Portions of West Cliff Drive closed or made one-way after suffering storm damage
The Santa Cruz City Council voted to restore two-way traffic to the stretch of West Cliff Drive between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue (top of photo) that has been one-way since January storm damage.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Storms 2023: Road to Recovery

Santa Cruz City Council votes to restore two-way traffic on West Cliff Drive; work to begin next week

The Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to restore two-way traffic on West Cliff Drive by the start of next year, ending a pilot project that has seen a stretch of the scenic road reduced to one-way traffic since January. While many residents told the city they want to see one-way traffic remain, some Westsiders say they are fed up with increased traffic in their neighborhoods and welcome a return to a two-way West Cliff.

The Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to restore two-way traffic on West Cliff Drive by the start of next year.

City councilmembers also agreed to spend $3.7 million on the West Cliff Stabilization Project, which involves placing infill walls and riprap to strengthen the resistance to erosion. Crews are set to begin working on the road next week, with the construction ramping up over the next month.

Last week, the city announced that it was planning to restore two-way traffic to the stretch of West Cliff Drive between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue, where eastbound lane has been closed since January as part of a pilot project to test out transitioning West Cliff to one-way traffic.

Over the summer, the city’s transportation department studied how cars, bikes and pedestrians were using the road and gauged public reception to the one-way pilot.

City Transportation Manager Matt Starkey said the study found that overall traffic volume is down in comparison to 2019 — an ongoing trend since the pandemic. “I think a lot of us might have had this baseline before anything changed on West Cliff,” he said. “So when we hear the comparison from before and after the storm, it’s important to remember that vehicle volumes were at a low point before any changes.”

The city also found that 1,700 people used the pedestrian and bike path on an average weekday during the pilot project, while 2,360 people used the path on an average weekend. Most pedestrians and cyclists said they enjoyed having West Cliff converted to one-way traffic, the study found. When city staff asked people on West Cliff whether they preferred previous road conditions or the one-way, only 11 of the 123 responses preferred two-way traffic.

Drivers, on the other hand, were more split. Of 136 motorists staff surveyed, 36% said they liked the one-way, 25% disliked it, and 39% did not respond. City transportation planner Claire Gallogly said public surveys showed that people highly value biking and walking on West Cliff, and that there was “a lot of interest” in separating bikes from pedestrians, and separating both from cars.

However, closures around Bethany Curve resulted in more traffic eastbound on Pelton Avenue, northbound Woodrow Avenue, northbound Almar Avenue, and both ways on Oxford Way and Clark Avenue.

The Bethany Curve bridge west of Woodrow Avenue isn’t expected to reopen until the end of summer 2024, so residents are likely to continue to see higher traffic volumes on neighboring side streets, the city said. City public works assistant director Kevin Crossley added that while the Bethany Curve culvert is under repair, residents should expect both a vehicle and pedestrian detour.

Portions of West Cliff Drive closed or made one-way after suffering storm damage
The bridge at Bethany Curve and West Cliff Drive is likely to remain closed for a year.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

City staff recommended additional outreach and polling as part of a 50-year West Cliff plan. Starkey added that the city plans to conduct a more thorough survey of the community to fully understand the needs and wants of those who use West Cliff for recreation and commuting.

“The desires we heard are not possible without tradeoffs, and we’ll continue to explore that within the 50-year vision,” said Gallogly. “So if and when we have another [road] failure, we have a plan in place rather than a reaction in place.”

Portions of West Cliff Drive closed or made one-way after suffering storm damage

If You Go

Future of West Cliff meeting

The city is hosting another community meeting on the future of West Cliff Drive on Oct. 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the London Nelson Community Center, at Laurel and Center streets.

The meeting will discuss the development of a 50-year plan to address climate change and which projects are vital to shaping the future of the scenic road.

During an hourlong public comment session Tuesday, many said they would like to see the one-way pilot remain, as they believe it is more environmentally friendly and provides good access to West Cliff Drive for multiple uses.

“Santa Cruz has made strong progress in transforming infrastructure toward a more balanced and climate-responsive system,” said Bike Santa Cruz County board member Stephen Svete. “Every transportation project that helps balance our mobility system away from cars and toward active transportation provides a means for individuals to actively take part in reducing their carbon footprint.”

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

Westside resident Mike Fraguglia said having just one lane of traffic would make West Cliff more enjoyable for everyone. “We have never actually had a true example of one-way traffic,” he said. “Cars are too present in our lives, and nobody likes the space they take up.”

Others, however, supported the return to a two-way road, citing safety concerns stemming from increased traffic on side streets.

“Having nearly 1,000 cars go past your house every day making noise and speeding is traumatic for the neighborhood,” said Glenn Seiler, who told the council that he represented the Pelton Avenue-Clark Avenue-Columbia Street triangle. “We need to create a safe enough zone so that the neighbors can park in safety.”

Pelton Avenue resident Don Iglesias added that streets like his aren’t designed to be used as thoroughfares, capable of handling a high volume of traffic. “There’s a difference between driving through an impact zone and living in one,” he said.

Granite Construction will head the project to build infill walls along the one-way stretch, with a goal of reopening West Cliff to two-way traffic by January. Crews will be excavating dirt, hauling in materials and stationing numerous construction vehicles around the roadway, meaning the area could be hectic for some time.

The stretch of West Cliff between Almar Avenue and Woodrow Avenue, which is fully closed, is still around a year away from reopening. The city still has to secure federal funding and finalize the project design.

“There’s going to be a lot of heavy equipment and traffic in a very busy area, so we need the public to respect the signage and be aware of the workers,” Crossley said. “We want to keep everybody safe.”

An earlier version of this article misspelled Mike Fraguglia’s name. Lookout regrets the error.

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