Frustrated by a lack of parking and what they say are often dangerous driving conditions, two Playa del Rey environmentalists are offering an alternative traffic plan for Culver Boulevard to one that was proposed by a local architect two months ago, claiming theirs will improve traffic flow and increase parking in the beachside town.
Marcia Hanscom and Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, co-directors of the Ballona Institute, have unveiled a proposal conceived with van de Hoek and designer John Ulloth that they believe will help slow traffic as well as provide additional parking spaces, both of which merchants and residents agree is necessary.
The design, called “The Green and Safe Boulevard Plan,” would turn the coastal artery into a two-lane street designed to slow traffic on Culver. Supporters of this traffic reduction proposal believe the only way to have motorists drive at slower speeds is to reduce the number of lanes on the boulevard, which Hanscom says is “like a freeway sometimes during rush hour.”
The traffic and parking proposal is the second plan to become public since the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa created a committee to compile suggestions from Playa del Rey merchants and residents on what possible improvements they would like to see on the boulevard.
The plan is intended to bring more parking to Culver, which has long been in short supply for businesses and residents. Over 100 diagonal parking spaces would be created with only two lanes of traffic, which Hanscom and van de Hoek argue would also make room for more dedicated bicycle lanes.
“Having diagonal parking will make the cars drive more slowly, because they have to turn into the spaces and when they turn out of them into the flow of traffic,” van de Hoek said.
The plan’s supporters claim it will not be dangerous to install this kind of parking because, they contend, the street, which is 80 feet in width, is wide enough.
“In addition, we’re going to be slowing down the street with speed bumps or other calming measures,” van de Hoek added.
Hanscom says this is an idea that has been talked about publicly for many years.
“People think Culver is just businesses, but there are a lot of residences as well,” she noted. “You can’t get as many parallel spaces because of the driveways.”
The environmentalist said the “safe” portion of the plan is the most crucial to her.
“It is not safe to have parallel parking on this street because (cars) are going too fast,” Hanscom claimed. “The only way that we’re going to make it safe is to slow it down with diagonal spaces.”
The conceptual plan has measures that would slow, or calm traffic, such as speed humps in crosswalks, cobbled sections of road, curves in the road, stop signs and large planters.
Colleen Phillips, a Playa del Rey resident who lives on Cabora Road, thinks the plan has merit.
“I think that it would make people use the businesses on Culver Boulevard more,” said Phillips, who is a pharmacist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
Craig Fraulino, who has offered another vision for the boulevard, says the newly proposed design is not feasible.
“I firmly believe that this scheme was authored by someone who has no stake in the business community and/or is completely unfamiliar with Culver Boulevard and what goes on here every single day,” Fraulino, an architect who has worked on the boulevard for 16 years, asserted. “I can’t imagine anyone with a business sense wanting to choke off traffic that much.”
Fraulino disagrees that the plan would not slow traffic.
“It will strangle traffic,” he countered. “There is a difference in calming traffic and forcing traffic into a residential neighborhood 30 feet above us or simply scaring people away.”
Hermosa Beach Public Works Director Richard Morgan has seen diagonal parking work well in the beachside community on Pier Avenue, which leads to a pedestrian walkway two blocks from the sand.
“We love it,” Morgan told The Argonaut. “It can give a city a kind of old-town feel.”
Pier Avenue is 80 feet wide curb to curb, with 100 feet right-of-ways, according to Morgan.
Fraulino says that the plan to turn the boulevard into two lanes is the most important feature about it.
“If they had figured out a way to park diagonal cars here without strangling the traffic, I’d be signing off on this,” he said. “This is a real fashionable, experimental idea, but I’d like to find another example of where this works locally, where there are no adjacent cross streets with access for emergency vehicles and delivery trucks.”
In the locations where this type of parking tends to work well, they typically have alleys and side streets that Fraulino mentioned. Culver Boulevard has neither, Fraulino pointed out.
“Commercial vehicles have to double park so the merchants can get their deliveries, as does the mail truck,” he said. “You also have to subtract 12 feet on both sides for the sidewalks from the 80 feet of the boulevard.”
Avenues and boulevards that have angled parking also tend to be wider than most. For example, the western portions of both Washington Boulevard and Windward Avenue in Venice, where angled parking has existed for several years, are 100 feet and 85 feet in width, respectively.
Fraulino proposed a plan in February that would create parking at Titmouse Park and a two-to-three story parking garage behind Gordon’s Market near the middle of the three-block boulevard. City officials say the possibility of having parking at Titmouse Park is remote and several government agencies would need to be involved in any approval of a parking garage, which would be located on state-owned land.
While some business owners think the plan has merit, local environmentalists, including van de Hoek and Hanscom, vehemently oppose both aspects of Fraulino’s proposal.
“These lands were preserved for a purpose, and the rare plants and animals there need all of the habitat area they can get if they are to survive,” Hanscom stated. “It is clear that Mr. Fraulino and his supporters just don’t understand the impacts of vehicles (on wildlife).”
The financial crisis gripping Los Angeles would likely prevent examination of installing diagonal parking for the boulevard in the immediate future, said Bruce Gillman, a spokesman at the Department of Transportation.
“Given the limited resources that we have, we would not be able to initiate a study to determine if (diagonal parking) is feasible,” Gillman told The Argonaut.
The street or boulevard’s width is one of the most important aspects of having angled parking, Gillman added.
“It must have the necessary street width and it must be able to accommodate a safe situation for motorists and pedestrians,” he said.
Morgan did not comment specifically on Culver Boulevard, but he agrees about the crucial aspects that would make angled parking feasible.
“The key to making it work is slowing down traffic flows,” he said.
When told Culver does not have parallel streets and alleys like Washington Boulevard and some of the beach cities, the public works director declined to comment on that condition as well.
Fraulino is unmoved in his opposition to the plan
“If built, this will be a boondoggle — no doubt in my mind,” he predicted.
Hanscom realizes that not everyone will agree with the plan.
“There may be some unintended consequences from this,” she acknowledged. “But that’s why we want to put this idea out there, so that we can start hearing feedback on it.”