Panel Promises Homegrown (but Metro-Funded) Traffic Plan

The Public Safety Commission assured concerned residents at its meeting this week that the city is not currently planning to move forward with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority-designed plans to improve traffic capacity in San Marino, and that the city would craft its own plans to address their wishes.
Residents will have a further opportunity to make their desires known at a town hall meeting hosted by the city at 6 p.m. Monday, March 4, in the Barth Room at Crowell Public Library.
The continuing discussion relates to the $32 million San Marino is primed to receive from Metro to fund projects that would improve the ability to shuffle traffic through town, specifically on main roadways like Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard. Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne has identified five priority areas to address, based on Metro’s assessment of San Marino roadways.
“The real intent of these funds is to get flow through the city in as best a way as possible,” Throne explained Monday. “By doing that, you will keep traffic from bleeding off into the local streets, which is occurring now and will continue in the future unless you make certain improvements. This is a very opportune time to start working on these projects so we can get them to City Council, get City Council to bless them and then get them to Metro so we can get those funds by next year.”
Metro’s “guilt-free money,” as Throne called it, comes in lieu of the 710 Freeway tunnel project that was to bypass South Pasadena to link the 10 and 210 freeways. Metro elected late last year to scrap the project and dedicate the accrued funds to local communities for their own traffic improvements.
The priorities Throne identified for San Marino included traffic signal synchronization on Huntington Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard, capacity improvements to Huntington Drive left- turn lanes, addressing periodic chokepoints along Huntington Drive near the schools and capacity improvement to Sierra Madre Boulevard.
Resident Eileen Hale, a onetime member of the city’s since-disbanded Traffic Safety Commission, urged the city to avoid directly increasing the capacity of Huntington Drive and instead focus on managing traffic by restricting the use of side roads during certain hours, among other methods.
“One thing that we learned is that if you build it, they will come,” Hale said. “We learned traffic is like water: It takes the path of least resistance. All our schools are on the boulevard. To me, it would be very hard on San Marino to take all that traffic. There are all kinds of side streets people can take. We don’t need to be the freeway of the San Gabriel Valley.”
Abdollah Ansari, a senior executive officer with Metro who oversees the highway program, addressed concerns about the agency’s proposals for San Marino, many of which involve removing or modifying street parking on Huntington Drive. When Metro prepared an environmental impact report called for by the California Environmental Quality Act, it was required to submit an analysis for its primary tunnel plan, alternative plans and if it simply did nothing.
Those alternative plans are typically known as TSM/TDM plans (transportation system management/transportation demand management), and their details have vexed residents who suspect the city plans to adopt them straight up.
“When you hear about TSM/TDM, this is just a notch above ‘do nothing,’” Ansari said. “The TSM/TDM projects are the ones identified in the environmental document and cities are more than welcome to pick up the projects they have in their jurisdiction, because they have CEQA approval.”
Ansari also challenged the contemporary adage that improving traffic flow only invites more automobiles to the roads, pointing out that traffic and congestion continue to balloon even without any significant improvements to San Gabriel Valley surface streets. He also pointed out that prior traffic engineering predictions failed to materialize thanks to poor land management and unexpected patterns of population growth in the already congested county.
“If you freeze population growth, those assumptions are correct. That was not the case,” Ansari said. “In real life, the sprawl happened and you have people who come in 70 or 80 miles out for jobs. That was not predicted.”
Residents had specific concerns for the city as well, including whether Throne was communicating with neighboring municipalities on their plans for traffic management.
“You’ve got to be aware of what everybody else is planning to do so we can be in a position to deal with that,” Stephanie Johnson said.
“That money looks really inviting, so I want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the people of the city instead of something that’s going to increase capacity and make picking up or dropping off our kids more dangerous,” added Miriam Quan.
Although there are not specific plans drawn up, Throne did offer ideas to assuage concerns. To address congestion at school sites, he said, he might narrow lanes to increase the size of parkways on Huntington Drive so that parents dropping off or picking up kids aren’t partially in a travel lane, which presently creates congestion.
“They’ve effectively blocked the No. 3 lane from operating at full capacity, so the intent is pushing that parking area further south so that people are dropping off their children not partially in the No. 3 lane,” he said. “By segregating those vehicles and that activity from the travelway, you’ll make the travelway more efficient and in effect increase capacity. That capacity is currently being used by people stopping and dropping their children.”
Public Safety Commission Chairman Al Boegh encouraged residents to continue making their voices heard at the upcoming town hall meeting, after which the city will presumably begin drawing up plans based on input it has received.
“I think it’s important for all of us in the room to know that this is an opportunity for you to tell us what you like,” Boegh said. “There is no cast-in-concrete plan that we’d even have to revise at this point.”
Throne emphasized that San Marino was in a favorable position to make effective changes for traffic in town at minimal cost to taxpaying residents, especially since there’s every indication that more people will continue to flock to Southern California.
“Because you can’t really predict what land use is going to be in the surrounding communities, it becomes very problematic,” he added. “Even if you’re somewhat going on faith when doing this, it’s better than doing nothing, and when you’re doing it on someone else’s nickel and you have an opportunity to get something done that the community wants, that’s a good position to be in.”

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