Lincoln Unchained

Lincoln Boulevard

Lincoln. A name associated with freedom. Lincoln Blvd., a street known as “Stinkin’ Lincoln”, stuck in traffic that makes one think of anything but freedom as one sits trapped, slow moving amidst a fairly worn streetscape. Lincoln sees some 50,000 vehicles daily between the 10 Freeway and Rose Avenue. As the majority of visitors arrive via LAX, Lincoln is generally the first impression visitors have of Santa Monica. Not an impressive gateway to our beachside town.

In anticipation of the City taking control of Lincoln from Caltrans, the Ocean Park Association, joining with the Friends of Sunset Park, and the Pico Neighborhood Association, formed the Lincoln Blvd. Task Force (LBTF). Two years of effort by the LBTF preceded the City taking possession of Lincoln and included meetings with the Planning Dept., Planning Commissioners, City Council members, and conducting an extensive survey of the various stakeholders. Well prepared with positive recommendations and design suggestions, the LBTF pressed the City to implement recommended improvements.

The City agreed and committed to re-pave and re-stripe the street as well as replant the existing, but empty, tree wells, as a first step to improve the Lincoln streetscape. The LBTF made numerous additional suggestions, such as encouraging a Business Improvement District (BID), where property owners might join together to seek a grants program for upgrading building facades, signage, and landscaping. An effort by auto dealers to expand “auto row” onto Lincoln was met with opposition by residents, and what might have turned into a row of corporate designed car showrooms was stopped cold, eliminating threat of closure to “mom & pop” stores and small independent auto related services.

The LBTF asked the City to consider how the Big Blue Bus and bikes can integrate into the traffic mix, while maintaining and enhancing vehicular and pedestrian safety. Was it even possible to safely integrate all forms of movement, including improved and added safe pedestrian crossing opportunities?

This time the City did listen, and authorized the Planning Staff to do a formal study, now known as The LiNC. They have put together a team and are working closely with the neighborhoods, the businesses, and the LBTF, to achieve visual and functional improvements to Lincoln that are befitting as a gateway to our community.

There have been two public meetings where attendees have input their suggestions. These were refined and presented in a well attended meeting two weeks ago. Most of the resident’s suggestions were well received, including overwhelming support for more, rather than less, landscaped medians. Dedicated bus lanes, it was generally agreed, would be an asset and must be planned for, but that at the current time, since L.A. has no provision for connecting to them, they will only function to the southern City line. L.A. is said to be working at its end to see if it can link with the LiNC, and the future may see a morning/evening dedicated bus lane to LAX.

Adaptive re-use of existing structures, updated and continued as regional and neighborhood serving small businesses was strongly encouraged by the LBTF and resident respondents. This is already happening. Recently, on a site where a new car dealer had attempted to buy an entire block to build a corporate designed showroom, the owners are now considering re-modeling and updating the entire block of existing small shops. Whether there will be a change of use in one or more of the structures is unclear, but it is encouraging to know that the potential improvement is being considered.

The original request for re-planting the empty tree wells has been expanded to include placing additional trees, landscaping, lighting, and street furniture. The original bus stop benches that were replaced by the very unpopular stools are stockpiled and, according to the City team leader, may in fact find their way back onto the sidewalks of a refreshed and enhanced streetscape. These enhancements will hopefully encourage more of the neighborhood residents to walk to the already wide variety of neighborhood serving businesses.

Small businesses are often lost in the thicket of car repair shops and used-car sales lots that overwhelm the visual scene on Lincoln. Approximately 30% of the businesses are auto related, but that leaves 70% or so that are independent restaurants, cleaners, coffee houses, furniture stores, bike shops, etc. With the LiNC streetscape improvements, and increased pedestrian activity, these neighborhood serving shops will become the visually dominant uses.

The shopping center at Lincoln and Ocean Park Blvd. is a good example of what a real neighborhood “activity center” looks like. It is the home to a pharmacy, a hair salon, restaurant, UPS store, cleaners, and supermarket and retail shops. All are local businesses that serve the adjacent neighborhoods. With encouragement to the owners and tenants, and the participation of the City forester, there will be more trees and enhanced landscaping, creating a more enjoyable pedestrian experience and increased support of the businesses. As the boulevard becomes a more dynamic pedestrian environment, it will hopefully encourage property owners to stay and renovate their properties. The LiNC is structured to encourage such re-hab and that will bode well for the street, for the merchants, and for the adjacent neighborhoods.

We have already seen signs of improvements via re-building of the commercial activities at the southern corners of Lincoln and Pico. Murals have been added to several buildings along the street, and there are at least two more commercial re-hab projects currently in the planning stages.

The Ocean Park and Sunset Park sides of Lincoln add an interesting complexity to the design solution as the cross streets are offset from each other, making signaling and pedestrian crossings challenging. Landscaped medians offer a viable opportunity to provide safe crossing locations, and several potential new crossings are being studied. With offset streets and medians, left turns onto some residential side streets will be impacted, with a possible upside being that traffic will have fewer left turns slowing traffic, and potentially help reduce cut-thru traffic in the neighborhoods.

The LiNC team has listened attentively to the residents and businesses, and the progress is encouraging. Lincoln is a City gateway that also serves three neighborhoods, and we hope to see it continue to evolve into a boulevard that says welcome to visitors, as well as providing a reimagined pedestrian environment– a Lincoln that can be a model for improvements to all of our major boulevards. A Lincoln Blvd. finally being set free from blight.

Bob Taylor, AIA for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

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