New School Year Brings Gridlock To Santa Monica

Tuesday, 6 Sep 2011, 1:42:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

The Corsairs are back in school, and that means the community immediately surrounding Santa Monica College (SMC) will be inundated with pedestrians. Coincidentally, John Adams Middle School (JAMS) and Will Rogers Elementary School also started classes last week.

In light of the 2011-12 school year with three institutions within a few blocks returning at the same time, the Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) spent some time observing pedestrian and vehicular traffic during peak hours, all in the name of promoting safety.

One key concern was the high volume of student pedestrians at the corner of Pearl and 20th Street, where FOSP members spent the first two mornings of classes this week to observe foot traffic and street crossings. The intersection is home to SMC on one side and JAMS on the other, meaning college and middle school students frequent the area during morning hours.

According to Zina Josephs of FOSP, Pearl Street has more than 4,000 vehicle trips per day, while 20th Street (north of Pico Boulevard) has more than 25,000 daily vehicular trips.

Just the same, Josephs cited as many as 130 students could cross the intersection of Pearl and 20th Street, which is one block east of both SMC and JAMS. The 130-student count was the official total FOSP reported when the group requested the Santa Monica Police Dept. (SMDP) to assign a crossing guard there.

“The basic problem is caused by the huge enrollment at SMC,” Josephs said. “No matter how many SMC students take classes online or ride the bus or bike or walk, if the enrollment keeps growing, the traffic congestion in our residential neighborhood, and resulting danger for SMMUSD student pedestrians, will also keep growing.”

Even more, Josephs added, the residential intersection is likely the only one within Santa Monica to service four bus lines.

“We’ve been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get SMC and BBB to move some of the college-serving routes onto arterials such as Pico and Ocean Park Boulevard and away from this intersection,” Josephs wrote in an email.

The observations took place just before 8 a.m. on Aug. 29 and 30, as many SMC classes begin at that time. SMC staff also arrive on campus before and around 8 a.m. The daily bell for first classes at JAMS and Will Rogers is at 8:20 a.m., meaning a large number of elementary and middle school students are either walking, bicycling, or commuting to their respective campuses with their parents at about the same time SMC students and staff arrive at the college.

In addition, Josephs observed the intersection of Pearl and 17th Street, adding that FOSP College Committee Chair Regula Ziegler observed Pearl and 16th Street on Aug. 30 and remarked “It’s also a difficult intersection.”

“SMC students who’ve driven west on Pearl without finding a place to park get desperate, and children from the elementary and middle school both cross the street there,” Ziegler said.

Josephs added that while the efforts by SMC and city officials to address traffic issues as JAMS, Will Rogers, and the college at the beginning of the new academic year are noble, more can be done to develop long-term solutions.

“No matter how much effort and cooperation there is between the college and the city during the first few weeks of the semester, this traffic congestion is an ongoing problem caused by the college administration’s determination to keep growing the enrollment,” she said. “And it affects the quality of life for residents who live in this area.”

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