Opinion: The Best Way to Reduce WeHo Traffic Congestion Is to Increase It

weho traffic congestion, west hollywood traffic
Traffic congestion. The possibility of it worsening is a major objection raised by WEHOville readers to proposed new residential and commercial developments in West Hollywood. Traffic congestion also has been a minor undercurrent of concern in the debate over improving pedestrian safety in the crosswalks on Santa Monica Boulevard. It’s a subject that the City Council has tackled, with Mayor John D’Amico and Councilmember John Duran making an unsuccessful appeal in February for the Council to authorize traffic officers at major Santa Monica intersections during rush hour to speed traffic flow.

With nearly 1,500 new housing units and more than half a million square feet of retail space likely to open in and near West Hollywood in the next two years, there’s no question that WeHo will be home to more cars. But what if the solution to West Hollywood’s traffic problem isn’t reducing traffic congestion but increasing it?

In a sense that’s what the city did in 2001 when it embarked on a two-year plan to remake Santa Monica Boulevard, its major traffic artery and a thoroughfare for commuters moving from east of West Hollywood to communities on the Westside.

That $34 million project had a goal of making Santa Monica Boulevard function as a “central park” as well as a boulevard. It caused agita among some business owners and residents who said it would increase traffic congestion. A newly released edition of “Urban Design for an Urban Century” by Lance Jay Brown and David Dixon says that is exactly what the project did, and with a very positive result. (You can read an excerpt of Brown and Dixon’s story of Santa Monica Boulevard here.)

In their book, Brown and Dixon trace the evolution of the concept that public streets exist for more than moving vehicles. In 1971, they note, the Oregon state legislature passed a measure that required local governments to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians on new and renovated streets. Over the next three decades, they write, there was a growing movement across the country to make public streets accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit as well as cars.

“Most recently, the paradigm for urban streets has added a new dimension: support for community gatherings traditionally associated with urban squares or public parks,” they write. The authors cite Donald Appleyard, whose 1981 “Liveable Streets” “made the case that planning and designing streets to reduce traffic and invite more pedestrian activity significantly enhanced neighborhood livability and sense of community.”

The changes cited by Appleyard include reducing the width of streets, adding curbside parking and creating intersections with a greater emphasis on pedestrians than cars.

Brown and Dixon call out the redevelopment of West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard as a major step in the national movement to rethink the purpose of public streets. A part of the famed Route 66, the 2.8 mile stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Doheny Drive was dilapidated when the City of West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984. It was owned by the state, which ceded it to the city in 1999. That’s when the redevelopment project began, which involved removing abandoned train tracks in the median and burying utility lines.

Two years later, the Santa Monica Boulevard we know today was born, with 1,200 trees along its 38 blocks, public art installations, wider sidewalks, more sidewalk cafes and a ban on surface parking in front of new commercial buildings. And then there was the addition of pedestrian crosswalks in the middle of some longer blocks that called out West Hollywood’s goal of becoming a walkable urban village rather than just a spot on an East/West thoroughfare.

The city also implemented a rigorous cleaning and maintenance program and hasn’t been hesitant to shut down major parts of Santa Monica Boulevard for events such as the LA Pride parade and Halloween Carnaval.

Brown and Dixon note that West Hollywood was a trendsetter in what became known as the “complete streets” movement. They cite Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s decision to implement some of the same policies used in West Hollywood.

“In effect, the city declared a break with policies designed to maximize street capacity for motor vehicles, policies in place since the advent of widespread auto ownership in the late 1920s,” they write of Boston. “Henceforth, it would plan and redesign streets to improve their ability to fulfill multiple roles—only one of which would be carrying traffic.”

“Meanwhile, in 2009 the New York City Department of Transportation, led by Janette Sadik-Khan, took West Hollywood’s plan for a Santa Monica Boulevard a step further. Facing traffic congestion and pedestrian gridlock in Times Square. The city launched ‘Broadway Boulevard,’ an intervention that claimed varying portions of the traffic right-of-way exclusively for pedestrians and created a sort of linear park dotted with tables, umbrellas, chairs, food vendors, performers, temporary public art, bike lanes and other amenities.”

