Residents Caution Safety Commission on Traffic-Flow Ideas

The city will have a lot to consider as it develops plans to use up to $32 million in funding from L.A. Metro to help improve traffic flow and safety through San Marino.
Residents, for their part, made it known at this week’s Public Safety Commission meeting that they did not want any changes to result in the loss of parking spaces along Huntington Drive, nor did they want to do anything that would simply encourage even more motorists to cruise through town to get to their destination. The commission was discussing the topic because it handles traffic-related issues before they reach the City Council.
“We will have additional discussions in the future and we will make the best effort to publicize those,” commission Chairman Al Boegh said Monday night. “It’s an important issue. As you’ve said, what we want is our city and we want the city to be the best it can be for all of us. As we move forward in the not so distant future, we will have some proposals and you will have an opportunity to see those. We want to get it right, and if doing nothing in some cases is getting it right, then I’m sure that’s what our staff would be willing to do.”
The money for these potential projects came from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority after it finally put to rest the tunnel bypass project that would have linked the 710 Freeway with the 210 Freeway. The Metro board decided the best use of the allocated money, which was generated through a voter-approved tax, was to grant it to area cities for them to use on their own traffic-improvement initiatives.
Parks and Public Works
Director Michael Throne outlined the five general plans for this money, emphasizing that they will be developed specifically after continued discussion about the wants of city officials and residents. Those plans are traffic signal synchronization
on both Huntington Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard; capacity improvements on Huntington Drive left-turn lanes; capacity improvements at documented chokepoints on Huntington Drive; and traffic capacity improvements on Sierra Madre Boulevard.
“The idea is that if you make Huntington as efficient as possible, these way-finding applications on your phone will say that it is faster to stay on the main road than it is to go on these side streets,” Throne explained.
Residents have long fretted about the divergent motorists who throughout the day use their roads — Oak Knoll Avenue, Lombardy Road, Los Robles Avenue and Lorain Road are frequently cited — to bypass congestion on Huntington Drive. Some remained skeptical that these proposed improvements would necessarily improve the situation.
Alison Hodgkiss, a Huntington Drive business owner, urged that the city not reduce the already-premium parking on the thoroughfare, which she said would drive patrons to park on residential roads or in private lots and risk being towed. Other echoed her concerns.
“We’re concerned not only with through traffic on side streets, but parking on side streets,” said Dr. Cary Presant, a resident who observed that the diagonal street parking and large center medians added to the city’s character. “We really want to maintain the businesses in San Marino. We get more money in San Marino if we do that.”
Resident Raymond Quan highlighted portions of Metro’s initial environmental impact report on the 710 project and pointed out that Metro’s alternative plan at the time included a reduction in Huntington Drive parking. Quan also cited data indicating that improving traffic capacity can have the unintended consequence of attracting a deluge of additional vehicles in an area.
“Increasing capacity is a goal, but that’s what they did on the 405 [Freeway],” Quan said. “It’s called induced demand. The bigger you make a road, the more people will go on it. You get the same amount of traffic, but more cars. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement.”
Throne emphasized that there were no specific plans on his books yet and pointed out that there were only three locations in which Huntington Drive would see lane expansion: at each public school site.
“I think everyone thinks this is going to be an eight-lane freeway through San Marino, and I don’t think it’s going to be that way at all,” said Commissioner Pete Loeffler. “[The schools are] where a lot of the clogging takes place, because of the kids being dropped off at school and being picked up in the afternoon.”
The San Marino Unified School District in the fall received a presentation on school traffic improvements based on an assessment it commissioned separately from this. The proposals included expanding a drop-off/pick-up lane at some school sites so that queued-up vehicles did not block flow lanes on Huntington Drive as they currently do.
“Clearly, there’s an opportunity for work with the schools to find a way to deal with the parents who are dropping off children and picking up children in a way that would widen the street without really widening the street,” Boegh said.
Throne told the commission and residents he planned to have more specific ideas to present at future meetings so that officials and residents could continue to provide insight to the projects. It was clear several residents intend to keep tabs on the city as it plans for these projects.
“My suggestion to the city is that you need to not be playing offense [on alleviating traffic], but defense for the residents,” said Stephanie Johnson, one of those residents.

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