With a million square feet of new office space and more construction planned, Glendale is spending $12 million to untangle rush-hour snarls on downtown streets, city official say.
After more than six years of study, the city is proposing a comprehensive traffic-reduction plan that will include widening roads, computerizing traffic signals, encouraging employers to stagger work hours, offering enticements for more car-pooling and more use of public transportation and bicycles.
"Downtown traffic congestion is a major issue in our city," said Duane deCroupet, a Glendale planning commissioner. "Something has to be done."
City officials acknowledge that traffic congestion is at its worst and will continue that way until all street construction under way and proposed is completed.
About 270,000 cars travel daily through downtown, a 22% increase in just two years, city officials estimate. As many as 20,000 more automobiles are expected to enter the downtown area as soon as tenants move into unoccupied space, Kerry Morford, Glendale assistant public works director, said.
That increase will bring downtown traffic near its capacity of 300,000 cars, Morford said.
Even more construction is planned, including the city's largest high-rise office development and the first major downtown hotel. The success of the redevelopment project has increased land values bordering the redevelopment zone, stimulating other projects in those areas too, even without developer incentives such as lower land costs offered in city-sponsored projects.
"We are facing a much stronger development market today than we ever anticipated," Susan Shick, Glendale redevelopment director, told the city Planning Commission this week. The commission and Glendale City Council in October will consider setting strict height limits on peripheral development in the downtown area to prevent further congestion.
In the meantime, the city has undertaken a series of projects to reduce congestion. Already completed are street widening, roadway reconstruction and freeway access improvements on Glendale Avenue, Brand Boulevard and Pacific Avenue at the Ventura Freeway.
The city soon will open Orange Street, which now permits only northbound traffic between Broadway and Doran Street, to two-way traffic to improve circulation around the downtown. Within two years, the city plans to widen parts of Central, Pacific and Wilson avenues and Colorado Street, Morford said.
Stop signs along Orange and on Louise Street near the Ventura Freeway also will be replaced with electric signals. Left-turn signals recently were installed at heavily traveled intersections.
Access to the Ventura Freeway will be improved at San Fernando Road, Brand Boulevard and Harvey Drive, as well as the Colorado Street access to the Golden State Freeway, Morford said.
Late this year, the city expects to begin converting traffic signals throughout downtown to a sophisticated, $900,000, computerized system that can be adjusted to speed traffic flow, Morford said.
But, despite all of the engineering and reconstruction projects proposed, officials said even further changes are needed. "We can't widen the streets any more, so we have to find out what else we can do," Morford said.
What the city plans to do is to join hundreds of other cities throughout the country in adopting comprehensive traffic-reduction programs--an idea that evolved only three years ago.
Whereas ride-sharing programs have been around a long time, cities only recently have turned to citywide traffic management. "There is an evolution going on calling for the private sector to do more in terms of traffic management," said Peter J. Valk, a Pasadena traffic consultant hired last month to develop and implement a plan for Glendale.
Valk, president of Transportation Management Services, said many cities, including Houston, Washington and New York, have developed broad-based plans to reduce downtown congestion and the need for inner-city parking. "Attention is focused on providing a range of incentives and services to get users to consider, and possibly change, how and when they travel," Valk said.
Such incentives include providing pickup points at office complexes that make ride-sharing and public transportation convenient and economical, Valk said. Some businesses encourage employees to work at home or in offices near their homes by using computers and advanced telecommunications techniques, he said, rather than reporting daily to inner-city headquarters.
Cities can install car-pool lanes on streets leading to freeways or raise the cost of all-day parking in city lots--as is proposed in Glendale--to encourage ride-sharing among workers. The city is studying an increase for 10-hour meters from 5 cents to 20 cents an hour.
Employers can also get together to help workers form car and van pools and develop an "access guide" that explains transportation options, Valk said.