Larchmontbuzz: Metro presents traffic plan for Wilshire Blvd. closure

Metro presents the results of a traffic study and Traffic Management Plan (TMP) for one of two closure options to facilitate the installation of a surface-level decking for construction of the Purple Line Extension at the Wilshire/La Brea subway station. 

At a community meeting last night, representatives from Metro and its design-build contractor for the Purple Line Subway Extension presented results of a traffic study and a Traffic Management Plan for one of two closure options to facilitate the installation of surface-level decking for construction of the Wilshire/La Brea subway station.

Metro’s already-approved construction plan specifies that Wilshire Blvd., from Highland Ave. to La Brea, will need to be fully closed for an extended period of time while concrete decking is installed at street level to carry traffic while the subway station is built below.  Originally, Metro’s approved plans called for 16 consecutive weekend closures from Orange Drive to La Brea, with an additional 6 weekend closures from La Brea to Detroit.

Last fall, however, Metro announced the possibility of an alternate plan, which would close Wilshire from Highland to La Brea for 7 full weeks, instead of the 16 weekends.  Active above-ground construction would take place from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with activity from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. limited to either below-ground or quieter activities at street level.  In contrast, under the weekend-only option, active construction would proceed for 24 hours a day, from 9 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. on Monday.

At the time, adjacent neighborhoods were asked to weigh in on which plan they’d prefer but, ultimately, the consensus was that without a study analyzing peak traffic flow on both weekends and week days, or a specific traffic management plan for the 7-week closure option, it would not be possible to make an informed choice.  After City Council Member David Ryu, whose recommendation will be key in deciding which plan to adopt, asked Metro to provide such a study and plan, Metro agreed to do them, and presented the results at last night’s meeting.

Traffic Data and Detours

At the meeting, Metro’s Manager of Construction Relations, Kasey Shuda, explained that traffic had been counted on Thursday, November 19, Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22.  Average Daily Traffic levels were studied at 5 locations in the affected area, with peak volumes and other information gathered at 22 locations along Wilshire, Olympic, Fairfax and other local streets.

The traffic data was then used to plan both Primary and Alternate Detour routes to direct traffic away from Wilshire Blvd. during a potential 7-week closure.

The detour routes for eastbound traffic on Wilshire, during a 7-week closure, would be either north on Fairfax, east on Third Street to Western, and then back south to Wilshire…or south on La Brea, east on Olympic and north on Crenshaw, back to Wilshire.  An alternate detour route for eastbound traffic would be north on La Brea, east on Third and south on Wilton, back to Wilshire.

For westbound traffic on Wilshire, during a 7-week closure, traffic would be directed south on Crenshaw, west on Olympic, and north on La Brea, back to Wilshire.  Or south on Highland, west on Olympic, and north on La Brea.  Alternate routes would include north on Western or Wilton, then west on Third to La Brea.

Traffic Mitigations

In addition to the detours, Metro presented a map of other recommended traffic mitigations proposed for the possible 7-week closure. These include special signal timing and coordination, striping modifications at various streets and intersections (including adding or modifying turn pockets), traffic control officers at key intersections, additional traffic cameras to provide wide views of traffic flow, new parking restrictions in affected areas, other contingency mitigations and a wide range of public information strategies (“Carmageddon-style,” according to Shuda), to make sure people across the city – and not just local residents – are aware of the closure and how to plan trips around the affected area.

Shuda and representatives of STS, the design-build contractor, also stressed that there would be very close monitoring for the first two weeks of the plan, with adjustments made as necessary, on an ongoing basis, to address specific trouble spots throughout the project.

Neighborhood Concerns

After the initial presentation last night, there was a lengthy question-and-answer session, during which local residents, especially from the Sycamaore Square neighborhood, which is both directly adjacent to the section of Wilshire that will be closed, and at “ground zero” for much of the detour traffic and most intense mitigations (see map above).

The most frequent questions from residents had to do with the handling of potential neighborhood cut-through traffic, on east-west streets such as 6th, 8th and 9th Streets…as well as streets such as Lucerne Blvd. through the Windsor Village neighborhood.  Some people also noted that traffic apps, such as Waze, may make the problem even worse, by specifically guiding drivers through residential areas.

