Daily Archives: August 19, 2013

The Problem With Palms Blvd

Just around the corner from my apartment in Palms is the neighborhood’s namesake boulevard. Running west from National at a half-diamond interchange with the 10, Palms is a heavily traveled arterial. For most of the way between National and Sawtelle, it is five lanes – two each way with a two-way center left turn lane – plus parking on each side. Between Mentone and Kelton, it’s the same width but with no center lane. Beyond Sawtelle, in Mar Vista, it fades away, losing a lane here and there until becoming a quiet neighborhood street in Venice.

But in my neighborhood, Palms has been set up to move cars, and it does a damn good job of it. Westside motorists have figured out a sneaky advantage of Palms is that it doesn’t have an interchange with the 405, which means it’s free of the spillover congestion that can plague National and Venice. If you’re coming from or going to the east via the 10, Palms is very convenient. Traffic regularly exceeds the 35 mph speed limit. (I was once a passenger in a shuttle that hit 55 mph on a three-block stretch.)

The result is that Palms is dangerous and it feels dangerous. Trying to cross the street at an unsignalized intersection during peak hours is a harrowing experience in a car, let alone as a pedestrian or cyclist. During the day, I generally don’t cross anywhere other than Overland, Motor, or National. I occasionally see cyclists brave the rush of traffic, but it is not something many people would feel comfortable doing. When I’m riding west, I go out of my way to take Tabor or National – I never ride on Palms. It is also dangerous for drivers, because the narrow lanes make it almost impossible to see oncoming traffic without pulling out into it.

PalmsCrash

The present situation is bad, but it is going to get worse when Expo Line Phase 2 opens. Palms is going to be one of the main pedestrian and bike routes to the station, providing a link to bicycle lanes on Motor and Overland, a function it cannot serve well in its current configuration. Unfortunately, the city’s 2010 Bicycle Plan calls for Palms to be Class III bicycle route, which it describes as appropriate for streets with low traffic volumes or wide outside lanes.

Neither of those conditions describes Palms. Traffic volumes are about 25,000-27,000 ADT, which is almost twice that (14,000-15,000 ADT) of the section of Motor that was recently converted from four lanes to three lanes with bike lanes. Palms is also narrow – five lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking in 64’ of roadway width (if you’re being generous) – so narrow, in fact, that I had a hard time believing Google Earth and went out to measure it for myself, an invigorating exercise even at 11 at night. The parking lanes are about 7’ wide, making each travel lane about 10’.

In short, Palms is classic example of an urban street where there is not enough room to make everybody happy. If we want to improve the facility for one set of uses, we are going to have to take space away from other uses. Parking, through traffic, walking, and bicycling – how do we split up the space? At present, the order of priorities seems to be as they are listed. Despite substandard travel lanes, parking has been maintained on both sides. Sidewalks are not generous, but they exist and are buffered by the parking lanes. Cyclists basically get shafted.

Sharrows just aren’t going to cut it here. The real test of a city’s commitment to safe streets for all is what it does in cases like this, where someone is going to get less than what they want. Thanks to Streetmix, playing around with street cross section is a breeze. Here’s the existing Palms Blvd.

palms-blvd

Now the laziest way to add bike lanes would be to just take the 10’ two-way center left turn lane and chop it up into two 5’ bike lanes. The obvious drawbacks are huge door zone problems (since a 7’ parking lane means the door is already on the stripe), being hard up against trucks in a narrow 10’ travel lane, and the increased danger for drivers turning left. Here’s Option 1:

palms-blvd-option-1

Eliminating a lane of parking would give everyone a little more breathing room. The 7’ bike lanes would probably need striping similar to the buffered bike lane on Montana in Santa Monica, especially where there is no parking, to emphasize that drivers shouldn’t park there. The eliminated lane of parking could alternate sides to always be on the side with more driveways, which would reduce the number of spaces lost. For example, between National and Jasmine, the south side parking would go; from Jasmine to Motor, the north side. As an added complication, there’s the question of how to treat bus stops where the bus would stop in the bike lane. Here’s Option 2:

palms-blvd-option-2

Another option would be retaining the parking and eliminating another travel lane, for a three-lane section. This is probably going to tax the capacity of the remaining travel lane. If we conservatively assume 50% of travel is in the peak 6 hours and a 65-35 directional split, the peak directional volume would be about 1,400 veh/hr – pretty close to the 1,600 veh/hr capacity of a regular traffic lane, and for certain beyond the capacity of the traffic signals. You might note that Palms westbound is currently operating with only one lane underneath the 10 due to Expo Line construction; you might also note that this isn’t working very well, because traffic backs up on National, Manning, and the ramp from the 10 westbound. Here’s Option 3:

palms-blvd-option-3

You could also envision that option with 5’ cycle tracks and 2’ buffers instead of 7’ bike lanes, but I’m not sure Palms (short blocks, many driveways and cross streets, narrow sidewalks which would encourage pedestrians to walk in the track) is the best place for that. One intriguing possibility for a cycle track option would be the ability to use peak-period parking lane conversions to address the traffic capacity issues. During peak periods, parking would be prohibited to provide the same capacity as today. Off-peak, the outside lane would be for parking, which would help discourage speeding when traffic volumes are low. Streetmix doesn’t seem to have the ability to do cycle tracks yet, so you’ll just have to use your noodle. Here’s Option 4:

palms-blvd-option-4

As a final option, you could maintain all the through traffic lanes and convert the parking lanes on both sides to bike lanes. The two-way center left turn lane could be selectively eliminated at bus stops to prevent buses from having to stop in the bike lanes. Here’s Option 5:

palms-blvd-option-5

Note here that in all these options, there is tension between competing uses. The option that saves all the parking and is best for bikes takes away the most traffic capacity. The option that is best for through traffic and bikes takes away parking. And the option that is best for through traffic and parking (i.e. existing configuration) is worst for bikes. The competition for space in cities is natural, and we’re not going to be able to give everybody what they want.

Here’s a summary of the parking lost to Option 2 or Option 5.

PalmsParkingTable

The lost parking could be mitigated by trying to get agreements with local commercial and public properties to allow resident parking at night. Example locations would include the Vons Plaza, Palms Elementary School, the retail parking in the new building at Palms & Motor, Palms Middle School, and the plazas at Palms & Sepulveda. If 89 parking spaces lost is too much for you to accept, you could go with a hybrid of Option 1 between Mentone and Kelton (where there’s no two-way center left turn lane today) and Option 2 elsewhere, which would reduce the parking impact to 46 spaces lost.

My personal order of preference for solutions would be Option 3 or Option 4 (depending on traffic analysis and someone who knows more than me about cycle track design looking at the suitability of Palms for cycle tracks), and then Option 2 or Option 5 (depending on the relative trade-offs of keeping some parking versus keeping the two-way center left turn lane). But even the Option 1/Option 2 hybrid or Option 1 would be an improvement over the way things are today.

Of course, there probably plenty of other alternatives I’m not thinking of, so get over to Streetmix and work up your own option!

Note: I’m showing 6’ as the sidewalk width, even though it’s wider towards the outside in some places, and west of Kelton there are grass strips between the curb and sidewalk. The ROW west of Overland is definitely wider, which would give more flexibility there. I realize that none of these options improve sidewalk width; I’m just looking at what we could do with paint here. Moving the curb requires adjusting drainage inlets and possibly regrading the road, which turns this from essentially a maintenance project into a capital project.