Safety Story with Jason Kligier

Safety Story with Jason Kligier, Mobility Manager with the City of Santa Monica

The importance of data analysis, community engagement and outreach for achieving Vision Zero goals.

For this installment of Stories from the Field, Berkeley SafeTREC’s Lisa Peterson chatted with Jason Kligier, Mobility Manager with the City of Santa Monica. In this installment, Kligier discusses the development of the 2022 Local Roadway Safety Plan, implementing pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements as part of achieving the city's Vision Zero goals, and the importance of data analysis, community engagement, and outreach. Read the Safety Story below! 

Can you share with me about your current role with the City of Santa Monica?

I am the Mobility Manager for the City of Santa Monica’s Department of Transportation. In the Mobility team, we work in a few different areas, all pertaining to how we design and operate our public right of way. We have transportation planning and traffic engineering units, a team that works with large employers in the community to meet their average vehicle ridership (AVR) targets and administer our trip reduction ordinance. We also have a team that identifies funding via grants or other sources and uses that to redesign streets to implement our various plans, including the Local Roadway Safety Plan, Bike Action Plan Amendment, and Pedestrian Action Plan. They work with the community and internal partners to identify how to take these conceptual ideas about a protected bike lane on a corridor and turn that into construction level drawings that we then hand off to our colleagues in Public Works to handle the construction piece.

Part of that work is doing community engagement and outreach, and then celebrating things when they're done so that people use them. We also have a Programs team that's doing generally pilot programs related to new forms of mobility, including our scooter and electric bike (e-bike) program. We also did a Zero Emission Delivery Zone Pilot Program with local partners, and focus on newer aspects of transportation where technology is disrupting normal operations, integrating those into the city and harnessing their potential. I'm the manager of that team. And then, of course, we're part of the Department of Transportation, which also operates the Big Blue Bus, a transit agency here on the westside of Los Angeles County. We also have a parking operations unit that operates our off-street parking facilities as well as our almost 6,000 on street parking meters.

What inspired you to work in active transportation?

That's a great question. Looking back on my childhood, the things that I was interested in, and the ways that I would spend my time, I think I was always destined to be a planner. Reflecting back, there were a couple of vacant parcels in my neighborhood and I would talk to my parents and friends about how they should be redeveloped into a park for the community. That seemed like a normal thing to talk about to me, but I realized that maybe not everybody is thinking about things in that way.

I grew up in Santa Monica, so I work for the community that is my hometown. I'm very familiar with it and it's also near and dear to my heart. Having grown up in this community, the transportation context was what it was, and I didn't really think too much about it. But then I went to do my undergrad in New York City, a very different urban and transportation context, and saw so much use of public transportation, walking, and now biking. It really got me thinking specifically about transportation and how the options that you have at your disposal really impact your life in so many ways beyond just how long it takes you to get from point A to B. I think the thing that was most interesting to me was the kind of democratizing effect of the subway system in New York, and how you would have people of all walks of life together in close quarters, successfully generally, and you would interact with different people, and you might start up conversations with people that you otherwise wouldn't. And especially wouldn't if you were just sitting in a car inching your way along in gridlock traffic.

After I graduated and moved back to the LA area, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of making those types of changes here, and furthering the kind of community building aspect of active transportation in my home region. After undergrad, I went to graduate school at UCLA to get my Master's in Urban and Regional Planning with a focus on Transportation. From there, I got an internship with the City of Santa Monica, and it was only supposed to be for a quarter. Here I am, 16 years later, still employed with the City of Santa Monica.

It's like it becomes a family.

It really does feel like a family here. A lot of people stay with the city for quite a long time. I have some co-workers who have been here about as long as I have or longer, it’s a good place to work. And having that continuity also really helps because so much of this field is based on your institutional knowledge and building those connections with the community, finding what people are interested in, trying to develop projects that address long term community concerns or desires, and then finding the funding and figuring out ways to make it happen. And in planning, things don't happen overnight. It is kind of a stepwise process that builds on the past and looks towards the future. It definitely helps to have that kind of through line with the staff.

Thanks, Jason. Can you take a deeper dive into how the work you're doing with the City of Santa Monica encourages safety for people walking, biking and rolling, and how that work is related to the city's Vision Zero efforts?

In 2016, our City Council adopted our Pedestrian Action Plan, which was one of the implementation plans that came after we adopted our Land Use and Circulation Element. Those two elements of our General Plan took about six years to update. Once we got those approved, we went on to the Pedestrian Action Plan to provide more context around the General Plan. One of the things that came out through our community outreach and in our data analysis is just how vulnerable pedestrians are. One of the components of the plan and commitment that our Council made with adoption was to achieve Vision Zero within 10 years, by 2026. And it's a great goal, but it's a very big goal, and it is definitely a paradigm shift in the way that we were doing things for many years, and even before I got into the field.