The result, according to a New York City study, was a 35 percent decline in injuries to pedestrians and an increase in bike ridership and pedestrian traffic, which benefitted local businesses.

West Hollywood should continue to be a trendsetter by making driving more difficult rather than easier, an admittedly contrarian notion for improving our quality of life.

Some will argue that we aren’t New York City or Boston, both of which have more public transportation resources. Others will argue that making it more difficult for cars to move along the city’s major East/West thoroughfares will hurt local business.

But consider that West Hollywood does have public transportation options such as the free CityLine and Metro buses. The problem is that few residents actually use them. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that only six percent of West Hollywood workers use the bus or city shuttle — the same low percentage as walk to work in WeHo, one of the most walkable cities in America. Seventy-one percent of us drive to work by ourselves, with many of us glued to our mobile phones while stuck in rush hour traffic.

Yes, a bus trip usually takes more time. The American Community Survey reports that the average bus trip for a West Hollywood resident is 51 minutes while the average driver gets to work in 30. That, of course, is why many cities create rush-hour bus lanes, making it faster for those who use public transit to get to work while simultaneously slowing down automobile traffic. That tactic has been proven to convince drivers to leave their cars at home and take the bus instead.

Consider also that it’s very rare to see bicyclists on WeHo’s streets (they’re a more common sight in New York City, where the car traffic is more dense.) Anecdotal evidence suggests that a major reason for the paucity of bicycles on WeHo streets is the lack of dedicated bicycle lanes. By getting really radical and reserving one eastbound and one westbound lane of Santa Monica Boulevard for buses and bicycles at rush hour, West Hollywood would make bike riding easier and driving more difficult.

The argument that making driving (and parking) more difficult will hurt local business also doesn’t have much standing. The bulk of traffic on West Hollywood’s East/West corridors is composed of drivers for whom our city is merely an obstacle on the way to someplace else. Let them drive their Range Rovers and other ridiculously large vehicles down Wilshire Boulevard. Making West Hollywood a really pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly urban village is certain to increase the number of people who visit us to eat, shop and play.


23 Comments
  1. Heck, why not take the idea even further to reduce congestion: block all roads entirely. This will completely eliminate congestion.
    Your welcome.

  2. Are many of you people blind? The 4 and the 704 are already at or near full capacity during some off peak times. During peak times, it is standing room only. People do use public transit in LA, believe it or not.

  3. It’s pretty simple — unless we put a freeway through weho, we will NEVER be able to create enough capacity for the traffic that wants to come through. If you improve traffic flow, you simply attract more traffic and you end up where you started, or worse. The most logical alternative is to design our streets for people originating or completing trips in WeHo and slow everyone else down so they go around us!

  4. This is an outstanding piece of writing. The city should serve its residents, not the interests of pass through commuters who add no value but make the streets congested and more dangerous by their presence – not to mention the cancer causing exhaust fumes and toxic car detritus/gasoline/oil pollution on our streets.

    City residents pay for the costs of this and get nothing in return.

    Pedestrians live locally and spend their money locally. They should be encouraged, not forced to run the distracted/drunk driver gauntlet.

    Great stuff

  5. Few people use the buses?

    Metro 4 and 704 are stuffed to capacity, especially at evening as people make their way through this very busy and atypical transportation corridor.

    I have ridden a local 4 standing up cramped like a sardine on a Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m.

  6. It was refreshing to see West Hollywood remake Santa Monica Boulevard into a street that works for the city, and not for the many non-resident commuters who use it as a through-way. Beverly Hills, which is slated to redo its section of Route 66, could take some lessons from this example.

    I wonder sometimes, as I pedal along the boulevard during rush hour, why more West Hollywood residents aren’t on their bicycles taking advantage of the unclogged lanes. If there are safety concerns, perhaps the city could take a cue from NYC and swap the positions of the parking and bicycle lanes, protecting cyclists from traffic.

