Jerde brainstorms ways to improve shaky safety record of Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway

City Terrain Transportation Urbanism West
Jerde's PCH diagrams (Jerde)

Jerde’s PCH diagrams (Jerde)

When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti came into office in 2013, his first Executive Directive was to establish the Great Streets Initiative, intended to make many of the city’s streets more neighborhood friendly, bike friendly, pedestrian friendly—friendly all around. If it were up to film producer Michel Shane, Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), specifically the 27 miles that run through Malibu, a stretch known as the Malibu Corridor, would be at the top of Garcetti’s list. In 2010, Shane’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Emily Rose Shane, was struck and killed by an out-of-control driver as she was walking along the side of the highway. In fact, this section of PCH is one of the most dangerous highways in the country, where hundreds of accidents, many of them fatal, occur annually.

This tragedy became the touchstone for Shane’s Kickstarter-funded documentary film, PCH: Probably. Cause. Harm., which is currently in production and scheduled for release in 2015. The goal of the film is to generate more grassroots awareness of the issue and political support for implementing change. As part of the film and broader efforts to make PCH safer, Shane asked The Jerde Partnership to come up with a series of proposals for the corridor. In collaboration with Selbert Perkins Design and Arup’s transportation division, Jerde convened a day-long “visioning” workshop at their offices on the boardwalk in Venice, California.

“We wanted to use the workshop to create possibilities and allow bigger thinking to take place in the hopes that change can occur,” said Jerde design director, John Simones. “We developed a conceptual approach, setting political and regulatory issues aside to explore what PCH can become in an uninhibited way.” Central to this was taking what has in recent years become a high-speed corridor and repositioning it as a “sensory drive,” as Jerde calls it. “We had to look at PCH through a lens that included design, planning, programming, and technical modifications that had never been done in its history,” said Phil Kim, Jerde’s managing director.

Examining new placement options for the PCH (Jerde)

Examining new placement options for the PCH (Jerde)

Through Arup’s data analysis, the team honed in on a six-mile section between Las Flores and the Malibu Pier. Approximately 40 percent of all Malibu accidents on PCH occur within this six-mile “kill zone.” By focusing on this problematic section, Jerde and the workshop team were able to develop a list of prototype interventions that could be applied to other key locations along the corridor.

The approach the designers took was to create a sequence of “villages,” each with its own design character, but reinforcing Malibu’s local identity and sense of place. Overall, the goal is to turn this six-mile section of PCH into a more pedestrian-friendly, human-scaled, multimodal street experience. By integrating human-scaled visitor experiences, pedestrian bridges, and above-ground, mixed program parking structures with transportation functions and infrastructure, the dangers of the “highway effect” could be eliminated. “PCH became a space to get through as quickly as possible on the way to somewhere else. But it was never intended to function this way,” says Tammy McKerrow, senior VP and senior design principal at Jerde.

Examining programmatic options that increase both safety and livability. (Jerde)

Examining programmatic options that increase both safety and livability. (Jerde)

If there is eventually enough political will to move forward, Jerde’s role would be to take these concepts and draft implementable design guidelines, establishing a framework for working with stakeholders including the State of California, the City of Malibu, and the Coastal Commission. Part of the approach would be to deregulate key areas of PCH within the city’s boundaries so it could avoid political red tape. An example of this is Corona del Mar, where the city was able to make improvements to the section of PCH that ran through it.

“PCH can become a place for people,” said Jeri Oka, Jerde senior VP and senior design principal. “We need to get back to this idea of a walkable corridor, a walkable city where cars, pedestrians, and cyclists can mix in harmonious ways. This is part of the history of PCH and through design we can tell this truly California story.”

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