 Signalized intersections, 2015-2019

Figure mapping the Signalized Intersections with the Highest Number of Crashes, 2015-2019 (Photo: City of Santa Monica)

So, in order to take this huge goal and turn it into something that can be actionable and digestible, on a year-by-year work plan basis, we took 11 years of crash data and did a deep dive analysis on where those crashes were happening and the frequency. We identified that about 10% of our city streets accounted for 50% of the fatal and severe injury crashes. With that, we were able to use the priority network that we created of streets and intersections, as a guiding light, to crack this really big problem open. We've used that to guide our prioritization, and last year we updated the Vision Zero Plan with the latest data. Now we call it the Local Roadway Safety Plan (LRSP), which is addressing a change in state law, you need to have one of those LRSP plans. It's the same idea, it is still that prioritization document. We use it to identify locations where we want to put projects in, identify funding, and either apply for grants or get internal funds to be allocated. It also helps us in our current context, where we've got a lot of work and only so many resources, because we're able to identify those locations that have the highest need.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety enhancements on 14th Street, Local Road Safety Plan 2022

Pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements on 14th Street, Local Roadway Safety Plan 2022 (Photo: City of Santa Monica)

I would say that having done this analysis and having this kind of guiding network, as it were, rather than just the entire city and every intersection has been helpful. Now we know okay, well, there's the fatal and severe injury crash locations. And then there's other locations, and that's been very helpful to guide our work. Especially because those plans, the Land Use and Circulation Element, the Bike Action Plan, the Pedestrian Action Plan, and other plans that have been approved over the years have a lot of projects included in them. We've got a list of over 50 projects on various corridors across the community that the Council has adopted and said, “We want you to work on these”. Obviously, it's too much for one team to be doing all at once. So it helps us filter the ones that are the highest priority, and we can do a stepwise approach to tackling this big list of projects.

And so thinking about that, and specifically the Wilshire Safety Study, and now moving to the next phase of implementation, what do you think are the key elements of success for that?

The original Vision Zero Plan and the LRSP update that came out last year, both identified Wilshire Boulevard as one of those priority corridors. Pretty much the entire stretch of Wilshire, within the City of Santa Monica, is on the priority network and certain intersections along the corridor are also in our list of top intersections. As a result, we applied for a grant to conduct a year long safety study that involved data analysis, but also really robust community engagement, which included workshops and walk audits with neighborhood residents and local businesses, as well as some more traditional community meetings. We also used an online survey tool where people could go on a map and leave comments for us if they're not able to attend any of the in-person engagement. This was all done in 2019 and wrapped in early 2020.

Community members conducting a walk audit on Wilshire Blvd.

Community members and city staff on a walk audit at the corner of Lincoln Blvd and Wilshire Blvd (Photo: City of Santa Monica)

It really helped to put a fine focus on what it is we're trying to do. It's a very easy narrative for people to understand…you and your neighbors are getting hurt on this corridor, some of you are not surviving these incidents. And we want to put that all in the past and move forward with a corridor that protects human life. We were able to use the crash data to explain what was happening, what the factors were that were causing those crashes, where those crashes were happening, and then go to those locations, both with our consultant team and then with community members, and talk about what might be successful safety countermeasures to put an end to those issues as the Vision Zero charge challenges us to do. And so it really did help to keep focus on this corridor.

Sometimes when we do community engagement, people come with ideas about issues from other parts of the community, and I want to talk about those, but it was very helpful to keep us on track, specifically focusing on the corridor itself and the issues that we all were experiencing there. And then, provide momentum to come up with and implement those solutions, even if those solutions did mean some tradeoffs.

Aerial view of Harvard Street intersection at Wilshire Blvd.

Aerial view of the Harvard Street intersection at Wilshire Blvd (Photo: City of Santa Monica)

One example, specific to Wilshire, is that we looked at the volumes of the various modes of travel, and also if folks were making right turns, going through, or making left turns and which of those movements were contributing to crashes. We found that at the unsignalized locations on Wilshire, 20% of the crashes involved a left turn or a through movement from the side street, but they only represented 1% of the overall volume of maneuvers. So a very small percentage were causing a very high number of issues. We also found that about 10% of people would try to make a through or left turn at an unsignalized location from a side street, and then would find out that it's just too hard. There are four lanes of traffic, a constant flow of cars, and then they would abort and just make a right turn.

So, we looked at this data, talked to the community, helped them understand what's happening, what we're planning to do in this upcoming implementation, that there is a tradeoff, and that there may be a little bit of rerouting necessary in order to get to their ultimate destination. But the savings in the overall safety of our community are worth it. And we were able to get that consensus and buy-in, as well as support from our Council to go ahead and implement the project.

We did a demonstration of what that would look like with paint and posts during the outreach process at one intersection that was especially challenging, like Tactical Urbanism, to allow people to go out and experience it and see how it works for them as drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. We also went above and beyond in terms of our outreach compared to what we would normally do for the Wilshire Safety Study.

