Prepared by BOCA Neighborhood Association for its members

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When will the California Incline be closed?

Officials say it will be within the next 4-6 weeks, in early to mid March.

Who is closing the Incline?

The City of Santa of Monica.

Why?

The Incline, which is a kind of sloped bridge, is not structurally sound and must be completely replaced. 

How is it being funded?

Nearly 90% of the funding is from the Federal government.

How long will the Incline be closed?

12-14 months. That means probably from mid-March 2015 to mid-March, -April, or -May 2016.

Is there information available online about the closure?

Yes, the City of Santa Monica has a comprehensive website devoted to the project:

http://www.smgov.net/bebp/project.aspx?id=26686

Will there be an overlap with the current sewer project on PCH?

Yes. The sewer project ran into some snags, and is apparently a month behind, meaning it won't finish until the end of May, rather than the end of April. So there will be an overlap of 2 and half months: half of March, April and May.

Will that exacerbate traffic congestion in the Canyon?

Most likely yes.

When is are traffic impacts likely to be the worst?

The first months of most construction projects are usually the worst, as people become aware and try to adjust. March, April and May are therefore likely to be very bad. Once the sewer project finishes and all lanes re-open on PCH in June, there could be some relief during the week, helped by the fact the schools will be closing. But as we saw with the sewer project a year ago, things got worse once summer arrived, especially on warm weekends. So there are likely to be impacts through the summer. And August and September will likely create new problems as schools re-open. So there are likely to be serious impacts for at least 6 months, though they may not be constant.

Will there be a reduction in traffic impacts over the course of the project?

The sewer project, which also began in the spring, may provide some clues. There was noticeable improvement beginning around October, as tourism dropped off, the weather cooled, and drivers learned to change their schedules, find alternate routes, or reduce trips. We can hope that the second six months of the closure, from October through March / April, will be better than the first six months.

What are the predicted impacts on the Canyon?

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) detailed the existing traffic congestion at all impacted intersections in Santa Monica and the Canyon. The worst intersection of all was at PCH / Chautauqua. The report offers no solace,  saying that with the Incline closed, many hundreds, if not thousands, of additional cars per day will try to get to northbound PCH through the Canyon. The report concludes that this is unavoidable, and only offers the bleak prospect that "saturation", i.e. repeated experiences of gridlock, will eventually convince some drivers to avoid the Canyon.

Are public officials working on this? 

Though the project is located in Santa Monica, its impacts will be felt regionally, including the City of LA (Brentwood, SM Canyon, the Palisades). Officials from Santa Monica, and Los Angeles have been coordinating the planning for the closure. Councilman Mike Bonin's office has been deeply involved in in representing the concerns of the Canyon. LADOT (Department of Transportation) has been very involved in looking for solutions and mitigations. Santa Monica officials, including the project managers and engineers, have been very cooperative.

Have citizens had a voice in the preparations?

Yes. The Palisades and Santa Monica Canyon communities have been tracking and commenting on the project for many years since it was first proposed. This includes the Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC), the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association (SMCCA), and Boca Neighborhood Association (BOCA). Last November, under the auspices of the Council office, a Canyon Traffic Working Group was formed, with representatives of all three community organizations meeting regularly with the Council office, LADOT, and Santa Monica officials. Three weeks ago, the group met with the contractor, Caltrop, and established lines of communication which should be helpful during the course of construction.

What are officials doing to avoid the worst traffic impacts in the Canyon?

The primary tool for managing traffic will be signs, of two kinds. The first type are large, electronic, changeable message signs. Some will be located on Pacific Coast Highway to direct drivers to the designated detour routes. Others will be on the 101 Freeway at Kanan Dune Rd., Malibu Canyon Rd., and Topanga Canyon Rd. as a means to deter discretionary cross-mountain traffic from coming over to take PCH. The second type are numerous fixed message signs which will be installed at intersections all around Santa Monica and in the Canyon, directing drivers to the designated detour routes and discouraging cut-through use of local streets. Santa Monica officials have pledged to do what they can to minimize the amount of traffic cutting through the Canyon.

What is the detour route?

The whole signage system is designed to get drivers to use Moomat Ahiko (the PCH on-ramp next to the Lobster Restaurant), as well as 7th and Lincoln, in order to access northbound PCH. Officials hope that most drivers will use this route, rather than going through the Canyon. They say that PCH traffic should flow even better than normal, at least in the area of the Incline, because during the closure the light there will almost always be green (except for occasional access to the Jonathan Club).