  7. i wanted to remind everyone when the Centrum project (former Tower Records) 8801 Sunset Blvd. came before our city council twice it still had the same EIR and traffic study said that over 1200 vehicles would be coming and going from this location and over 550 u-turns would be made every day on Sunset Blvd right in front of this location and this was NOT the reason the project got turned down twice. One of the most important things we need to pay attention to is the First Responders all 911 emergency calls for patrol cars, fire engines and ambulances. If we can’t have the proper traffic flow and circulation then many lives will not be saved during an emergency.

  8. Wehoan Fed Up with the NIMBYs and Save WeHo have it right. The ideas discussed in this article are better suited for Melrose Ave. SMB is a California State Rourt (Cal. SR 2) and should not be commandeered by WeHo residents, of which I am. More traffic is hardly the answer. That said, did anybody drive into Century City, where I work, today when the San Vicente light was out? Leading up to the light, it was a nightmare. After the light – and the traffic cops – waived me through, it was smooth sailing – even through Beverly Hills. Perhaps the D’Amico/Duran idea should be revisited. Despite the hell I went through from Sweetzer to San Vicente, my commute was still 10 minutes shorter – because traffic was controlled, not unbridled.

  9. The real solution to traffic and lack of Metro riders in WeHo is to put a subway under Santa Monica Blvd connecting the Red Line at Vermont with the Purple line at Wilshire. The Purple line should have gone through West Hollywood. It was a travesty that the Brain Trust at Metro ignored one of the densest areas of Los Angeles in favor of Beverly Hills. We need to insist that this happens even if it requires the City of West Hollywood to do it on their own or force it by lawsuit. It is time to do this and not put it off for another 20 years or never.

  10. Shawn:

    Your argument against zoning makes no sense. Not because higher density won’t potentially increase traffic, but because how can you blame current traffic congestion on buildings that aren’t even occupied yet? So, yes, I deny that traffic congestion is coming from buildings that no one yet lives or works in. Even in your rant, you point out that these buildings are empty. Which argument do you stand by — that these buildings are causing traffic congestion or that they are empty? Since we know that they are empty, that leads us to the conclusion that most of our traffic is pass-through.

    Larry:

    Why would you spend millions of dollars to build a tram line that would go three miles, and not connect to anything else? Buses are much more practical for that use, and we already have several: LA County buses, the CityLine during the day and the PickUp on weekend nights (PickUp soon to be extended).

    And I don’t believe that the City made a bad decision to at the time to not plan a rail line on SM Blvd, if it wasn’t going to go everywhere else. I love weho to be a leader, but building a 3 mile rail line to sit and wait for decades for the rest of the county to connect to it doesn’t sound like a good idea. Could you imagine the howls and heckles of perpetual complainers if we had a “tram to nowhere” eyesore in the middle of our city?!?

  11. Great to hear these “discussions”! Once again,m the people above who stated that a rail line was the best thing to have placed in the middle or SMB are so right!!! I was totally disappointed and shocked to learn that it was not even considered!! Talk about screwing-up a huge opportunity! The folks-in-charge in WeHo should without further hesitation, get serious about building a tram line or light-rail line down SMB to La Brea North to Sunset to Doheny back to SMB. (THE CIRCLE SO TO SPEAK) Why has this not been done?!!@#$% It is totally ludricous. Folks, the traffic will never go away….get over it. We are in desperate need of muti-modes of quality transportation and yes, busses are not bad! Why can’t LA (WeHo) start thinking more like New York, San Fran, Paris and London? Hell, we have more people than all of them except for New York. Come on WeHo and LA!!!!!

  12. I love these ideas. I’ve been a resident in the eastern part of west Hollywood for ten years and have watched the recent building of apartment buildings around Santa Monica blvd and la brea with much worry- knowing that soon enough we will have an extra 500 cars at that intersection leaving to go to work at around the same time and returning at the same time with little action addressing the congestion that is about to be upon us. These ideas are radical but could work.

