In early December, WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the upcoming City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 13 key issues. We then asked each of the 12 candidates in the March 3 election to offer their positions on these issues. On each Monday and Wednesday through Feb. 23 we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses. We also have provided the list of issues to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce so it can use them in a candidate forum it is hosting on Saturday at noon at the West Hollywood City Council chambers. Answers to the first question were published Monday.
Question 2: Traffic congestion is a major issue in Los Angeles, and especially in West Hollywood, given that our major east/west arteries are used by commuters passing to and from other areas. Given that situation:
a) What should the city do to improve the flow of rush hour traffic along Santa Monica Boulevard?
I first want to address the overall view of vehicle transportation in California. As stated in an article by Johnathan Strickland titled “How Traffic Works,” California has five of the top 12 areas for the worst traffic congestion and Los Angeles tops the Texas Transportation Institute list for the worst traffic in the United States. And we all assume Santa Monica Blvd. is probably on the list.
I believe we could improve traffic flow maybe through traffic lights. Traffic lights are on a timed system, a sensor system or a combination of the two. Sensor systems detect cars as they pull up to the intersection triggering a change in the traffic light. A good system uses signals that are tied together so that the traffic flow remains as constant as possible.
We could maybe eliminate some crosswalks, but then residents would have to weigh the issue of limited access and inconvenience to businesses. Obvious things to do would be encouraging driving at non-peak hours, carpooling and greater use of public transportation. Also, since Santa Monica Boulevard is bordered by Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and yet runs through all three cities, I believe a joint venture study by all three cities should be taken to work on the problem.
Reducing traffic congestion and all of its related problems will require tough and sometimes unpopular decisions from government (City Council) to the individual driver.
On the westbound lanes of Santa Monica during rush hour the city might study eliminating the parking lane from 4 to 7 p.m. and opening up that lane to improve traffic flow. On the stretch from Doheny to La Cienega the right lane westbound would be a right turn lane for La Cienega, (at least past Westmount) , and on the westbound lanes from La Cienega to Fairfax we can consider the same thing, utilizing the parking lane for right hand turns at Crescent Height and Fairfax. On the eastbound lanes of Santa Monica, which are busiest during rush hour, we can consider the same removal of the parking lane from 7 to 9 a.m. to allow three lanes to flow traffic.
Our city has never responded appropriately to the parking, traffic and circulation problems that have been created over the past 30 years. For too many years the excuse has been that traffic is a regional problem that West Hollywood had no control over, while bigger and bigger developments were approved year after year. We need to do more than just attempt to mitigate traffic problems on a case-by-case basis.
From the day I was elected in 2011 I have been working on the traffic and circulation problem with residents and my colleagues and have voiced my concerns about oversized development and voted against those projects that I believed were too big with too much traffic and will continue to do so. In the past four years, I have brought forward the PickUp line, worked on a bike share program, added more bike lanes and sharrows (bike lane markings on the streets) and added more on- and off-street parking spots. I voted for REDUCING, not increasing, parking rates and meter times. In 2013, I attempted—along with John Duran—to bring a fresh approach to circulation in the city. (https://wehoville.com/2013/11/14/john-duran-joins-john-damicos-call-weho-traffic-control-officers) That proposal received wide support from business and community members. Unfortunately, the other council members decided against an investment in improved circulation and voted instead to form a sub-committee. For me, this is another worrisome example of the old guard’s lack of understanding of how to fashion West Hollywood as a 21st Century city. It is my hope that with fresh faces on the council we can make the changes necessary to get the traffic moving again.
And we need to continue to work with the MTA and the new County Supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, to move forward on the Westside transit study and the final decision-making process that will bring fixed rail transit options to West Hollywood and connect the city to the regional rail system. I worked with the other Westside city mayors to elect as Mayor James Butts of Inglewood to the MTA Board, and he is committed to help us pursue this goal.
I am very concerned about the mega development proposal that has been floated for the MTA lot at San Vicente and Santa Monica (https://wehoville.com/2013/02/01/cohen-brothers-mta-reach-exclusive-agreement-for-proposed-mega-complex-at-weho-depot/) and the proposed development just outside our city borders at Crescent Heights and Sunset (https://wehoville.com/2015/01/06/study-projects-traffic-impact-fountain-avenue-8150-sunset-project/). Developments like these have the potential to exact great harm on this part of the L.A. Basin and West Hollywood specifically. A development as large as these should not be considered until mass transit reaches the area, and West Hollywood should do all it can to fight the approval of these developments in their current incarnations. And developments like these should be brought to the voters for approval not simply presented to the council members for an up or down vote.