But if a driver is already north of Moomat Ahiko -- say on Wilshire or Montana -- and wants to go north on PCH, it is counter-intuitive to drive south to Moomat Ahiko. Officials nonetheless hope that drivers will eventually learn that this is a better route to northbound PCH than getting stuck in traffic in the Canyon trying to access PCH via West Channel.

Will the overall traffic situation be monitored?

Yes, officials will be monitoring traffic in real time, and the community has been told there will be a 24-hour telephone line to receive calls with complaints or reports. City officials and the contractor will be prepared to respond to situations, to alter signs or traffic signal timing, to dispatch police or emergency vehicles, or other measures to adjust to the situation as it unfolds. Officials will be taking traffic counts before and after closure as another means of monitoring. SMCCA, BOCA, and PPCC will also be closely monitoring, and conveying citizen and community reports and feedback to officials.

What have Canyon representatives requested?

SMCCA, BOCA, and PPCC have made a series of recommendations, most of which have been adapted by officials. These include repainting and striping the roadway markings in the Canyon, which have worn off; restoring and upgrading traffic and speed limit signs in the Canyon; adding "Do Not Block" pavement markings at key intersections.

Additionally, the groups requested a uniformed traffic officer every morning and afternoon on Entrada in front of Canyon School  for the duration of the project. Santa Monica officials agreed to pay for this out of project mitigation funds. Arrangements are now being worked out.

Finally, the groups requested increased police presence in LAPD patrol cars and motorcycles, and even Santa Monica Police, who cannot write tickets in L.A. but whose presence should help encourage lawful and prudent driving. Both LA and SM officials said they would seek to implement this.

Are there any changes in traffic flow?

Yes. All three organizations supported, and LADOT and the Council office agreed, to prohibit all left turns from Ocean Avenue extension onto the half-mile Mabery Road / Ocean Way loop during the period of the Incline's closure. Along with the no-left turn signs, there will be a no u-turn sign, and a temporary barrier to deter illegal turning. LADOT plans to have this in place just prior to the closure. LAPD will be able to enforce the restriction. BOCA members will monitor compliance.

Is this permanent?

No. Legal left turns will be restored when the Incline is reopened.

Why is the restriction being implemented?

The sewer construction has shown that, abetted by apps like Waze, hundreds of drivers per day were using this loop as a cut-through, often at high speed, to northbound PCH, in order to avoid the section with the lane closures. The loop is narrow, has many blind turns, over 60 driveways, and is a heavily used pedestrian and bicycle route. Conditions had become dangerous, with numerous minor collisions and threats to pedestrian and bicycle safety, as well as risks of emergency vehicles being unable to access the loop. A full explanatory slideshow is available online at www.bocaneighbors.com/traffic.

Won't this be inconvenient?

For many trips and at times when congestion is low, residents of the loop should not experience delays. However, at times of congestion there may be some delays for those approaching downhill on Ocean Avenue Extension. A map has been developed showing alternate routes onto the loop. Resident have supported the restriction in petitions and community forums as a necessary temporary protection against dangerous traffic conditions. The overriding benefit of the left-turn restriction is that despite the predicted traffic congestion from the Incline closure, the Mabery / Ocean Way loop will provide a safe street environment for residents and for the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who will use the street during the closure to access the beach and Santa Monica. 

Could left turns have been restricted at rush hour only?

This was the community's initial request. But the sewer project provided ample evidence that this would provide inadequate safety protection. Community members who documented the situation with photographs and and many hours of observation and video concluded that drivers, facing long delays from the Incline closure, would ignore the restriction and continue to make dangerous high-speed turns, often into oncoming traffic; further, that congestion would not be limited to rush hour; and finally, that a part-time restriction would do nothing to provide protection from diverted beach traffic during weekends or during off-hour accidents on PCH. City officials agreed with this assessment and granted the full-time restriction.

What happens at the Ocean Avenue Extension / Mabery Road intersection after the incline reopens?

The intersection will be reconfigured to make it much safer for pedestrians and cyclists, by necking down the opening to create a shorter crossing distance. The intersection will have a marked crosswalk for the first time. Renderings are posted at www.bocaneighbors.com/traffic.

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Posted
AuthorDoug Suisman