HomeCity NewsBurbankers Chime In on San Fernando Changes

Burbankers Chime In on San Fernando Changes

The jury is still out on the recent pedestrian-friendly changes to San Fernando Boulevard as city officials seek to improve safety and enhance the downtown experience in an ever-changing urban landscape.

The three-block strip of San Fernando Boulevard between Olive Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard was recently modified from its two-way traffic flow to a one-way configuration to the delight of some and the horror of others, street interviews by the Leader revealed. The changes are part of a one-year pilot program, so there’s a chance the new setup won’t last.

The Leader surveyed 14 Burbankers Wednesday for a rough barometer on how residents are reacting to the changes. The results were split.

Of those surveyed, three residents said they liked the one-way configuration, five said they would go back to the old two-way configuration, five said they liked elements of both the two-way and one-way configurations and one resident said they wanted to see the street blocked off for a pedestrian-only build.

Burgeoning transportation options nearby like the proposed Metro BRT and a spate of more than 3,000 housing units planned for the downtown area means that city officials are anticipating a far denser city center than ever before. The idea for a pedestrian-oriented street configuration on San Fernando was proposed as a way to adapt to those eventualities, compounded by the growing threat of vehicle-pedestrian incidents.

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.

Bo Hernandez, who works as a Downtown Burbank Street Team member, patrols San Fernando Boulevard daily. He provides public safety services for the city, spending his days monitoring traffic, answering questions and sometimes handling unruly bargoers.

“It’s definitely slowed down the traffic, and from a safety standpoint, the changes have been helpful,” said Hernandez. “Several times in the past, people would come down the street quickly or take a fast turn and almost hit someone walking in the crosswalk. Now we don’t have that problem.”

He added that the additional parking has resulted in fewer delivery and ride-share vehicles stopping in the middle of a traffic lane on San Fernando, an issue that was cited by city planning staff last year.

“Illegal parking by delivery drivers 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 in a January 2023 City Council 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.”

A group of two bicycle riders said they preferred the two-way traffic setup, though the new configuration had its benefits.

“It’s kind of a mix,” said one cyclist, Patrick Fuentes, who was sitting at a now permanent in-street dining parklet that was once the location of street parking — a remnant of pandemic-era city planning.

“Yeah, it’s improved the amount of space where you can ride a bike and park and there are the new dining areas where you can sit, but from a traffic standpoint, it’s kind of problematic.”

Fuentes said that it now takes him twice as long to drive down San Fernando.

Another resident, Areg Bagdasarian, said that people would adjust to the changes, and begin to take other east-to-west thoroughfares like Third Street or First Street.

“Eventually people will get used to avoiding this stretch and I think it will actually be better than what it was,” Bagdasarian said. “I’ve already noticed a big improvement on Magnolia, because it doesn’t clog anymore after the changes. It’s rush hour right now and San Fernando is completely fine. Is this what people are complaining about?”

City Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi has taken a close look at the project. She’s outspoken about traffic safety, and supports alternative modes of transportation such as walking, biking and using public transit.

“San Fernando Boulevard between Olive and Magnolia is a thriving, busy business district in our city. It is a high-priority area to keep safe and welcoming for all,” Takahashi told the Leader.

“The reconfiguration project is designed to reduce vehicle speeds, reduce car-car and car-pedestrian interactions, as well as increase the space and comfort for folks enjoying our downtown area to shop, eat, or see a movie.”

Takahashi celebrated that bicycle traffic can now more easily share the road with the slower-moving cars and said the pedestrian-forward change paves the way for the uptick in downtown housing to come.

“This project is an important one to me, personally, as it shows that our city is prioritizing safety and pedestrian comfort while maintaining the essential access needed for deliveries, disabled parking, and drop-off and pickup,” Takahashi said.

She pointed out that the new one-way configuration makes it easier and cheaper to close the street for events, like fairs and celebrations.

Takahashi said that the city is hoping the new configuration will create a more welcoming and functional environment for all residents, but encouraged residents to speak up about how they feel about the changes.

The Councilwoman is hosting a walkabout on San Fernando on Saturday, April 13, at 3 p.m., where residents can join her for coffee and a stroll down the updated boulevard, discuss the changes and give feedback.

“It is a pilot project, and we are collecting comments from our residents and visitors on the experience of walking, biking, driving and parking in the new configuration. We have already received many comments that will help us improve the area when the final configuration is approved later in the year,” Takahashi said.

In reconfiguring the strip of San Fernando, the city utilized “quick build” materials, such as barriers and painted boundaries, meant to be low in cost, easily installed and easily removed. This allows the city to test the project throughout the duration of the pilot.

Staff will measure the effects of the changes, and a decision by the City Council could mean implementing a permanent one-way infrastructure or going back to the old two-way configuration.

Residents can send comments to citycouncil@burbankca.gov or mfuentas@burbankca.gov.

First published in the April 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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