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The pandemic transformed how people navigate their lives, including transit patterns and street use. Similar to other cities in Los Angeles county, Santa Monica’s bus, bike, car, and traffic accident patterns were all flipped on their head in the past year, and a new analysis of transit trends reportedly yielded key insights into said changes. In the beach town, along with the decrease in traffic came another benefit: far less road accidents.
According to data provided by the SMPD, the number of total collisions in Santa Monica decreased by 50% during the pandemic compared to the prior year, going from 1302 to 658. Both injury and fatal collisions were cut in half and collisions involving pedestrians decreased by over 60%. Moreover, DUI arrests also dropped by over 70% — from 256 to 71 — likely due to the closure of the local nightlife scene.
As residents worked, dined, and studied from home for many months, altering the city’s landscape in a positive way, quieter streets also gave way to one negative. A trend that shot up throughout California as soon as the pandemic started was the increase in speeding. This was no different in Santa Monica, as citations were up by 142% in the past year.
At only one month since lockdown began with traffic volume down about 35%, the California Highway Patrol saw an alarming 87% increase in citations for speeding in excess of 100 mph, issuing 2,493 tickets throughout the state — almost doubling the amount of the same offense seen during the same period in 2019.
However, as noted in the previously mentioned report, the safety benefits of less cars and drunk drivers on the road overall outweighed the dangers from increased speeding and only two fatal car collisions were recorded during the pandemic in the city.
In Santa Monica, residents and local government reimagined how street space could be used for dining, shopping, safe socialization, and fitness. City Chief Mobility Officer, Francie Stefan, reportedly noted that 22% of Santa Monica’s land area is streets and these are public spaces. “I think that we’ve seen a really interesting cultural shift in people using the streets more, to be safe and maintain social distancing, but still have limited social contact and other kinds of activities they need for their livelihood.”
In previous years, Santa Monica had one of the most dangerous corridors in Los Angeles. A few months later, the city announced that the new Ocean Avenue protected bikeway was safe to ride. The 0.6-mile, two-way parking-protected bikeway extends along the west side of Ocean Avenue from the Santa Monica Pier to California Avenue. This closes a gap between the Colorado Esplanade and the California Incline, creating a continuous low-stress bikeway from the Beach Path to the Metro E Line (Expo) terminus station. The spike in bike sales and roller-blading cause the City to roll out 18 miles of new protected bike lanes.
And while there was hesitation that removing parking spaces throughout the city would drive down visitors to Main Street, data suggested that the opposite occurred. “There was a 41% reduction in parking lot usage Citywide, however, Main Street had only a 24% decrease overall,” said Stefan. “The lower reduction for Main Street indicates the Al Fresco project successfully helped mitigate the reduction of business activity during the pandemic.”
Stefan also said she hopes many of the green travel habits — like biking, walking, or roller-blading — that people picked up during the pandemic will become a permanent part of their daily routines.