Traffic Problems in Pacific Palisades Exacerbated by Geography

Chautauqua Boulevard, which is being built in 1925, joins to Beverly Boulevard (Sunset), which was completed in 1926. Both roads are one of the few ways in and out of Pacific Palisades.

The Pacific Palisades Community Council invited LAPD West Traffic Officer Blair Gabler to its October 12 Zoom meeting to present statistics of collisions, and to ask if increased accidents were the cause of the most recent traffic issues.

At least three times in recent months, traffic was at a stand-still for hours. (August 29, a semi-truck swerved to avoid a pedestrian at 4:30 a.m. and because of hazmat, closed PCH. On September 19, two southbound lanes of PCH were closed near the California incline in Santa Monica because of repair work because of a power outage. On October 9, PCH in Santa Monica was closed because of an accident and a man climbing the Ferris Wheel).

Gabler said that accidents have not increased in the area, but said when there is an accident on PCH, “WAZE (traffic app) is sending people to Sunset.” The officer also noted that “It’s hard when there’s only three ways out of there (Sunset, Temescal and Chautauqua).”

Pacific Palisades is nestled between the Santa Monica Mountains to the north and west, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The town is built on bluffs overlooking the ocean, hence the name Palisades. (Palisades are defined as a line of steep cliffs, especially along waterways like a river or an ocean.)

When the town was built, there was one major road, Beverly Boulevard (now Sunset), which was finished in 1926. A second road, Roosevelt Highway (now PCH) opened in 1929.

Around that same time, Chautauqua Boulevard was also constructed and was the only other road out of Pacific Palisades.

At one time motorists could drive down Via de la Paz to PCH, but the killer slide of 1958 permanently shut that artery and resulted in PCH rerouted closer to the ocean.

In 1961, when Palisades High School was built in Temescal Canyon, a road was built that connected Sunset Boulevard and the school with Pacific Coast Highway. That 60-year-old road is the only road that has been added to the town since its founding in 1922.

Even though there have been no new roads built, the population of Pacific Palisades went from several hundred at its founding to about 25,000, traffic has increased dramatically.

Members of the community council expressed concern during the Thursday meeting, that if a community evacuation is ever needed, it appears that people will be trapped in their cars.

Many from the Palisades saw how the residents of Lahaina were not able to drive out/escape, and that town saw at least 98 fatalities. The Anchorage Daily News reported on August 23 “But dozens of others found themselves caught in a hellscape, their cars jammed together on a narrow road, surrounded by flames on three sides and the rocky ocean waves on the fourth. Some died in their cars, while others tried to run for safety.”

People were unable to escape the fire by driving out of Lahaina
Photo: Tiffany Kidder Winn via AP

Gabbler told the Community Council that if there is an emergency, “They will stop all the lights and move people out of there.”

In case of fire emergency, Area 1 Representative, Murray Levy said he’s told people in Castellammare to forget trying to exit by driving on Tramonto, which is the only road in and out of that community. He suggested that those residents do what some in Lahaina did and walk to the beach to escape flames.

At the emergency meeting, held after the regular meeting, to discuss the Potrero Pedestrian Bridge, one of the speakers suggested that if a bridge were in place, people who live on the West Rim and in the Huntington Palisades might be able to escape a fire by walking through the Canyon to reach Will Rogers Beach.

If Pacific Palisades cannot safely evacuate the people who live here, now, because of the geography, it would seem that is an argument against adding density to this area.

The PPCC has sent letters to the California Senate and Assembly opposing development without taking into account the impact of added density, especially since the entire town is in the Very High Fire Severity Zone.

Chautauqua is being graded before houses were built on either side of the road.

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