Quick Take:

A stretch of West Cliff Drive between Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street was converted to one-way in January. Since then, traffic on Oxford Way, just off of Woodrow, has increased noticeably. Residents have raised concerns with city staff, prompting discussions about turning Oxford Way into a cul-de-sac ahead of a plan to extend the one-way section of West Cliff to roughly a mile.

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The City of Santa Cruz is studying whether to turn at least one West Cliff-adjacent street into a cul-de-sac to manage traffic issues through the neighborhood as part of a pilot project to transform a stretch of West Cliff Drive into a one-way street.

City staff are hosting a virtual community meeting Thursday to update residents on the West Cliff Drive project. Among the plans that staff are set to discuss at the meeting is a proposal to test out converting Oxford Way to a cul-de-sac to prevent through traffic.

A stretch of West Cliff Drive between Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street was converted to one-way in January because of damage from the winter storms. Since then, City of Santa Cruz Transportation Manager Matt Starkey said, traffic on Oxford Way, just off of Woodrow Avenue and parallel to West Cliff Drive, has noticeably increased. Residents have raised concerns with city staff, prompting discussions about closing off Oxford to through traffic.

“We actually met with [residents] last week and they would really like us to do a cul-de-sac,” he said, adding that the city plans to test that idea out in the coming months. “That way there’s no through traffic on Oxford anymore.”

Starkey said discussions about traffic alleviation will continue with residents on other nearby streets. “Oxford is going to be the example of how we’re going to do it,” he said, “and then we’re going to work with the neighborhood on a menu of options.”

In late February, the Santa Cruz City Council officially directed the city’s public works department to design the pilot project, about two weeks after city officials announced their intent to explore turning roughly a mile of West Cliff Drive into a one-way street as a form of managed retreat.

City spokesperson Erika Smart said city staff and project personnel have periodically met and discussed the project and its impacts with neighbors in the area in order to inform their next steps and decide on ways to approach the work. Public works is set to return to the city council for plan approval in May.

Starkey said the city plans to set up cameras along the one-way section between Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street to monitor the number of people driving, walking and biking there. He said this will help city engineers determine if the walking path is wide enough and if the roadway can really work with just one lane open.

Starkey added that the city will also study total travel to and from the West Cliff area, including which neighborhoods people often come from, how long they stay and how the area is used overall.

“That’s a little more complicated — there are various vendors that source that kind of transportation data and turn it into a digestible format for us in the transportation world,” he said. “I don’t know which data source we’re going to use yet, but our consultant team is going to figure that out.”

West Cliff Drive after the city's public works department finished emergency repairs.
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Hilary Bryant, a former Santa Cruz mayor and a leader of the resident group Save West Cliff, agreed that traffic impacts are a real concern among locals, and that creating a cul-de-sac on Oxford Way could bring forth similar projects in the near future.

“People are going to have to be patient as the city sees what works,” she said, adding that she feels that communication between the city and nearby residents has been good. “There are very few alternatives at this point.”

Bryant points to the coming summer months as an important time to evaluate the pilot project: “Once it stops raining, more people will be coming down to West Cliff. I think that’ll be the real test.”

Although the vision for a one-way West Cliff Drive includes extending the one-way section all the way to Bay Street, by the Dream Inn, Starkey said that’s unlikely to happen soon.

“Our goal right now is to monitor what we have out there and try to understand it in this smaller section,” he said. “Once we have a good grasp on that, I think we can get into the question of whether we should extend it.”

Thursday’s virtual meeting is scheduled for 5:30-6:30 p.m. Find the Zoom link here, and more information on West Cliff Drive from the City of Santa Cruz here.

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...