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Santa Monica traffic has 'finally hit the tipping point'

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City manager says the city has never seen this number of visitors before

As if people needed a reason other than the beach to visit Santa Monica, the city’s newly installed Expo Line light rail and Colorado Esplanade are luring even more visitors. The pier's Twilight Concert Series, an event equipped for 4,500 is drawing crowds of 35,000 in a space, for example.

City manager Rick Cole writes on his blog The Long View that it’s the "strength of Santa Monica’s brand" that’s bringing out people in droves. Right. Whatever the reason, Cole says city traffic officials have "never seen this number of people and volume of traffic" in Santa Monica before. Crowds are not only getting bigger, visitors are staying later, and he acquiesces: The city has "finally hit the tipping point."

He gives this example:

Recently City Hall fielded a complaint from a visitor who was trapped in one of our parking structures for an hour on a Thursday night simply trying to get out onto the gridlocked streets.

This summer’s record congestion couldn’t come at a worst time for a city already grappling with the issue of density and future development. As the Santa Monica Lookout points out, several members of Santa Monica’s City Council, Mayor Tony Vazquez included, are fighting efforts from a grassroots group attempting to stifle future development in Downtown Santa Monica.

The city is not taking the traffic problem lightly. Santa Monica recently added scramble crosswalks and the Breeze bike share program, and officials have longterm plans to further promote walking, biking, and public transportation in Downtown Santa Monica with the "GoSaMo" marketing program.

In the short-term, Cole says Santa Monica will also:

  • Officers will conduct traffic at more intersections, and they'll start working Thursday nights to accommodate the Twilight Concert Series crowds
  • Block left turns out of parking garages on 2nd and 4th Streets
  • Add right hand "turn pockets" to 2nd Street
  • Add a $3 parking at Lot 4 on the beach to help pull traffic away from the Santa Monica Pier
  • Westbound Colorado Avenue will be closed at Main Street to relieve Esplanade congestion

"None of these immediate steps will solve traffic in Downtown this summer," Cole concludes his blog post. "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.'"

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