Given where we are today, once the new council is seated, we need to work to improve multi-modal circulation. Some next steps include:
• Putting traffic officers in place at rush hour,
• Implementing ALL of the mitigations in every EXISTING development agreement now – no need to wait until the construction is complete,
• Getting our Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program up and running again,
• Adopting the multi-city bike share program,
• Extending the PickUp line to La Brea (and perhaps the Redline stop at Highland), and finally,
• Synchronizing the stoplights across the city during peak hours to improve traffic flow.
I have been relentless in the pursuit of solutions and now is the time to elect a full slate of folks who also are committed to improving parking, traffic and circulation.
While we need to increase incentives to use public and alternative transportation in West Hollywood, we also should be collaborating with our neighbor cities to help engage in these efforts to improve traffic flow along main streets like Santa Monica Boulevard. I would propose lobbying the MTA for broader public transit in the greater Los Angeles area. Additionally, I would support conducting a broader traffic study that incorporates the city of Los Angeles along with West Hollywood and using those results as a template for further traffic mitigation measures.
We should always look at how we can improve traffic flow by better synchronizing lights, but we will not be able to significantly improve traffic until we have more transit options for people.
We must invest in regional traffic solutions. I want to explore bringing Metrorail to West Hollywood. I’m a strong supporter of improving our mass transit options in West Hollywood, and I was the only West Hollywood representative at the groundbreaking of the Purple Line extension. I am disappointed that we were not successful in bringing an extension to West Hollywood in the past, but we were successful in ensuring that the MTA will fund a study of various routes through West Hollywood for future projects.
I know this is how the Gold Line extension got started, and I am willing to do the work necessary to see this process through. Our residents and visitors deserve nothing less than a steadfast commitment to better, affordable public transit, and that includes developing better regional relationships to keep us at the table. Until we see that extension come to West Hollywood, we need to explore opportunities to connect our city to the line that will be developed. Perhaps a shuttling system or a bike share operation can connect people who live, work and play in West Hollywood to the subway. I am currently working on regional efforts for biking and shared ride services. As a City Council member, I protected the DASH line from budget cuts. As a Transportation Commissioner, I increased the taxi coupon program and worked to create a new bus stop on Santa Monica Boulevard for the popular 704 line.
JAMES “DUKE” MASON
There are several major steps that we can take to make a difference on this issue that is of critical importance to the community. First, we can make public transportation more accessible so that our residents rely much less on driving their own individual vehicles around the city, especially when going to and from work. Second, we can, as mentioned below, make it more difficult for pass-through commuting which is the main factor responsible for rush hour traffic. Third, we can hook up our stoplights and cross walks to the regional SignalSync system, which not only makes sense in terms of protecting our citizens from pedestrian accidents but also will improve the efficiency of traffic flow. This is a step that the city of Los Angeles has already taken with great success. Fourth, we can be prudent in ensuring that every development approved is one that doesn’t contribute to the traffic issue in its surrounding area. Too often we approve developments without fully appreciating the impact they will have in that regard. I also will appoint smart individuals with strong expertise to the Planning and Transportation commissions and ensure before putting a firm plan in place that we, as a city, listen to the ideas and proposals of the people of West Hollywood.
This is an issue that has persisted for many years now because of the scope and severity of the problem, and the City Council alone will not be able to solve it. It will take an effort on the part of the community, but I have no doubt that we can do it.
— Adopt innovative traffic management solutions such as synchronizing traffic lights on our major corridors: Santa Monica, Sunset and Beverly. When the city of Los Angeles (SignalSync) did it, they reduced trip times by ten to 15 percent.
— We need to be smarter about development. “No feasible mitigation” is not an acceptable response to our residents’ concerns about traffic impacts. The city and developers need to come up with meaningful traffic mitigations. Otherwise, the project should not be approved as proposed.
The main problem facing West Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevard is there are simply too many cars. We need to make our crosswalks safe so people will feel confident in choosing to walk when it is convenient.
We need to improve bike lanes so they are safe. The city of Santa Monica has approved an initiative called CycleHop which allows people to pick up bikes with GPS systems on them and return them to stations throughout the city after use. This is a fantastic idea, and I would propose copying it immediately.
