First published in the Jan. 28 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council decided Tuesday to reconfigure a three-block portion of San Fernando Boulevard to be more pedestrian-friendly by altering the flow of vehicle traffic to one way. The one-year pilot program is part of a larger city goal to enhance pedestrian safety in Downtown Burbank.
City staff also proposed a pedestrian-only alternative design for the three blocks of San Fernando between Orange Grove Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard. A full street closure would allow the city to develop an open-space promenade similar to the Third Street in Santa Monica, but business owners spoke out in force against the idea.
For some, the project brought back sour memories of the failed Golden Mall, a city-sponsored pedestrian thoroughfare on San Fernando which opened in 1967. At the outset, the Golden Mall was hailed as an innovative shopping experience. It offered modern designs, fountains, play areas for kids and pedestrian-only entrances to businesses along San Fernando Boulevard.
At first, merchant sales increased after the Golden Mall’s 1967 grand opening, according to “Burbank History” by historian Jackson Mayors. By the late 1980s, those sales dipped. Many blamed parking issues and degrading infrastructure. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1988 that several businesses were failing and the mall area was neglected.
“You could count on one hand the businesses that survived,” said Gary Sutliff, an area landowner with property on San Fernando, during the meeting.
“Leave it alone. It has survived. It’s actually doing really good. As property owners, I can tell you we’ve never had it this good. … If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Sutliff said.
The city held meetings with public stakeholders regarding the reorganization project, where they received many responses opposing a full street closure. Most endorsed the one-way design.
The benefits of an open-space, walkable commercial area were acknowledged by all members of the board, but ultimately they chose to listen to community feedback, adopting the one-way design.
“I would love to have closed-off space for pedestrians, however, with all of the issues that have been presented, it’s important to consider the best use for that specific space,” said Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi during Tuesday’s meeting.
The Downtown area has the highest amount of pedestrian and vehicular activity in Burbank. Data collected by the city revealed that more than 80% of pedestrian-vehicle collisions are the fault of the motorist, and those collisions most often occur when vehicles are turning.
Illegal parking by delivery drivers is commonly observed near crosswalks on San Fernando, city staff said. This blocks the line of sight of pedestrians seeking to cross the roadway, and poses the risk of an accident, Senior Transportation Planner Marcos Fuentes said during the meeting.
“Reorganizing San Fernando’s traffic flow would address pedestrian safety in Downtown Burbank by reducing the points where a vehicle and pedestrian conflict exists at intersections and crosswalks, primarily by eliminating one direction of vehicle travel,” Fuentes said.
Changes to San Fernando will utilize “quick-build” materials, like barriers and painted boundaries, meant to be low in cost, easily installed and easily removed. This will allow the city to test the project throughout the duration of the pilot program. Staff will measure the effects of the changes and modify the “quick-build” improvements in response to observations.
The council unanimously chose to approve the one-way reorganization project. Staff will return to the council chambers six months after changes are implemented to report on the success or failure of the change.