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Report Paints Bleak Picture of Traffic Growth : Development: It centers on the congested corridor running from Santa Monica to El Segundo, where the Playa Vista project and others are planned. But officials and the development firm behind the study say the worst-case scenario is unlikely to happen.

March 01, 1992|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COASTAL — Think traffic congestion along the coast couldn't get much worse? Think again.

It can and will, a new study concludes, if an anticipated building boom proceeds without new streets and programs to get drivers off the road.

The study paints an alarming picture of traffic swelling more than 80% over the next 12 years in the already-crowded coastal corridor running from Santa Monica to El Segundo.

But both the development firm that commissioned the study and city officials say that, for a number of reasons, that worst-case scenario is unlikely to happen.

The study predicts traffic increases that would come primarily from development of the massive Playa Vista project, a major expansion of Los Angeles International Airport and as many as 185 other construction projects.

The report, under review by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, was commissioned by Maguire Thomas Partners, the firm that wants to build Playa Vista. The development would be a city-within-a-city of condominiums, apartments, offices, restaurants, hotels and boat slips on 957 acres between Marina del Rey and the Westchester bluffs. It is projected one day to provide homes for up to 28,000 people and a workplace for 20,000 more.

But city transportation officials and Maguire Thomas executives say traffic is unlikely to reach the worst-case level because many of the projects the study encompasses will never be built. The others, they say, will have their traffic strictly managed.

In addition, Playa Vista will be designed with a combination of housing, workplaces and commercial establishments to encourage people to stay within the neighborhood.

"In this initial study we are being judged like all the other projects in the (Los Angeles) Basin," said Nelson C. Rising, a senior partner with Maguire Thomas. "But we are unique. We are not like any of the others."

Rising said Playa Vista will put fewer cars on the road by placing housing, jobs and shopping in close proximity, so that residents and employees can walk, cycle or take public transportation to their destinations.

The builder said he hopes to encourage people who work at Playa Vista to live there by giving them preference in applying for the more than 13,000 apartments and condominiums included in the project.

"Our goal is to create a community that makes a person want to walk," Rising said. "It's anti-intuitive to think that some of the people won't live and work here in the same place."

But a Westchester homeowner activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said she doubts Maguire Thomas will succeed in persuading auto-bound Angelenos to walk. "I just don't see it happening," the woman said.

Another local activist, Sal Grammatico, said he too is skeptical.

"My main question is, 'Where is this traffic going to go,' " said Grammatico, who lives about half a mile from the Playa Vista site. "The San Diego Freeway is already operating at way over capacity. This traffic will be going mainly on residential or local streets."

City transportation officials will use the traffic report, and revisions that are underway, to determine what street improvements the developer should make. Then the report will become part of an environmental impact study that is scheduled to be circulated for public comment by the end of the year.

Although Maguire Thomas Partners paid for the study, its consultants were required to follow parameters set by the city Department of Transportation. The report gives a litany of reasons why those guidelines overestimate traffic growth and underestimate street capacity.

City transportation officials defended the methods prescribed for the study but agreed with the developer's contention that traffic might not be as bad as the study predicts. Tom Conner, assistant general manager of the Department of Transportation, said the extreme scenario is only a starting point for discussions on the impacts of Playa Vista's traffic.

Conner said the study's predictions are unlikely to materialize for several reasons: Many of the projects encompassed by the study will never be built because of unfavorable economic conditions. Others will be scaled back by city planners. And, finally, developers such as Maguire Thomas will be forced to reduce the number of cars their projects put on the road and to pay for comprehensive street improvements.

Rising said his firm is willing to go a step further and guarantee that its project will not surpass a predetermined traffic limit. He said the limit can be enforced by agreeing to scale back later phases of Playa Vista if the early stages put too many cars on the road.

UCLA agreed in 1990 to such a cap on vehicle traffic, linked to the university's 15-year expansion plan. And Fox Studios in Century City last week agreed to halt its planned expansion if it brings in more traffic than predicted.

Playa Vista is the single largest source of potential traffic increases in the coastal corridor, according to the study.

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