  13. ARE WE REALLY IN DENIAL OF WHERE THE TRAFFIC CONGESTION IS COMING FROM

    ITS SOURCE IS THE ZONING LAWS THAT WERE CHANGED BY
    LONG TERM CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS YEARS AGO

    Hank while I appreciate your views and what you cite I got a different view on all this id like to bring into the discussion. This is my opinion on it.
    And my opinion alone.
    But here It goes.

    City’s have ZONING laws that control the amount of people or size of buildings in its borders

    WEST HOLLYWOOD city leadership tried to hook up their BIZ friends years years ago with new density in the palms project which would of been HIGHER than the ZONING.

    Jane Doberman got a lawyer and sued them for SPOT ZONING and the city lost.
    Cause in fact they were trying to change the zoning restrictions on the books in that one SPOT. And its ILLEGAL

    So our city council regrouped and did what they do and worked on just changing the ZONING RESTRICTIONS TO GET WHAT THEY WANTED

    They did it with their classic tools of buzz words and spin words like “Community Out Reach” and “Working Groups” and “”Stake Holders” All good buzz words that hide the ruse of 5 council members with an agenda already. Or the Agenda their enveloper campaign donors want
    In the end the whole thing is covered with more spin as the “Master Plan” and “General Plan” So they did the meetings to let the public talk , look like they asked the community what they wanted and then just did what they wanted in the end and CHANGED THE ZONING RESTRICTIONS.

    They changed it to permit their builder friends who fund their elections to build 6 STORY’S HIGH in places along SANTA MONICA BLVD. Regardless of what the residents who showed up at all the community spin meetings wanted. They ALREADY had an agenda. The meetings are just dog and pony shows

    They didn’t change it cause the residents asked, or people came to council meetings and said we want bigger mega box stores with condos on top. They changed it so that those they are connected with could make more money off the weho monopoly board.

    Which they are doing like wild right now.

    The other spin thats been used in this is we need more housing.
    Well hmmm…more high end apartments that the working class or the young generation LGBT cant afford to live in?
    Cause thats whats they are creating. Is this the kind of new housing weho NEEDS?

    The other spin has been well traffic is “Just Passing” thru weho….
    … actually our population is decreasing.

    Even if we follow that idea out does it make since or is it responsible to keep adding more cars into the mix with these large new developments and then blame the longer drive time on cars that are passing thru?

    Passing thru plus new apartment cars mean more cars.

    Some will say well we need development in the city, and new construction is good and so on.

    If its responsible I agree.

    But who really won out when they took a one story Carl’s Junior at Santa Monica blvd and turned it into 6 story’s of high end apartments? Is that development in scale with that corner? To me its common sense in looking at it. They went for as much money as they could make on it. Which don’t get me wrong I think new development is good and so on.

    But are we really all in denial where the traffic is coming from and who created it? And how to fix it?

    Not to mention the MEGA MOVE TOWN PROJECT thats next on the two do list which is totally out of scale with everything around it and will be the biggest thing for blocks and blocks and blocks once built.

    So in my opinion it all was born the day the city council changed the Zoning restrictions Thats where more cars came from, and or coming from in the future. I would also say to those on the green side of it all how is putting more cars into the weho foot print and in obvious slower movement from the development GREEN? More cars moving slower in a smaller space from each other?

    Its just an increase in the carbon foot print of the city’s impact in the environment.

    Finally the newest stuff thats been built on LA Brea and Along Santa Monica blvd is a testimony to why the zoning restriction were in place before not to allow it.

    ITS TO BIG FOR THE PRESET CITY’S ROAD CAPACITY

    And by now allowing it it creates more total cars, total trips and congestion.

    But if I was the guy or on the team that got to turn the Carl junior lot into that cash cow I would be happy. And again I’m not against developers, or builders making a living or any of that, But when its not in scale to me its poor planning and built on un checked profit agenda that got not controls in place with our present leader ship on council

    And although I Respect Mayor D’Amico’s efforts to manage the building traffic fall out presently and even more on the way, in the end its not the cause or the cure. Its a step to manage it but not tame it

    The Zoning laws need to be revisited and put back in correct scale to what the city’s streets can handle and or what the RESIDENTS want their city to be and look like

    On the west side the residents were able to convince the city council to freeze all new building because the size of what was popping up with the current zoning wasn’t being liked by the property owners. And although there is “Working Groups” in the mix drafting some nice spin “Overlay Zones”. Its really kinda simple to me…either u allow more in a foot print than was there than before or not. And if you allowing more is it in-scale with whats around it and also can ROADS handle more cars?

