Westside resident Tom Powers at the intersection of Delaware and Almar avenues in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Storms 2023: Road to Recovery

With some West Cliff-area repairs still a year out, Westside residents push for better traffic safety measures

More than 70 residents in the Santa Cruz neighborhoods adjacent to West Cliff Drive have signed a petition to remove the temporary cul-de-sacs on Alta Avenue and Oxford Way and introduce stronger traffic calming measures in the surrounding streets. Although the city’s public works department says it will continue to work with the resident group and install more road safety measures, the fully closed stretch of West Cliff Drive west of Woodrow Avenue will remain so for another year, meaning increased traffic on nearby streets is far from over.

Tom Powers has noticed plenty of traffic safety issues in 50 years of living on Santa Cruz’s Westside. Long before this year’s winter storms took out various chunks of West Cliff Drive, leaving a significant portion of the roadway unusable and diverting traffic onto neighboring streets, Powers had seen his fair share of mishaps from his home on Delaware Avenue, where he has lived for about 30 years.

His oldest daughter’s car was on the receiving end of two hit-and-run accidents in the span of six months. When a close friend brought over freshly caught salmon, her car was rear-ended within a few minutes of pulling up to Powers’ place.

“It was the first new car they ever bought in their life, and it basically got totaled,” he said. “Delaware is very narrow and you have to have your head on a swivel.”

Those concerns have only heightened for Powers and dozens of other neighborhood residents since the city shut down stretches of West Cliff Drive between Columbia Street and Almar Avenue in January because of damage from the storms and for a pilot project to study the effects of turning the iconic coastal roadway into a one-way street.

The road closure and the failure of the Bethany Curve culvert caused motorists to cut through neighboring streets in large numbers, prompting the city to temporarily convert two neighboring streets, Oxford Way and Alta Avenue, into cul-de-sacs.

The City of Santa Cruz has closed Oxford Way to through traffic at Bethany Curve
A block in from West Cliff Drive, barriers at Bethany Curve have turned Oxford Way into a cul-du-sac.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But nearby residents, such as Powers on Delaware, say those cul-de-sacs have caused their streets to now become inundated with traffic. They feel as though they’re carrying a disproportionate amount of the burden for the disruption caused by this winter’s storm damage.

“It’s not fair that we take the brunt of it. Delaware’s already the thoroughfare through the Westside,” said Powers. “We already have a substantial amount of traffic and it’s really exacerbated by having these streets closed.”

Powers and at least 75 other households in the area — mostly on Delaware, Almar, Alta and Plateau avenues — have signed a petition calling for the city to reopen Oxford Way and Alta Avenue to through traffic. They are also asking the city to install traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps, continuous sidewalks and a stop sign or a lit crosswalk by Garfield Park on Almar Avenue.

Two-way traffic on West Cliff Drive could be back as soon as the beginning of 2024, with Santa Cruz’s public works...

The Santa Cruz City Council is set to vote this week on a plan to restore two-way traffic to West Cliff Drive between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue. But the stretch of road west of Woodrow will likely remain closed for another year as the city works to find funding and finalize designs for repairs to the culvert along Bethany Curve, which was badly damaged in the storms. The Bethany Curve closure is the main driver of traffic onto the side streets, as well as the reason for the cul-de-sacs, said city transportation manager Matt Starkey.

“I think the City of Santa Cruz is definitely trying to do the best thing,” said Almar Avenue resident Eric Olsen, who signed the petition. “But I think they didn’t look at things from a holistic approach — they were in reaction mode, which is understandable.”

Olsen said that drivers frequently speed and run stop signs on Delaware and Almar. Given the relatively narrow streets in the neighborhood, he’s worried that those speeding cars pose a substantial threat to bikers and pedestrians.

Brooke Secore is a resident of Plateau Avenue, which has also seen a jump in traffic because of the closures. She says she’s sympathetic to the concerns of neighbors on Oxford Way, which became a prime detour for West Cliff Drive travelers until the city installed the cul-de-sac. But she thinks the city needs to do more to address the situation than just close a few streets.

Portions of West Cliff Drive closed or made one-way after suffering storm damage
A stretch of West Cliff Drive closed west of Woodrow Avenue (left side of photo).
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It sucks that Oxford saw traffic increase so much, I don’t envy that and I would be really upset about that, too, if I lived there,” she said. “But you can’t just close it and think that the cars won’t go to another road.”

The city recently put in some speed-mitigation measures at the intersection of Delaware and Almar, in the form of medians, small speed bump islands and posts to separate cars from cyclists and pedestrians on the corners in order to slow down turning traffic.

“One of the biggest concerns the residents had was about pedestrian safety at that intersection where there aren’t full sidewalks,” said Starkey. “We felt like that was a good intervention there to help make it safer for people to cross through their neighborhood.”

Starkey added that, this week, the city’s public works department will make striping improvements to better define the roadway, which he hopes will lead to slower driving along the road. However, he said that public works will not be installing continuous sidewalks, which is an expensive and time-consuming project.

the damaged section of West Cliff Drive just west of Woodrow Avenue on Santa Cruz's Westside
Repairs to the Bethany Curve culvert will affect how long cul-de-sacs remain on Oxford Way and Alta Avenue.
(Will McCahill / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Olsen said that the changes have slowed traffic somewhat at the intersection of Delaware and Almar, but have not solved the problem of motorists driving dangerously along the rest of the street.

“I’m blown away by how people don’t stop at stop signs. People just sort of gun it from Delaware to West Cliff,” he said. “In that regard, it’s much worse because there’s more traffic.”

Secore added that the cul-de-sacs also make travel through the neighborhoods difficult even without a car — with navigability one of the main reasons she loves the area.

“I chose where I live specifically because it’s flat, it’s a grid, and I can bike,” she said. “You have many options to get to the places you want to go. I hope they reopen those whenever construction is done on West Cliff.”

Starkey said that until the Bethany Curve culvert is repaired next summer, it’s unlikely the current setup will change.

“Those cul-de-sacs are really tied to the Bethany Curve bridge closure,” he said, adding that the some 6,000 cars that West Cliff Drive would see each day were cutting through the adjacent neighborhoods before the cul-de-sacs were installed. “Once we get that bridge reopened, we will revisit those cul-de-sacs.”

Starkey added that city staff held two neighborhood meetings with Delaware and Almar residents, and will continue working with the group of dismayed Westsiders. He said that transportation staff have ideas from the group for how to approach coming changes to Almar. “We’ll be looking at quick build improvements, mainly striping, posts or bumps in the roadway to help slow people down and improve visibility,” he said.

But until the Bethany Curve culvert is repaired, a tug-of-war between Westside residents is bound to continue.

“We’re just saying let’s make this equitable,” said Powers. “It’s a shared burden that we’re all going through.”

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