Traffic concerns in updated North School report
by Ryan McDonald
Revised portions of an environmental impact report for the North School project have zeroed in on the traffic and parking impacts associated with reopening the North Hermosa campus, revealing potential spikes in congestion during mornings and afternoons.
The school district released the updated sections of its draft Environmental Impact Report for North School last month. The district had previously released a draft EIR in November of last year, but voted to revise portions of it after the city of Hermosa Beach submitted a letter criticizing the traffic modeling methodology that the document employed.
The original EIR relied on a “level of service” analysis that looked at intersection impacts and street volume on an hour-over-hour basis, and concluded that the proposed project would have “no significant impacts” on traffic and transportation. Although that methodology is widely used in impact reports prepared for other California districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, resident comments and the city’s letter said that it obscured the effects of a concentrated rush of cars around drop-off and pick-up times. The revisions analyzed down to the half-hour, and found that “potentially significant impacts” at intersections and nearby streets would occur both during construction and following the school’s opening.
Resident Scott Davey, who lives near the project and has submitted comments to both versions of the report, said he appreciated the revision effort, but was disappointed in the analysis. Davey said that he and many of his neighbors support the school reopening, which is being paid for with a bond passed by voters in 2016 to relieve overcrowding at View and Valley schools. But he has urged the district to be more creative in mitigating impacts.
“All that traffic from south and east, where these cars are coming from, and you’re funneling them into nine to 15 spaces. How do you take 200 cars and put them into nine to 15 spaces in half an hour?” he said in a school board meeting last week.
The document identifies several possible ways to mitigate these traffic impacts, but those forecasted to be most effective, such as widening a street, could potentially cause more inconvenience to residents than the project itself.
“When you’re trying to widen a street in an existing urban area, you run into things: you run into people’s property, you run into buildings, you run into sidewalks, you run into improvements. It gets very expensive, very quickly,” said Mark Teague, an associate principal with Placeworks, the consulting firm that produced both the original EIR and the revisions.
A proposal to restrict 148 on-street parking spaces during pick-up and drop-off times would require permission from the city, but is not “acceptable or realistic,” based on conversations Placeworks had with city staff during the revision process, Teague said. (A smaller proposal, which would impact six spaces in front residences and 26 near the school, may be considered, but would not reduce traffic by as much.)
Many parents now drop their children off at the parking lot behind City Hall instead of dealing with gridlock in front of Valley School, and some parents speculated that similar strategies may be used at North, including the Kiwanis building on the other side of Valley Park from the school. Although this would reduce the number of cars on streets adjacent to North, the district cannot rely on that in its analysis.
“There’s what people do, and what you sanction as a school,” Teague said.
The district will now take all comments received and prepare responses before considering a final version of the impact report. Under California law, public entities may approve projects with “significant and unavoidable impacts” by concluding that the benefits of the proposed project outweigh the negative impacts.