City Orders a Diagnosis of Its Traffic Circulation

By a narrow margin, the San Marino City Council voted last week to move forward with a traffic circulation study, which is slated to begin in August.
With the awarding of the contract on a 3-2 vote, the Los Angeles office of Iteris Inc. was formally tasked with preparing a comprehensive evaluation of San Marino’s traffic circulation, which will include traffic modeling, the identification of capacity constraints, an analysis of system conditions, the identification and prioritization of traffic-related needs and the preparation of possible improvements or enhancements to the city’s traffic system. The contract will be for $149,840.
Dr. Steven Huang, the city’s mayor, and Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey voted against the contract, with Huang citing concerns that the data would not be useful for very long after it was gathered and Shepherd Romey concerned that the scope of work was misguided. In his motion urging the awarding of the contract, Councilman Steve Talt did cut a portion of the work that would have produced a projection for the year 2040.
The traffic circulation study will be San Marino’s first in about a decade, according to Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne, and will hopefully provide the city with ample options to help abate through traffic in side streets and produce a more current illustration of how much traffic the city actually shoulders nowadays. This collection of traffic-calming measures was referred to as a “toolbox” for the city to use.
“Lane striping is a way that you can engineer slower streets. Planting a lot of trees so that you have a tree canopy is something you can do,” Throne explained. “Speed bumps, speed humps, dips and speed tables are all tools that can be used. In a traffic-calming program, you’d have this menu of items to pick from.
“Typically in traffic calming, you want to start with the lightest touch and do one thing at a time because you don’t know what the one thing is that will result in the desired traffic calming,” he added. “Those things, you like to consider very carefully before you do that.”
Throne said he expected Iteris’ work to be completed by March, with a draft of the results to be presentable by the holidays. The work was scheduled to begin in August so that data could be collected during school operations, “so we have data on the busiest time for our streets,” Throne added.
Although Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski opined that it “sounds like we’re getting a bargain,” Shepherd Romey pointed out that Iteris’ bid was around $50,000 higher than that of the lowest bidder and said Iteris’ experience working in the San Gabriel Valley was not as extensive as the other bidders’. According to its report, city staff justified going with Iteris based on “their qualification and expertise, experience and understanding of the city’s needs.”
The vice mayor also said she was skeptical of the use of the study right now, given that the city is presently considering a handful of projects that are likely to affect traffic patterns and may begin before the study can be factored into their designs.
“I think there’s too much in flux to get any benefit out of this [in time],” Shepherd Romey said.
The city began to seek proposals for a study early in the year, before the discussion of potential traffic projects — which would be funded by the county transportation authority — picked up momentum.
The council also formally scheduled a November election for two of its five seats and the renewal of the public safety parcel tax.
Huang’s and Talt’s seats are up for election this year; as of press time, no election or re-election campaigns have been announced.
This will be San Marino’s “alignment election,” with the terms of the two council seats and the tax extended from four years to five so that they will end on an even-numbered year and thus be synchronized with the rest of Los Angeles County. This mandate was approved by the state Senate in 2015 for jurisdictions whose odd-numbered-year elections did not reach the legislators’ benchmark for voter turnout.
Some jurisdictions chose simply to vote to add to or reduce current terms to expedite their alignment; in fact, the City Council had done so in recent years, adding several months to current terms to account for moving elections from March to November. In this instance, the City Council waited.
“We elected instead at that time to hold the election and let the people decide that then,” Talt said.
The nature of this election has the side effect of costing the city significantly more than usual, as election costs are normally shared by jurisdictions throughout the county that are holding elections. The estimate for this year is $103,000, which City Manager Marcella Marlowe said is more than twice the norm and “not a carved-in-stone number,” either.
“We are one of the last cities to do that realignment,” she explained. “Because most other cities have moved to the even year, that only left a few other cities to share that cost with.”

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