By Vince Echavaria
For Santa Monica resident Evan Meyer, art has the power to revitalize an area that has experienced some forms of neglect and is in need of aesthetic enhancements.
It is with that cognition that Meyer went to work on Lincoln Boulevard, one of the city’s primary thoroughfares, collaborating with other artists to create a series of murals on the exterior walls of several businesses fronting a stretch of the highway. While some view Lincoln as an area that has long been neglected in regards to aesthetics, Meyer believes that art can be the spark to begin to change people’s perceptions.
“Art is the beginning of bringing life to an area,” said Meyer, who has coordinated the painting of murals on establishments such as the Novel Café and Metropolitan Cleaners. “I think that art is proven to be the thing that can change things the quickest.”
Meyer is the streetscape committee chair of the Lincoln Boulevard Task Force, which has worked with residents and businesses to gather feedback on their perceptions of the boulevard between the 10 freeway and Venice border and the changes they would like to see happen along the street.
The task force, which is supported by the Ocean Park Association, Friends of Sunset Park, Pico Neighborhood Association and Borderline Neighborhood Group, was formed prior to the changeover of oversight of Lincoln Boulevard from the state to the city of Santa Monica last year. Through its efforts, including holding meetings and conducting surveys, the task force hopes to facilitate the transformation of Lincoln into an attractive, pedestrian-friendly, neighborhood-serving street that reflects the needs and desires of local residents and businesses.
In doing so, the group wants to ensure that the boulevard is considered one that is safe, clean, beautiful and green.
Task force chair Roger Swanson agrees with Meyer that the new murals are something that can trigger people’s view that changes are starting to take place along the Lincoln streetscape.
“Getting art on the boulevard is very noticeable; it’s something that people can embrace and say (the street) is clean and looks nice,” Swanson said.
Two opinion surveys conducted of residents and Lincoln businesses were answered by a total of 638 residents, 91 percent of whom live south of the 10 freeway, and 15 percent of the businesses located south of the freeway, Swanson said. Outreach efforts included email notifications, a press release and task force teams that visited all of the businesses and many residences in the survey area.
Residents indicated that they would like to have more restaurants, coffee shops and other neighborhood-serving businesses on the street, and that they would consider relaxing parking requirements for such establishments. Businesses called for more off-street/shared parking and like residents, wish for additional street amenities like flashing crosswalk lights, better sidewalk lighting and more trash cans.
Swanson said the surveys gave the task force data to support the need for streetscape improvements.
“We have more than 630 data points that the city doesn’t have,” Swanson said of the survey results. “I think this should be a wake-up call to the city that we are tired of having them walk away from this boulevard and spend money elsewhere.”
He noted that much of the feedback provided was common knowledge: traffic is the primary concern and Lincoln appears to be over-represented by auto serving businesses. “There are certain times of the day when you just don’t go on (the street),” Swanson said of the congestion.
Respondents suggested that the highway has been neglected when it comes to public safety, weeds and trash, graffiti and homelessness.
“The task force survey confirmed that a broad range of residents are concerned about these same issues, not just a few people,” said Zina Josephs of the Friends of Sunset Park. “We hope that city officials and planners will take the survey results into account as they make decisions about the future.”
Although much of the survey input may be rather obvious, it allowed the residents and businesses to weigh in on their desires for upgrading the corridor, Meyer said.
“I think it’s good that what was captured is what people feel, even if it’s obvious,” he said. “I think it’s important to have that community data so that the community gets their say in what’s happening.”
Other supported amenities included more trees and landscaping, landscaped medians and additional bus and bicycling features.
A proposal for Big Blue Bus priority lanes was supported by 55 percent of residents, while 74 percent of businesses surveyed opposed the lanes. Carla Barrett of Barrett’s Appliances said the businesses are strongly supportive of streetscape enhancements but a proposed bus lane on the northbound side in the morning rush hours and on the southbound side in the evening rush hours would be a concern by removing on-street parking, primarily for small businesses.
“Everybody would like to see Lincoln prettier; that’s not a point of contention. But no business wants those bus lanes,” she said of the plan which has reportedly been put on hold by the city. “I don’t think the businesses have problems with making Lincoln look nicer. The businesses’ main concern is traffic and parking.”
One suggestion to help make traffic flow more smoothly across the boulevard into Los Angeles would be to have synchronized traffic lights, Barrett said.
“We also think that what’s going to make Lincoln an effective street is if you can get Santa Monica and L.A. to agree to coordinate (traffic) lights and make crossing the street safer,” she said.
Another of the task force’s proposals is for the installation of street “feedback” signs that would alert motorists to how fast they’re travelling, Swanson added.
One of the most telling indicators of the survey, Swanson said, related to building heights along the street, where 64 percent of residents support the proposed three-story limit and over 70 percent of businesses and residents are in favor of a two- or three-story limit on a proposed activity center at the Albertsons plaza at Ocean Park Boulevard.
With the conclusion of the surveys, the task force is now encouraging the community to participate in the city’s upcoming streetscape design project. “We want to energize the community to participate in the streetscape process and say ‘here’s what the survey said,’” Swanson noted. “We have a starting baseline and that’s kind of critical.”
As he works to build support for improving the Lincoln streetscape, Meyer said he wants to inspire residents to realize that “change is possible in the hands of the people,” and by doing their part they can help turn the area into something they take pride in.
“My goal is to make Lincoln Boulevard one of the most vibrant, bright areas, and I will do that,” he said.