    On the East Side now as well it seems like in my opinion its time to put a pause on all the cash cow development slowly moving from lab brea east and take another look as a community as what is the end in mind in WEHO? To me if all the residents agree they want more and more, bigger and bigger and more traffic than so be it. But I doubt thats the case with all of this and the weho democracy is broken cause its out of town money cashing in on our city at the expense or the residents quality of life and time sitting in traffic. And there isnt enough people maybe asking what can REALLY be done about it

    There has been talk about this by many in the community….but as of now, no one seems to want to take the foot ball on this problem and run it down the field. Obviously there is big money in these projects for all in involved so to get movement and people involved in changing the zoning will be met by the best spin that money can buy as to why the development is really good for weho and we need it. And our current LONG TERM council members pockets got fresh money in the last election from all the big developers who are building these projects, and many in the community think you cant beat city hall and the long term council members agendas.

    Last but not least I got to say the project across the street from the Ralph’s which was a one story super market and got traded up by the developer for the mega high end apartment complex it is now, has retail that sits empty to this day?

    So did it really help the weho economy or residents by going in there?

    Before it was a market that employed working class people with a budget saving price point that many low income individuals and seniors used.

    Now its empty retail and an development who’s occupancy rate I think is very low as far as I can tell by looking at the amount of apartments that look like they are being lived in when i drive by.

    And really what would it cost if I or you or anyone wanted to go live there in a one bedroom?
    Does anyone know what they are leasing for?

    My guess is its more the most or many could afford.

    ARE WE REALLY IN DENIAL OF WHERE THE TRAFFIC CONGESTION IS COMING FROM?

    ITS THE ZONING LAWS

  14. Bull! Just what I need is more traffic passing my Palm Avenue Condo…hardly, and that’s exactly what would happen if Santa Monica Blvd becomes even more of a parking lot more often and for longer. It’s enough that I have to fight my way out of my driveway due to gridlock far more often that I’d like.

  15. A few points:

    The rail lines were taken out, yes. Does anyone think that a trolley or light rail system built in the 21st century would have used tracks from the early 20th Century? Maybe if we were talking about reviving a railroad that goes across the Great Plains. Not 5 miles of Los Angeles. If we want trolley tracks today, having taken them out 15 years ago is neither here nor there.

    What are the examples of what the city could do to manage traffic flow more effectively than they are doing? I always read comments complaining about lack of traffic mitigation, but what exactly could we do in a specific intersection? (FYI, most of these people also complain about lack of parking, never linking increased parking with increased traffic).

    No one would be “forced” to take the bus. You would just create a situation like exists in other big cities, whereas taking public transportation would be easier, faster, cheaper and more convenient. No one is forced to take public transportation anywhere in the United States. And what a class-ist comment about bus riders. Maybe alot of them are afraid for their safety when they encounter a group of gay men.

    And while admittedly counter-intuitive, Hank’s main point makes sense. Make SM Blvd a tougher drive for pass-through traffic, and it would become less congested for those using it just to get around weho. Pass-through traffic is the problem, not me going from my apartment to Pavilions once a week.

  16. Perhaps all of you car-haters will realize that Santa Monica Boulevard does not belong to West Hollywood. It is a major East-West thoroughfare across the entire metro area. Not everyone lives in the Weho Bubble. Slowing traffic down is irresponsible and doomed for more failure.

  17. Bravo Hank! Well said and thank you for an illuminating overview of a plan long in the making!

    Now let’s slow traffic down to a speed limit of 25 mph (which is ultimately 30 mph) from La Brea to San Vicente, create some alerts via signage for pedestrians and vehicles alike and better illuminate some of the more obscure crosswalks and this stretch will indeed be a “complete street”!

