Public Works Chief Adds Clarity to Traffic Flow Proposals

Having received praise and constructive criticism at a Public Safety Commission this week, city Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne plans to return to the panel next month with more extensively refined outlines of what the city might be able to do with Metro funds to improve traffic flow in key areas.
After presenting that update, Throne will bring the proposals to the City Council at its Friday morning meeting on Sept. 27, when that group could direct changes or consider whether to go ahead with the projects at all. Throne, who also serves as the city engineer, first unveiled his specific tweaks to the public during the commission’s meeting Monday, highlighting ways his department could explore modifying roadways to improve traffic flow while appeasing residents wanting to keep their residential streets clear of through traffic.
“I’m very appreciative of the folks” who attended the meeting, Throne said Monday night. “This is something I’ve been working on and working for since last November — when we first started in on this process, the commission and I, on looking at Metro projects — to try and develop the best projects for the community. … I’m very much looking forward to coming here again in a month.”
After officials spent much of the year presenting general ideas for projects and soliciting ways to tailor them to San Marino, the City Council tasked Throne with further exploring improvements to the Huntington Drive-Atlantic Boulevard intersection on the west end of town and also adjustments near school sites along Huntington to improve traffic flow and safety during drop-off and pick-up times.
Metro, the countywide transportation agency, is offering to fund such projects for area communities us with the use of money previously apportioned to the now-dead 710 Freeway tunnel project, provided that they at least achieve Metro’s goal of improving traffic flow or capacity.
The Huntington-Atlantic intersection, which also includes Los Robles Avenue and Garfield Avenue, presents challenges for any engineer because of its hourglass configuration and the need to coordinate with two other cities — Alhambra and South Pasadena — on any changes. Throne highlighted another complication: the need to reduce traffic volume on Los Robles, which despite being a two-lane residential street has the same Caltrans classification — principal arterial — as Huntington.
“This is a very interesting and complex intersection, and when we get to that point, we will have to hire a very experienced transportation engineering firm to sort out and design the best functioning intersection,” Throne said. “We will have to work with our neighbors to fix this intersection, as it demands a holistic solution that satisfies all three cities.”
Throne’s suggestions include upgrading and updating the timing of all five signal systems, none of which have been worked on “for a substantial number of years,” he said. In an effort to reduce last-minute lane changes and send more motorists to Fair Oaks Avenue, he also suggested adding newer and clearer signage.
As for Los Robles, Throne is proposing to remove one of the westbound right-turn lanes from Huntington onto northbound Los Robles and also to restrict left turns from northbound Los Robles onto Oak Street, to curb motorists aiming to skirt the Garfield-Huntington intersection.
“From our perspective, we want to improve the flow into north Los Robles here by sending it somewhere else,” Throne deadpanned.
Stephanie Johnson, a Los Robles resident, said she was happy to see there was some hope for relief there and suggested asking South Pasadena to allow left turns from eastbound Huntington on Garfield again, to prevent vehicles from being sent to Los Robles.
“We understand the difficulty of dealing with three different agencies, but I’m hoping that the City Council is willing to use some of their political clout to make some headway there with the neighboring cities,” she said.
Along Huntington in front of Valentine Elementary School and Huntington Middle School, Throne has suggested carving into the grassy parkway to create possible loading zones or drop-off/pickup queues that were completely removed from the roadway’s No. 3 travel lane; parents currently park along the side of the road now, partially obstructing the lane and creating a chronic safety hazard.
Portions of the parkway and curb would remain in place to prevent reckless motorists from “trying to cheat” the lanes on Huntington, Throne added. The visual outlines are also not gospel yet, the director added: long before breaking any ground, Throne would utilize traffic analyses to determine how deep a queue pocket would need to be.
“This is an illustration that there would be some length of either merging in or right-turning off,” he said. “To properly design those, we would have to do a specialized study of this area during the school day to see how many cars are making all these different movements, and then we would base the final design on what is the safest way to handle the cars to keep them out of the No. 3 lane.”
Throne added that officials with the San Marino Unified School District, which explored a traffic circulation study a year ago, have reviewed these suggestions and “they like this plan.”
At San Marino High School, the circulation plan gets a little bolder. Throne is suggesting opening the half-circle drop-off area in front of the school so that parents would continue through what is now the faculty parking lot, exiting through the alley behind Tony’s Pizza and onto Winston Avenue. By also closing off the exit ramps onto Huntington, Throne said, this would most safely allow parents to get back onto Huntington without making reckless lane shifts right out of the gate.
To allow for safe left turns from the alley onto Winston and down to Huntington, Throne would add a signal that coordinates with the nearby signal on Huntington. Throne admitted that SMUSD was “not overly enthusiastic” about this idea and residents had their concerns about sending more vehicles to Winston.
“About half of [the commuters] will turn left and about half will turn right,” said resident Suzy Moser. “If we can guarantee it’ll all turn left, that would be great, but we don’t know if that will happen.”
Several residents also suggested the school repurpose the small park area with a gazebo on the corner abutting Gainsborough Drive into a circular drop-off lot, which would send commuters into a right turn on Gainsborough and allow them a controlled left or right turn onto Huntington.
“This is just so useless, I’m sorry to say,” Linda Gutierrez said of the gazebo area. “I walk there all of the time [and no one uses it].”
It should be noted there is a transit bus stop on Huntington in front of that park area.
Proposed improvements near Carver Elementary School were relatively simple, given that all of Huntington in front of it is outside city limits. The county, which controls that area, is already planning to reduce the roadway to three narrower lanes there. Throne said he would like to explore reducing the lane width of San Marino’s portion of Huntington, potentially to two 10-foot lanes and one 12-foot lane.
By also adjusting the reductions from four to three lanes to outside of city limits, Throne added, he’d remove all merging on San Marino’s portion of the roadway to both improve flow and control speeds. Motorists historically speed less on narrower lanes.
Illustrated proposals can be found on the city’s website, cityofsanmarino.org.

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