The first part of Patch's Q&A with South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez, published this past week, was largely about the factors that make South Pas a strong city—prudent fiscal management, robust property values, and an attractive business environment. In the second installment of the Q&A, Gonzalez continued his discussion about South Pasadena as a locus of transit-oriented development and the virtues of a lifestyle less dependent on motorcars. In the third part of the Q&A, below, the city manager focuses on South Pasadena's streets against the backdrop of efforts to make the city more livable.
Patch: How have the pedestrian bulb-outs on Mission and Fair Oaks been working out for the city? What kind of reactions or feedback have you been getting? Are people pissed off?
Sergio Gonzalez: Oh yeah. Initially, it was something new. The theory behind the bulb-outs was that you decrease the distance between one end of the street to the other. So if somebody’s crossing the street, they’ll take less time, tying up the signal less and therefore improving the traffic flow. They also become a lot more visible while standing on the bulb-outs. Obviously, the frustration was clear in the first few months. Quite honestly, I have not heard many complaints—part of it is also getting used to it. One of the concerns was that now you cannot make a right turn if cars are going straight. You have to wait.
We believe that the project was obviously very detrimental to the businesses during the time of construction. But now, if you look at Fair Oaks, it’s much more quieter because it has the asphalt over the concrete. We used rubberized asphalt, which makes for a much quieter ride. The greening—the trees, the medians—make for a much more pleasant drive as well a place to walk.
We wanted to make Fair Oaks more pedestrian-friendly. You have more than 40,000 cars per day going through Fair Oaks. And so, we have to think outside of the times when we have the morning rush traffic. Residents who live here don’t only live here two hours a day—they live here 24 hours a day. Morning rush goes away—you still have residents who want to walk to a store and take advantage of Fair Oaks. So, it’s a careful balance—you want to make sure traffic is moving smoothly to get people in and out of the city, but also, let’s not put our residents at risk.
We certainly believe traffic speeds have come down. We will be getting our latest traffic collision data and I certainly believe that our traffic collisions have reduced in the last couple of years since the project was completed—because people are driving slower. The medians deter people from making illegal left turns or right turns. So, what you want to do is modify drivers’ behavior. You’re not going to reduce the number of cars that pass through. But what you call ‘traffic calming’ is certainly something better.
Patch: What, in a nutshell, was the Fair Oaks project?
Gonzalez: The Fair Oaks project was a one-year project from Monterey Road to the 110 freeway interchange. It was a very difficult 12 months. It was in the middle of the downturn in the economy and certainly we’re very sensitive to the businesses that were impacted during construction. But I certainly believe that our business are back and that the street is functioning very well.
The project has been completed for about a year and a half now and included installations of center medians, a lot of greenery, and bulb-outs. It was a roughly $3.5 million project, with no city dollars spent. It was all grant-funded. So it’s not that the city chose to spend money that could have gone elsewhere, such as to pave other streets or to open the library longer or offer more programs. We didn’t have that choice.
Patch: South Pas is a small city, and Fair Oaks and Fremont are fairly close to each other. Has there been any idea about making them one-way streets to improve traffic flow?
Gonzalez: Well, Metro is currently looking at the connection of the 710 from the 10 to the 210. One of the concepts that they’re floating—and we’re certainly not happy about it—is what they call reversible lanes: During certain times of the day, you can make three lanes one-way, and only lane going the other way. I think I’ve seen it in Hawaii. But we’ve got to keep in mind that we’ve got local residents who need to get to places. And if you only cater to getting people through the city—the commuters—then you’re really doing it to the detriment of our residents. So that’s the balance we’re always looking at—you want to get people through the city but you also have to keep in mind that we have people who live here, who go to school here, who work here, and who want to be able to make a left when they need to make a left. So, Monterey Road is a street that we’re currently looking at improving. One of the things we’re looking at is a road diet—reducing the number of lanes so that we can have turning lanes each way and to also make the road more bicycle-friendly.
Patch: What’s Fremont like as a street, compared to Monterey?
Gonzalez: Fremont is a very difficult street because it’s mostly residential. You’ve got one lane each way on Fremont—on Monterrey you’ve got three lanes each way. And you’ve got about 35,000 cars going through Fremont every day—on a very narrow street. You would have to remove parking to widen it, and that would not be taken very well by people who live on Fremont. Again, if you wanted to move more cars at the detriment of residents, you would make Fremont either one way or you would make it two lanes each way by eliminating on-street parking. But is that something you want your resident to experience to try to get people through the city faster?
Patch: On an average day, roughly how many percent of cars would you say come from outside—that are not local?
Gonzalez: That’s a very good question. I’d have to get more information about it. I believe the SR 710 study says that there are about 20 percent local vehicles and 80 percent from outside.
Patch: By ‘outside,’ do you mean commuter vehicles that don’t stop for business?
Gonzalez: Right—they’re just driving through the city. Maybe resident of Pasadena or Alhambra. What we don’t see is that people are driving through the city because they’re going to Palmdale. Most of the traffic is local. And that’s something we’ve been arguing with Metro—that if you connect the freeways it doesn’t mean you’re going to reduce the congestion in the neighborhoods because people are going to their homes. Unfortunately we have a lot more cars than our roads have a capacity for. We’ve got population increases, new construction—Alhambra’s got a ton of new construction on Main Street. Pasadena’s got a ton of new construction on Del Mar, Pasadena Avenue—all those new high-rise apartment buildings. So one of the results of increased housing is that you’re going to have more cars on the road.
To be continued.