On a much larger scale we need to work towards a light rail system that goes from downtown to the beach. The City of Beverly Hills historically has been dead set against this, mostly because of the xenophobic and racist sentiments of certain organizations. We need to exert pressure on them to start to allow the process to unfold for the benefit of The People. Every other advanced society in the world uses high speed rail. It’s time for us to catch up.
Another issue is parking. Studies have shown that up to 30 percent of cars on the street during rush hour are driving around looking for parking spaces. I don’t think it is that high in this instance, but think about how much a car in the process of parking slows up traffic. It blocks off a lane. People have to go around. They get angry. It’s a nightmare.
I’m developing a Shared Parking Program which would give incentives to businesses who pool their parking lots. Meaning, if you have a bar and you open at 5 p.m., allow the hair salon next door to use your lot until you open. When they close at 5 p.m. your customers can park in their lot. It is frustrating to see so many unused parking spaces. Using them would reduce traffic. Valet service needs to be curbed as well. All they are doing is charging us for parking our cars in the spaces that would be available if valet wasn’t there. It is necessary for a few businesses, but not too many.
Police should not be pulling people over for innocuous traffic violations during rush hour, or really ever for that matter. I constantly see them issuing frivolous tickets on major thoroughfares like Santa Monica Boulevard, trying to fill their quotas. They need to be told to stop doing this.
Given our geographic location, traffic will unfortunately always be an issue, but I feel there are ways we can improve commuter traffic flow by synchronizing traffic lights, and introducing traffic officers at busy intersections like the city of Los Angeles, which was able to reduce commute times by as much as 20 percent. I don’t think making commuting through West Hollywood more difficult will benefit anyone. In fact, it will likely force more commuters on to nearby residential streets.
Ultimately, West Hollywood needs to focus on its “walkability,” for if everything is within walking distance or a short bike ride, one will likely leave his or her car at home. Alternative modes of transportation are essential. West Hollywood’s PickUp Line is a perfect example of how the city can change habits if it can continue to introduce efficient, easy to use and attractive public transportation options, including alternatives like a bike share program. Introducing a city bike share program with protected bike lanes has proven to reduce congestion, and in some cities such as New York City, it has actually helped speed up car traffic.
Finally, if West Hollywood can make parking more accessible, both by introducing more spaces and by communicating where available parking is with apps and clear signage, there would be less traffic from motorists looking to find parking. Between 8 percent and 74 percent of traffic in congested downtown areas is caused by people cruising for parking.
b) Should the city make pass-through commuting more difficult in West Hollywood instead of easier, forcing commuters to use Wilshire or Beverly boulevards instead of Santa Monica Boulevard, our Main Street?
I do not think making pass-through more difficult for commuters is the answer since businesses would be affected through loss of revenue and the enforcement I believe would be difficult.
We can encourage commuters to use Wilshire or Beverly in a few different ways going eastbound. One idea might include a right turn at Robertson or San Vicente pushing cars southbound. That would create a forced use of Beverly Boulevard for eastbound drivers from the Beverly Hills direction. On westbound traffic this question is harder to answer. The only answer I can come up with is to not allow cars coming south from Sunset or Hollywood to make a right or left on Santa Monica Boulevard at Fairfax or Crescent Heights, thus pushing the mid city congestion southbound. Please note these ideas are food for thought and not proposals.
Pass-through commuting is a substantial part of the traffic problem, but forcing commuters to use Wilshire or Beverly boulevards instead of Santa Monica is unlikely to be effective or provide much relief to our traffic woes. The majority of the trips in West Hollywood are generated by our residents and local businesses.
There have been many studies that show cut-through traffic accounts for a good portion of our daily traffic counts during rush hours. However, as much as eight to ten times as many trips are generated by residents and local business employees going to work and running errands every day along with people who come to West Hollywood to shop and play. Ours is a very busy city, and it is getting busier. Here is a link to the City of West Hollywood General Plan -Traffic and circulation Background Report: http://www.weho.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=1119.
Our future requires that we shift the jobs/housing balance and implement as many circulation improvements as possible as well as improve the walkable/bikeable options for the city. This will make a difference in how we keep traffic problems from increasing and circulation moving.
