A year ago, on March 29, 2007, the suggestion of a one-way plan for Pico and Olympic Boulevards made me think of some of the more massive protests I've covered as a journalist. This was bound to get ugly. People wouldn't sit this one out.
But, yesterday's news suggests otherwise, with traffic signals already being re-timed to favor eastbound traffic on Pico and westbound on Olympic. They're some of the first steps of the turnaround, which has since morphed into a mostly one-way plan for each boulevard, as described by the Los Angeles Times:
Traffic signals would be timed to favor faster eastbound traffic on Pico and westbound traffic on Olympic by April 28. After six months to a year, the two streets probably would be restriped so that Pico would have four lanes going east and two going west, while Olympic would have four lanes going west and two going east, a spokesman for the mayor said Thursday.
When I wrote last year that "I expect all of Los Angeles will wholeheartedly agree," I intended it as sarcasm.
I expected people would see that the cost of such a change would be greater than the price of paint and signal changes, that it would be paid by more than just the City of Los Angeles. But then again, maybe that's OK with people if the result is traffic relief.
If the plan proceeds, it will be interesting to see a final dollar figure on what it costs to reconfigure the actual left-turn signal apparatuses now positioned above the middle of both boulevards. And, of course, re-timing could mean lost revenue from those photo-cop devices, since fewer signal cycles could theoretically result in fewer last-minute left turns* against opposing lanes of traffic, depending on how the engineers accomplish the goal of favoring one direction. That's not necessarily a bad thing from the motorist's perspective, but in tight budget years like this any revenue loss means pain for someone. (I think a couple of those devices are on the portion of Olympic that travels through the city of Beverly Hills.)
Part of the difficulty in figuring the cost of changing these boulevards is going to involve figuring out who pays in dollars, and who pays in shoe leather.
Assuming buses will likely choose to go with the flow (rather than slog through a traffic-choked two-lane on the return trip), the riders of LA's MTA, Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus and the Culver City Bus will surely be inconvenienced when all westbound routes are switched to Olympic and all eastbound to Pico. Of particular concern should be physically handicapped persons, who will be forced to navigate (sans public transit) the sometimes-considerable distance between boulevards to go back from whence they came.
I assume bus lines will pay when they redraw routes and schedules, repost that information at bus stops, then reprint fliers and redistribute them to riders. Same goes for school districts that operate buses.
It seems a certain cost will be paid in the form of wasted effort and materials, too. Again, assuming transit officials decide to direct buses to go with the faster flow, there will be no need for half of the bus stop shelters that were installed in the past few years on both sides of both streets.
And what about firefighters and police? Won't emergency response routes written into policies and plans need to be reconsidered? Wouldn't "mostly" one-way streets change response time for some residences? After the change, a building now in Fire Station A's jurisdiction might be better served by Fire Station B, wouldn't it? Someone's going to pay for a study to determine that, right?
Perhaps the only smile the proposal can be expected to produce for people on both sides is its effect on many of the billboards on both boulevards, but only because no one I've ever met has expressed affection for a billboard. As I said last year, some signs will end up facing "mostly" the backs of motorists once the plan is implemented. Although, who knows, maybe there is a product out there looking to connect with the demographic that looks up and back when driving.
* HOW MIGHT LEFT TURNS BE REDUCED: I've written about traffic issues many times during the past 15 years, and was often told by planners and engineers that traffic snarls are created any number of ways, but that one of the primary causes is the left-hand turn. So, if you increase the left-turn time for one side of the street and not the other, you should improve the flow on only the favored side.
Another way to achieve favor would be to eliminate, or restrict, left-hand turns for vehicles traveling in the unfavorable direction, which, I would guess, engineers might consider for both Pico and Olympic. The back-up that could result in the absence of elimination or restriction isn't hard to imagine, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? A disincentive to use one street emphasizes the incentive to use the other.
But in some situations, no matter what you do, it seems the problem will be moved rather than solved.
For example, westbound Pico Blvd to southbound Overland Ave is the most direct route to the Santa Monica Freeway for office workers in Century City. At present, the completion of a left-hand turn at rush hour from westbound Pico to southbound Overland often requires enough time and patience to sit through a couple signal cycles. But if Pico is pinched down to two westbound lanes, yet provides no additional time for left-hand turns, the back-up can only get worse, and would likely spill out of the turn lane, blocking the flow of one of the two westbound lanes.
Eliminate the left turn on Pico and drivers would surely choose westbound Olympic to access southbound Overland in order to reach the freeway. Do nothing, and many drivers are likely to do the same thing if only because LA drivers are conditioned to seek faster routes. Under either scenario, the result will be another nightmarish snarl when all those freeway-bound drivers on westbound Olympic join freeway-bound drivers from Santa Monica Blvd on "Little Overland," which runs bumper-to-bumper between Santa Monica and Pico boulevards. They call this portion of Overland "Little Overland" because it's a slim residential street with one lane running in each direction, plus the added pressure of a public grade school and no fewer than three stop signs along the way.
From there, it's not unreasonable to assume that a few dozen rat runners will spill onto nearby residential streets and gum those up too.
That's just one example.
Of course, I'm not a traffic engineer. I just drive.