Ms. Shuda said that Metro has actually been working with Waze, providing them with recommended route information throughout the Purple Line project.  She and Department of Transportation Representative Edward Yu noted that Traffic Control Officers would also be placed at many key intersections that provide entry to those streets, to help guide traffic away from them.  They noted, however, that  TCOs are only empowered to keep traffic moving smoothly, and do not have the power (as some neighbors requested) to restrict entrance to public streets in any way. (So there can be no “resident-only” access or controls.)

Other neighbors suggested closing access to certain local streets (such as blocking Citrus Ave., just south of the shopping center at the SE corner of Wilshire and Citrus)…or at least installing “No Right Turn” or “No Left Turn” arrows to keep people from turning from major arteries onto neighborhood streets.  Again, however, Mr. Yu said that the only reason a street can be closed is for safety reasons; otherwise, all traffic must be allowed access.  Ms. Shuda also noted that some neighborhoods that have requested and received “No Turn” signs in other areas have discovered those signs also keep residents from turning onto their own streets, and have asked them to be removed again after a fairly short trial.

Another issue of major concern to residents was safety, especially near local schools such as Third Street and Wilshire Crest Elementary Schools, John Burroughs Middle School and Yavneh Academy, where several speakers said increased traffic along adjacent detour routes (both official and unofficial) could endanger hundreds of children each day. STS representative Mike Aparicio noted that this would be one advantage of a weekend-only closure plan over the 7-week full-closure option:  schools would not be in session on the days Wilshire is closed and the detours are in effect.

Noise was also a big concern, especially from neighbors who live nearest to the work site along Wilshire.  Under the 7-week closure option, the most intense, above-ground construction activity would take place between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., while quieter above-ground activities and louder below-ground work would happen from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.  Under the weekend-only plan, however, there would be intense above-ground work around the clock from 9 p.m. each Friday through 6 a.m. each Monday.  Last fall, the Miracle Mile Residential Association, in particular, had expressed concerns about the potential round-the-clock weekend noise, especially for apartment dwellers along Wilshire. But at last night’s meeting, MMRA President James O’Sullivan said he will carefully study the new information, and certain sound mitigations might make the weekend noise more bearable than he originally thought.  (O’Sullivan did also express concern that Metro’s traffic study, which included just one weekday instead of the traditional two, might not contain enough data to fully reflect actual traffic flows.)

Decision-Making Process, Approvals and Next Steps

In response to neighbors’ questions about a Traffic Management Plan for the weekend-only closure option, and possible traffic mitigations for that scenario, Ms. Shuda explained that the 16-weekend closure option, which was already approved as part of the overall construction plan, does not require any further special approvals or traffic plans.  Also, she noted that mitigations for that option would be very minimal, because they would have to be put in place each Friday, and removed before morning rush hour each Monday (and the construction crew needs to spend most of its time on construction, not installing and removing traffic mitigations).  In contrast, because the 7-week closure would be for such a lengthy period of time, many more permanent measures (such as lane re-striping, installation of signs, etc.) could be used because they could be left in place longer.

When several attendees asked the Metro and STS representatives which closure plan they prefer, both Ms. Shuda and Mr. Aparicio said their organizations are “neutral,” and they will use whichever plan city officials approve.  Then Ms. Shuda conducted a quick, unofficial poll of the audience, in which 20 people voted for the weekend-only plan, while 6 voted for the full 7-week closure (though a large number of people also chose not to vote).

When asked who will make the final choice between the two plans, and whether neighbors will have a chance to participate in a more official vote at some point, Ms. Shuda said that while Metro is actively seeking community input, and will discuss the measures further at its regular bi-monthly construction update meeting next Thursday (January 21, 7 p.m. at Los Angeles High School), there is no requirement for community approval.  She noted, however, that Metro does need the support of City Council Member David Ryu, and would also like to have community support for the final choice.

Mr. Ryu, who also attended the meeting, said he has been working closely with Metro on the traffic plans, and encouraged as much community outreach and input as possible.  He reassured the neighbors in attendance that “You do have approval…and your approval is through me.”

Ms. Shuda encouraged neighbors to submit feedback to both Metro and the CD4 office, along with specific requests for traffic mitigation measures (which won’t be included in the official plan, but will be considered later) before next week’s meeting.

Written by Elizabeth Fuller for the Larchmont Buzz.


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