Banners on Wilshire Blvd promoting the Safety Study

Banners on Wilshire Blvd promoting the Safety Study (Photo: City of Santa Monica)

In parallel, we developed a campaign for our Vision Zero goal, because we knew that not everybody knows what Vision Zero means. We created this campaign called “Take the Friendly Road for a Safe Santa Monica.” And, in addition to that tagline, we created a visual identity that went along with it that we use to link back to the safety campaign and as a way to create collateral for the Wilshire Safety Study engagement, to really make that connection between eliminating fatal and severe collisions and this project. We put up light pole banners using that graphic identity up and down the Wilshire Corridor that had a link to the website so people could give feedback and stay up to date on when community meetings were happening and what the next steps were. And ultimately, got a suite of interventions which includes a couple of new traffic signals at intersections, where there was such a high number of collisions and high pedestrian volumes, it was warranted to make that investment. We're also going to be adding some rapid rectangular flashing beacons at some of the unsignalized crosswalks and other countermeasures to work towards this Vision Zero goal.

Later this year, our Public Works Department kicks off their annual repaving program, where certain corridors across the community are repaved every year, which provides a blank canvas where we need to put back new pavement markings. This provides an opportunity for us to put in new markings that align with the safety countermeasures in the Wilshire Safety Study, while also saving us a fair amount of money, because if we're not going to be repaved, we would have to pay for the removal of the markings that needed to be removed, and then pay for new markings to be installed. Whereas, by doing this in concert with our Public Works colleagues, there's a substantial amount of savings because no markings need to be removed, since they're already getting removed by the repaving and then repainted, which saves some money there as well. We're also working on subsequent phases, including the new traffic signal at Wilshire and 16th, through different grant funding that we've received and redesigning that location. All those things are advancing at a steady clip, and will be implemented as schedules permit later on down the line.

Are there lessons or valuable takeaways that you gained from this work? Challenges that had to be overcome?

I think having done the data analysis for the Vision Zero campaign overall really helped focus our efforts. You know, people's experiences are generally on their block and on their commute. So, other streets may not be in their frame of reference if not part of their daily routine. So, from that kind of narrow focus of your neighborhood or your commute, you'll be able to identify, “Well, in that sphere, these are my priorities, right, this place is where I feel unsafe. There's a problem here.” And in our community, folks are very, very engaged and let us know what their thoughts are about things, which is great, because it really helps us get that ground level truth from the community about where there are problems or things that we may not know about. But on the flip side, it could mean that someone is coming to us and telling us about this thing that is the number one priority for them. But when we look at the data, we find that maybe there is an issue, but it isn't rising to the level of people getting hurt. And it does help us focus our limited resources on those areas where there are the biggest issues.

It’s a very helpful tool for us to prioritize, focus, keep conversations both internally and externally on track, and drive us towards this umbrella goal of eliminating fatal and severe injuries. It's very hard to argue opinions when you have hard facts about these very tragic incidents.

I think that's really the biggest takeaway, that having done this level of analysis really does keep conversations and efforts on target and moving forward. And also telling that narrative to other departments that maybe aren't thinking about the way the right of way operates, or is designed, to help bring them along to the work that we're doing and make it more of a collective commitment across the city, as opposed to just a Department of Transportation initiative that other departments have to, you know, tolerate. Right? It does kind of have that unifying function.

In closing, if you had a superpower, and you could change anything, what would the future of active transportation safety look like?

I really like this question. I think that if I had a superpower, and money was no object, what I would do is take all of our arterial streets and put them in tunnels underground, and then use the space on top to create long linear parks with lots of trees and pedestrian and bike thoroughfares with minimal places where you'd have to interact with cars, so that you could get out and enjoy the great weather here. You could interact with neighbors, get to know your community better, make it really convenient and enjoyable to go to the neighborhood restaurant, or walk to the grocery store. And an emphasis on a lot of trees, right? Taking these asphalt corridors that have some trees, or maybe a median here and there, and really flipping it on its head and making it like rivers of greenways. That would be my superpower.

I was thinking that you came full circle in the conversation, back to being inspired with the public transportation system in New York and being with people. So how might you create that same kind of space?

I go to the bus stop, and generally, I see the same bus drivers. I'll say hi to the driver, and I'm waiting at the bus stop with people, and we'll chit chat, and those things just don't happen when you walk from your home to your garage and get in your car. There's just so many people who could be in your world, or maybe just in your day, that you wouldn't otherwise get to interact with. So active transportation allows you to start to put together, you know, the faces of the people in your community. I think it has impacts on community well-being and how connected you feel to your place and your neighbors and how engaged you get, say, in civic matters. I think there are ripple effects that I’m sure people have studied, and if not, that people should study more, about how we travel and interact with our community and how that impacts our well-being.

I think we had a wide ranging and really great conversation. Thank you so much. Is there anything else that you want to share?

One last thing I should say, I was not the project manager on all of these things. And I wasn't the division manager prior to 2021. So a lot of this work that I'm talking about, was not my work, it was our team's work. There are a lot of other people who are involved in making this all a reality, a lot of people that I work with on a daily basis within my team and across the city to make this a reality. A lot of really good people, doing a lot of good work!

These Stories From the Field interviews were conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewees and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.

Picture of Jason smiling in a white button up shirt with dark tie

Jason Kligier, AICP

Mobility Manager

City of Santa Monica