I can’t help but notice how many street “improvement” projects are under way in Santa Monica, the region’s most sustainable city. All sorts of traffic “calming” projects – a euphemism for slowing traffic to a crawl in the name of public safety — are springing up all around town. Most of them involve narrowing the street, installing ADA compliant curb cuts and providing a small landscaped area.
Unfortunately, none of them are green streets projects, which have been commonplace in Seattle and Portland for over a decade. You may have seen some photos of these foreign- looking streets with beautiful landscaping, small to no curbs, permeable surfaces where gutters often reside, and genuine curb appeal — features that seem to be anathema in urban L.A.
The Santa Monica projects are the antithesis of green streets projects, with city workers constructing a veritable citadel around a small landscaped area. The only stormwater that can infiltrate the landscaped area has to come straight from the heavens. The ratio of concrete to green seems to average around 10:1 — even for a street corner project.
What will it take for Santa Monica and other local municipalities to include green street elements in all of their street construction and large maintenance projects? Santa Monica is talking about making a small part of Ocean Park south of Lincoln a green street project, but this is only one pilot. Why anyone needs to do more pilots is a mystery considering the success of these projects in the Pacific Northwest . And there are already green street projects at Bimini Slough off of Vermont and Oros Street near the L.A. River. The city of L.A. has been talking about moving to green streets for nearly a year. But it’s time for deeds, not words.
Despite all of the discussion and activity, no city in Los Angeles County has passed a green streets ordinance with requirements for all street projects. The city of Ventura is furthest along regionally, with its city council recently passing a resolution asking staff to move in that direction.
There’s tremendous opportunity to treat and infiltrate polluted runoff from transportation land uses through green streets. Imagine what recently rehabbed Santa Monica Boulevard could have been if the miles of median landscaped strips weren’t protected like concrete fortresses, but instead were porous media infiltration strips that received polluted runoff from the heavily used street. That would have reduced pollution from one of the country’s busiest streets dramatically.
With all of the talk of transportation needs in the region and state bonds of nearly $20 billion earmarked for transportation projects, local governments need to change the way they do road projects by adopting green street ordinances as soon as possible. Also, Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E designate nearly $400 million for stormwater projects.
Greens streets beautify neighborhoods by paring back the concrete jungle, reducing runoff pollution, and attracting state bond funding at a time when local government funding is hard to come by. The sad truth is that the toughest obstacle to success locally may be inertia from street maintenance staff members that have no experience in making streets green.