Because Santa Monica is so heavily congested, even in comparison to Wilshire or Beverly Boulevard, any and all traffic calming measures should be implemented. While we would still need to study what would be the most effective long-term solution, diverting traffic to other main arteries would be a cost-effective way to lighten commuter traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Making it more difficult to commute through West Hollywood will impact residents as well as pass-through commuters. Portions of Beverly Boulevard are in West Hollywood, and many West Hollywood residents use Wilshire Boulevard to get to work. We need to work with our neighbors to improve east-west and north-south traffic on all of the streets of the Westside. We also need to bring subway or light-rail service to the West Hollywood area.
JAMES “DUKE” MASON
I believe that there are a series of tough decisions that have to be made on this issue, and I believe that this is one of them. There are no simple or easy answers on the question of how to alleviate traffic, but I agree that restricting the amount of pass-through commuting is a necessary step that we must take.
The problem with making “pass-through” commuting in West Hollywood more difficult is that it doesn’t move traffic onto Wilshire or Beverly, it moves it into the neighborhoods. With all of the construction on Sunset, traffic has moved to Fountain and Cynthia. Congestion on Melrose has forced traffic onto Rosewood.
Instead of dealing with the reasons for the congestion, the city has tried “band aids,” however, band aids don’t work long-term.
Traffic is a regional problem and requires a regional effort to solve. West Hollywood was founded as a transit hub at the Sherman rail yards, but is underserved compared to other parts of the region. Locally, I will work to create a Cityline connection to the Red Line subway in Hollywood and expand the days of operation of our PickUp entertainment shuttle. Regionally, I will advocate inclusion of West Hollywood in Metro’s long-term plans for a “Pink Line” connecting Hollywood to the Subway to the Sea.
Of course, we do have the ability to control some traffic within our city by controlling development within our city limits. If our current City Council majority encouraged “by-right” projects rather than over-the-top projects requiring text amendments to our General Plan and/or “overriding consideration,” we would see fewer “trips” in our environmental impact reports, and therefore, less traffic.
I believe in freedom of movement. If we make it more difficult for the general public to get around, it will just be more difficult for us down the road. It’s basic cause and effect. I don’t see how a law like this would be applied without inconveniencing the residents of our city as well. There is inevitably going to be some traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. It comes with living in a community that is central to outlying areas and is a destination for visitors. A law like this would just put more traffic cops on Santa Monica who would start writing us tickets because our window tints are too dark or our tags expired yesterday. Bad idea in my opinion.
c) What can the city do to address the problem of commuters driving through residential streets to avoid congestion on the city’s east/west thoroughfares?
I believe the solution to the problem of commuters racing through residential streets is to institute turn prohibition and semi auto restricted zones.
Traffic calming in our residential neighborhoods can be accomplished in various ways. One of the first traffic calming measures I would adopt on heavily congested residential streets is a policy similar to the Spaulding Square…(off sunset just east of Fairfax).. . In that area only residential vehicles are allowed to travel thought those neighborhoods at certain hours. The hours for ‘passing thru’ are restricted. We can adopt similar ‘restricted hours’ for our most heavily congested residential zones.
In addition the city can adopt additional traffic calming measures, adding speed bumps, creating traffic circles that teach cars that its easier to stay on the main road instead of rushing through side streets. We can also put speed limits on the side streets and enforce them so that drivers are forced to slow down when traveling on a side street.
By combining the above approaches, and possibly entertaining the concept of the ‘3rd’ lane on Santa Monica cars wishing to ‘turn’ will be discouraged from the use of side streets.
In all cases enforcing speed limits reinforces our ‘pedestrian safe zone’ standards.
This is a serious problem that can be improved with restrictive signage prohibiting residential cut-through and improved main east/west thoroughfare circulation. The circulation intervention items listed above will improve main street traffic flow if we implement them. There are currently several neighborhood traffic studies underway looking at exactly this problem of cut through traffic. Once completed the city can put neighborhood-serving traffic and roadway measures in place (like round-abouts and traffic direction signage) to make cut through traffic patterns less appealing to cross town commuters.
According to this LA Times story, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-california-commute-20150106-story.html SMARTphone Apps, such as Google Maps and Waze are being blamed for sending reckless drivers spilling onto quiet streets – we have seen that happen here in West Hollywood.
There is plenty more work and neighborhood outreach to do to address this growing problem.
