Modifications to Huntington Drive Top City Council Agenda

The City Council voted unanimously to take the next step with regards to two traffic project ideas that, if realized, would be funded by L.A. Metro and would be expected to improve motorist travel along Huntington Drive at select locations.
Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne is now tasked with working with Metro, the county’s transportation agency, to ensure that the project scope fits with Metro’s requirements for funding and developing a financing plan with the agency. The City Council would have to approve that funding agreement once it is arranged.
“I agree that we should take the next bite of the apple,” Councilman Steve Talt said at Friday’s meeting, adding, “I do think we should move forward, and I do appreciate the Public Safety Commission and staff for their work on this. But, when we move forward, we’ve got to move forward with eyes open and very carefully.”
The two proposals both concern modifications along Huntington Drive. One would make a variety of changes around school sites in an attempt to create proper and safe loading zones for students and their families. The other would consider altering lane configurations where Huntington intersects with Atlantic Boulevard, Los Robles Avenue and Garfield Avenue, a complex hourglass-shaped interchange popularly dubbed “the Pizza Hut triangle” last week in observance of the Pizza Hut restaurant in the center of the roadways.
The cooperation Talt referred to concerns this Pizza Hut triangle. That intersection is jointly owned by San Marino, South Pasadena and Alhambra, and although San Marino doesn’t own a “particularly useful” portion of the intersection, Throne has said, the city successfully bid to be the leading agency on the project when the city first reached out to Metro.
Throne’s proposals currently call for, among other tweaks, reducing lane flow into Los Robles, a mostly residential street whose residents have long complained of gridlocked traffic in mornings, by directing it either east on Huntington toward Sierra Madre or San Gabriel boulevards or west toward Fair Oaks Avenue.
“[That intersection] has just been pieced together,” he said, commenting on its complicated layout. “This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘OK, we have a bucket of money, what can we do here?’”
Metro has pledged financial backing for a host of similar traffic project proposals being considered by cities that would have benefitted from the construction of the fabled 710 tunnel that would have linked to the 210 freeway. Once that plan was formally ended, the Metro board voted to dole out the $780 million generated from the Measure R sales tax to fund the tunnel to local cities to fund projects that would improve traffic flow and capacity.
Talt asked Throne to, even for the sake of due diligence, explore whether acquiring the Pizza Hut property — even through eminent domain — would be a viable option. Throne said he would explore it but noted that he has coincidentally worked on two prior projects involving eminent domain attempts on Pizza Huts in the past.
“Each one was the most profitable Pizza Hut in the universe,” Throne said, tongue-in-cheek, in describing how those attempts went.
The most significant of the school-related projects would be around the contiguous Huntington Middle School and Valentine Elementary School properties, with Throne suggesting removal of the grassy parkway dividing Huntington from the sidewalk and creating proper loading zones that have greater separation from Huntington’s rightmost lane.
The street loading zones would be separated from a separate turn lane into a loading circle at Valentine and the parking lot at HMS, the lengths of which would be specifically determined from thorough traffic studies. Some were unsure of the purpose of dividing the areas at all, instead of simply having a continuous strip.
“The notion is, if you keep all of that going in the same lane with identical striping, people will do whatever they want to do,” Throne explained. “If [the turn lane] looks like it’s part of the loading zone, people will mix in there to do their loading and unloading.”
Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey urged Throne to lean on Metro for additional funding as needed, particularly if acquiring the Pizza Hut property becomes a realistic option.
“I think there’s no harm in asking, because this is all about mobility,” she said, drawing attention to Metro’s goal in these projects. “There’s still a significant amount of money to be spent and this is an area where money needs to be spent.”
More detailed proposals can be viewed on the city’s website.

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