Some Residents Doubtful About Greenlighting Traffic Proposals

Skepticism reigns, judging from comments by San Marino residents who packed the Hill-Harbison House on Monday night to air their opinions and absorb information about a series of proposed traffic projects to be funded by L.A. Metro.
By informal vote, most in attendance Monday evening remained steadfastly against the projects or were open to considering the merits of some at the expense of others. The issue has presented itself since the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began dangling no-strings-attached funding to select San Gabriel Valley cities to help pay for projects to improve traffic flow and capacity in lieu of Metro’s dream to fully connect the 710 and 210 freeways.
“One of the problems that I have with this is that we need to have more information to see how this will affect us, to see how all of these changes will affect surface streets and will affect the safety of the citizens,” said Dr. Ghassan Roumani, the resident spearheading the meeting. “Huntington Drive, as we know, has five schools on it. If we have increased speeds, this is a very serious consequence for our students at those schools.”
Metro has earmarked up to $32 million for San Marino projects, proposals for which include traffic signal synchronization on both Huntington and San Gabriel Boulevard, improving select left-turn lanes from Huntington onto side streets, tweaking portions of Huntington near school sites to properly separate street parking from travel lanes and heavily modifying the uniquely vexing intersection of Huntington, Atlantic Boulevard, Garfield Avenue and Los Robles Avenue.
The theme of those tentative projects derives from alternative proposals Metro had prepared for the environmental impact report of the 710 tunnel project. Although the city may simply pick up the pre-approved Metro plans and move forward with them, the city’s staff has expressed a desire to work with residents to tailor the improvements to their liking.
The principal concerns of residents reflect a desire to maintain the tranquility of neighborhoods, avoid the additional pollution that comes with even more vehicle travel through town and prevent Huntington from essentially becoming a high-speed freeway.
“There’s value for the city to take a defensive tactic in all of this,” said Stephanie Johnson, speaking on behalf of Los Robles residents hoping to repel their traffic. “The larger picture is like a chess game and before you move your pieces, you need to understand the tactics and you have to have a strategy.
“This is political,” she added. “I think it’s very important that you all weigh in on that so that the City Council has input from the residents on the quality of life and what you expect from San Marino.”
Ray Quan, who has closely followed the issue, cited data and insight from entities like the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Caltrans in claiming that in spite of the intentions of signal synchronization, the likely outcome would be an average speed increase of 16% along Huntington Drive.
Law requires posted speed limits to reflect the 85th percentile of average speeds down a roadway, Quan said. He added that Metro’s work is to address critical levels of congestion in Alhambra, which along with some other neighboring cities, has boomed in population relative to San Marino, which has remained remarkably static since the 1960s.
“That’s what Metro wants,” Quan said. “That’s why they gave us $10 million for traffic synchronization. They want us to help take the flow off of Alhambra. The increase traffic is not us, because we’ve had a very stable population. It’s not us; it’s people cutting through us.”
Quan stressed some of the projects could be worth considering — the Huntington-Garfield-Atlantic-Los Robles intersection, for example — and that a nuanced discussion should prevail moving forward.
Residents wondered aloud how any of these projects would benefit San Marino and whether the city should simply tell Metro no thanks. Hal Suetsugu reminded the audience that County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who also sits on the Metro board, grew up in and still lives in San Marino.
“And that puts a lot of weight,” Suetsugu said. “I’d like to see everything focused on Huntington to make it more efficient. It just seems like we can benefit from the $32 million, but here are the grounds for negotiation: I think we need to look at things that the community would like to have without sacrificing our quality of life.”
Marilyn Peck, who lives near Huntington, decried the air pollution she and her neighbors already experience there and urged against making it worse.
“With what we suffer on Huntington Drive, don’t send us more traffic,” she said. “I think synchronized lights only invite more traffic. I say give [the $32 million] back.”
Mike Killackey, who also resides off Huntington, pointed out that as the Los Angeles area’s population balloons, more motorists will enter the roadways whether the projects are done or not.
“Just because we say no doesn’t mean the cars don’t come,” he said. “Dealing with these cars in a way that makes it safe is what’s important. We need to have a balanced discussion to find out the benefits of both sides.”

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