As always I am interested in your ideas; give me a call/text 310.498.5783 or email me at email@example.com. Talk soon, John
In contrast to the diversion of traffic from Santa Monica to other main traffic arteries, our residential streets are simply not designed to handle the amount of traffic which commuters and those using them as a pass-throughs have placed on them. Because this so adversely affects our residents, I believe that it is incumbent upon the Council decrease the number of cars using these small residential streets. In the past, the City of West Hollywood has used to traffic calming/diverting measures with great success, and it is an approach that I would support as your City Councilmember.
We have implemented traffic-calming measures on some residential streets. Some of those measures have been successful in reducing congestion on neighborhood streets. We have to be careful, however, that a measure designed to reduce traffic on one residential street doesn’t end up pushing it onto the next residential street.
We must control development in the City, but we must also realize that doing so won’t be the solution to all of our traffic problems. To prevent commuters from driving through residential streets, there are a variety of options including:
limiting arterial access from residential streets, as with the intersection at Hancock & Santa Monica Blvd., which does not allow a lefthand turn from the southbound lane on Hancock.
installing traffic-calming devices that slow down traffic, which discourages use of residential streets as a faster cut-through option.
increased enforcement of penalties at no left turn signals.
I think the most important option is creating viable, accessible alternate modes of transportation.
JAMES “DUKE” MASON
I think we’ve done a pretty good job thus far in terms of alleviating this particular problem, though there is no question we can do more. We must discourage commuters from using our major thoroughfares as well as our residential streets; we must discourage them from using our city at all as a way of passing through to where they live. We are a city, not a freeway, and the quality of life for our citizens is the top priority. I would work with neighboring local governments to encourage their citizens, as well as our own, to use public transportation more often, which would definitely help alleviate the amount of traffic. We must expand some of the public transportation options available, and maybe even collaborate on a larger public transportation system that crosses over several cities, and encourage as many commuters as possible to use that instead of driving their own cars. Using public transportation is a way of life that must people are not used to yet, and we must work to ingratiate it as much as possible into our culture. That, I believe, will ultimately be the best solution to the traffic problems that we face as a city and a region.
If traffic on our commercial corridors flowed better, we would not have as many problems with cut-thru traffic in our residential neighborhoods. We’ve seen this very recently with all of the construction on Sunset, La Cienega and Melrose, forcing vehicles into our residential neighborhoods.
So, our first goal should be to get traffic moving on our commercial corridors, as mentioned above. With regard to our residential neighborhoods, there are ways to discourage some cut-thru traffic. Many of our residential streets are narrow — we should consider the possibility of one-way streets. In addition, some of our back alleys are currently being used as speedways — these should also be one way, with alternating directions each block (as is done in Beverly Hills), to prevent cars from using them to get from one commercial street to another. Traffic calming measures can also be a helpful tool to slow down traffic in our residential neighborhoods – and we should be proactive in evaluating all of our neighborhoods traffic calming needs as part of a larger solution.
I have spoken to several residents who see this as a problem. I live on Hayworth and I see cars barreling through at 50 or 60 miles per hour on a regular basis. It irritates me greatly.
That being said, when I drive across town I often use residential streets as shortcuts, although I drive prudently. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t if it meant not sitting in traffic.
I don’t see a problem with cars driving on any given street. That’s what the street is for. We live in a city, not a gated community.
I used to live in Los Angeles near the Hollywood Bowl, and people would often drive through the hills to find concert parking. This led to a few cops being stationed at the bottom of my hill and asking me to prove I lived on my own street when I drove to my house.
I’d like to avoid that situation.
That being said, at a point the traffic becomes dangerous, and that’s when we need to take action. Certain streets are more prone to abuse than others.
The only solution I can see is sending out questionnaires to residents on a street by street, block by block basis which asks:
*Do you want speed bumps on your street?
If a majority answers yes, they should be installed. Residents will have to balance their safety concerns with concerns of their own convenience. If there are speed bumps on your street, you’re going to be driving on them too. We can’t have it both ways and complain about traffic on Santa Monica Blvd AND people using our streets as thoroughfares.
I am not one to pander. Through traffic experts and questionnaires we can find the proper medium.
I have been alerted that delivery trucks to local businesses have been using side streets, and that is a problem. Residential streets are not built for large trucks, and they should be forced to use the major thoroughfares out of concern for our safety, and for the benefit of our roads.
This should be a policy and we should alert our businesses as to the problem, because many probably aren’t even aware.
In closing, the best way to alleviate traffic is to look for alternatives to driving. By making cross-walks safer, by advocating for smarter public transportation options, and encouraging cycling, including through programs such as CycleHop, we can quell the congestion.