  18. I understand their idea for a walkable SMB…but it comes to a point where you do have to address traffic concerns. Slowing traffic more just to discourage motorists and use other city streets really isn’t a responsible action. One has to ask…why is the street busy and congested? What is holding it up? Are traffic lights not synched? Is parking so difficult you have to wait for someone to parallel park? The fact there is no easy parking garages one can easily pull in and out of? The crosswalks? These are all urban concerns that I think Weho could solve relatively easily.

    Public transportation is of utmost importance. Adding buses to the street worsens things. And if no one is using them..why does MTA continue to force this as an alternative? I remember when the train tracks were removed…everyone I knew was upset the city eliminated any option of a trolley / light rail / monorail we desperately needed back then too. If Weho is the groundbreaking city that others want to emulate, we should have created a light rail from La Brea to Doheny. I’m sure LA would have caught on and extended it eastward into Hollywood. Maybe even Beverly Hills would have one day used their remaining tracks.

    The point being…making traffic worse in Weho to deter people to use it’s roadways is not a responsible action any city should take.

  19. When the city revamped the sidewalks and installed the sidewalk bump outs to improve the walking experience…i developed the opinion that they should not have included the sidewalk bump out that blocks right turns from small streets onto large (in effect they removed/blocked the right hand where small streets intersect large). I can understand the bump outs that impinge upon the main/large street…but the ones that impinges upon the smaller street seemed a mistake.
    My assumption was that this was a shortsighted error.

    Now I see that perhaps they did it on purpose. That by forcing me to wait behind one car trying to turn left…when all I want to do is turn right…perhaps they are trying to convince me to walk more.

    Sigh.

  20. The claim that the “road diet” we’re talking about here doesn’t have a negative impact on local businesses has some basis in fact. LA-DOT did this to Rowena Ave in Silver Lake to mixed reviews. I don’t think the businesses suffered, but there were plenty of pissed off motorists – many of whom live in the area. I think the jury is still out on its success. A similar road diet has been proposed for Virgil Ave in East Hollywood, but I haven’t driven there in months and don’t know if it’s been done yet. I’ve driven on the skinnier Rowena Ave with no problem, but it wasn’t during rush hours. I think I’d try to avoid it at 5 pm on a Friday.

    But routing traffic off SMB south will greatly impact Melrose, Beverly and Wilshire. Few would choose to go north as Sunset is already pretty abysmal during rush hours. It really makes me wish that we had been more far-sighted when we rebuilt SMB and took out the railroad tracks. Even if nothing permanent had been built at the time, we would have had space at a later date for a trolley or even just dedicated bike lanes.

    It all makes me long for Nick Garzilli’s solar-powered mag-lev tube transport plan from his 2013 city council run.

  21. Monstrously STUPID idea. Congestion of traffic is one of the biggest headaches in West Hollywood. If sipping lattes on the street while causing road rage is your idea of a good time, then by all means go for it.

    The article glosses over one of the most insanely ridiculous ideas, though it didn’t seem so at the time, and that’s IF WH had kept the rail tracks on Santa Monica boulevard, we might have had REAL HONEST rail service by now, something residents would USE.

    Urban parks sound nice, and Santa Monica Blvd as it is probably has a satisfactory blend of transportation and public use, although IF the city would remanage the traffic flow simply between Westbourne and La Cienega, not only would we have our “urban park” but traffic would be able to flow through much more productively.

    Nobody enjoys traffic. FORCING people to use buses is cruel and unusual punishment. They are noisy, give a horrible ride, and the passengers on them sometimes make one decidedly concerned for ones own safety. They are NOT a viable alternative for most people, especially since the spread-out nature of our cities often leave one stranded for after-work or before-work transportation needs.

    The purpose of transportation is to get people to their destination as QUICKLY and SAFELY as possible. Anything else is government getting in the way.

  22. I can much more appreciate SMB in Weho after reading this article.

    If you had to get stuck in traffic on a boulevard in LA, our little section of SMB would be the best.

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