience on the Expo Line I’m happy to see that they seem to have turned the corner and that all trains for the last week or so have had three cars. That’s a big deal because they now have enough capacity to serve the current demand, and ridership should soon reach 50,000 daily when schools are back in session.
    Also I’ve noticed that schedule adherence is better, and delays through DTLA on Flower are less frequent.
    Keep up the improvements and I hope you’re able to achieve 6-minute headways in December.

  6. Although I appreciate being able to cross an intersection from any angle, the crosswalk pattern at Colorado & 4th, Santa Monica, which appears to me to be a jumble of large, white chevrons, is confusing at best and doesn’t really help the pedestrian know where they can cross. I much prefer the classic parallel lines from corner to corner, including diagonals; that style, in my opinion, is simple and intuitively more comprehensible.

    And while I’m at it, let me also comment about the new, wavy sidewalk design, which begins at the bottom of the steps from the Downtown Santa Monica Station and proceeds on down Colorado Ave to Ocean Ave. Apparently designed to reflect Santa Monica’s proximity to the ocean, I think it is an accident waiting to happen, especially for seniors. Don’t look too closely at it while you are walking, lest you develop vertigo and possibly take a fall.

    I know Metro is not responsible for the sidewalk, but thanks for letting me vent and Steve Hymon will you put in a word for me about it if the opportunity ever arises? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi David;

      Glad to post the comment. I do think it’s best to contact Santa Monica officials directly with these type of issues. They’re on Twitter and there is contact info — including for the City Council — on the city’s website.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Scrambles are a safety measure. The scramble at Hollywood & Highland – LA’s most dangerous intersection – have reduced fatalities.

        Wavy sidewalks are usually to deter speeding bikes, skateboards, joggers etc. from gaining too much speed. Which is also a safety measure.

  7. Hey Steve, I had a quick question about the train car capacity. I understand that the current capacity is 3 cars per train; is that primarily driven by a limitation of the train cars, the stations, or the tracks? Is there a long-term plan to increase this capacity in the future and what would need to be done to achieve it?

    • Hi Ryan;

      It’s the length of the platforms. The longest trains that can be accommodated on Expo, Gold and Blue are three-car trains. There are NO plans at this time to extend the platforms, although there are plans to run more frequent trains–i.e. the agency plans to increase capacity through frequency rather than longer trains.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Steve: You wrote: “There are plans at this time to extend the platforms”. I think you meant to write “There are no plans…”.
        By the way, the build-out capacity of the Blue and Expo Lines is five minute headways on both, based on the capacity where the two line share track through DTLA. This would represent a 20% improvement over existing capacity on the Blue Line and a 140% improvement over existing capacity on the Expo Line.

        • Hi Joshua;

          My bad. Fixed. Correct, no plans. Been having some eye fatigue this week due to some new prescrip glasses. My three cents: avoid progressives if you can.

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

      • Do the power substations have a limit to the number of trains that can draw power at the same time? I know when WMATA tried to run all 8 car trains in DC they found their wasnt enough power to have that many cars operating simotantiously.

  8. Great to read about the impact the Expo line is having on Santa Monica. Maybe Santa Monica needs to close more street to automobiles for the safety of pedestrian traffic. Also, Metro board needs to review its plan on extending the purple line to Santa Monica in the future.

  9. 6 minute headways during the day on Expo starting in December is good news, but it would mean nothing if Expo/Blue frequencies after 8pm remain at their current disastrous 20-minute intervals. A bump up to 15 minutes starting in December should be a priority based on the large crowds waiting on the Blue/Expo platform 2 at 7th Street Metro Center post-8pm on my (and, apparently, many others’) nightly commute home since the unfathomable, unconscionable reduction to 20 minute intervals was made in June.