City of Pismo Beach Streetscape Project Models Traffic Management for Coastal Communities

Earlier this year, the City of Pismo Beach’s residents witnessed a rare phenomenon: road construction that caused drivers to laugh out loud.

For several months, 18 blocks of Shell Beach Road were painted with curvy striping, turning the normally straight path through town into something akin to a massive obstacle course. The wild curves were temporary to help delineate parking spaces while overhead utilities were removed along the street’s freeway edge and a new water line installed on the business edge of the street. This creative traffic control solution represented just one facet of the Shell Beach Streetscape Project, which will transform nearly 4,000 feet of roadway.

“The Shell Beach Streetscape Project is a community-driven improvement project that touches every part of the roadway,” said Jorge Garcia, Management Services Director for the City of Pismo Beach. “It celebrates the unique character of Shell Beach while bringing modern enhancements to the business corridor.”

Launched in August 2018, the $13 million project will benefit residents, businesses and tourists; and is intended to increase transportation choices, support efficient transportation alternatives, and reduce downtown driving.

The improvements also offer substantive public safety advantages. Workers will add an eight-foot-wide multi-use path for bikes and pedestrians and make sidewalks ADA-compliant. New infrastructure will support transit alternatives, with a “park once” concept that, by encouraging biking and walking, will result in fewer cars on the street. The streets themselves also will be safer for non-drivers, with traffic-calming improvements that will reduce vehicle speeds and increase safety.

“The biggest benefit of the project is a safer environment with clear delineation between routes for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles,” said California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (JPIA) Risk Manager Tim Karcz, who is assigned to the city.

Karcz explained that, like many coastal communities, the city faces infrastructure challenges arising from organic growth, such as structures that were in place long before the city incorporated and small spaces that intensify vehicular and pedestrian interaction.

Tourism impacts the community throughout the year—very significantly during the summer months. This impacts vehicular traffic and pedestrian movements and, according to Garcia, creates multiple conflict points with which the city has had to “get creative”.

“We have to remember continually that traffic impacts our ability to deliver services,” said Garcia. “During special events we can have as many as 100,000 visitors. If we need to get into the downtown area, we have to plan ahead. This impacts how and where we program events, training and community activities.”

“The principles of this project and the associated master plan can serve as a model for other coastal clients to increase their safety,” said Karcz.

Garcia offers this advice for fellow Authority members planning similar projects: “Start with communication. A large capital project will impact every department and division. It is important that everyone is aware of impacts and is updated as things change.”

Communication, in fact, is a cornerstone of the city’s culture of risk awareness and mitigation, which is cultivated throughout the organization. Councilmember Mary Ann Reiss, who has served on the California JPIA’s Executive Committee since 2009, has sustained risk management as a council priority. A safety committee meets quarterly to identify issues and review incidents. Staff also takes full advantage of local and regional training opportunities to meet legal requirements and develop employees. “The Authority’s holistic approach and talented trainers make it a pleasure to attend,” said Garcia. “Employees look forward to participating.”

The California JPIA recognized the City of Pismo Beach’s risk management success with a 2019 Risk Management Award for Best Overall Performance in the category of municipal agencies with public safety exposure for the Primary Workers’ Compensation Program.

“The City of Pismo Beach takes it upon themselves to identify and address problematic exposures,” said Karcz. “They are at the forefront, participating in pilot programs and working with us.”

“Our goal is to provide effective and efficient government services,” said Garcia, who values the California JPIA’s unique understanding of the dynamic needs and nature of local government. “Risk management is an integral part of the goal. The Authority is not an insurance provider. They are a partner that genuinely cares about the services we provide our community.”

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 100 member cities and other governmental agencies.  Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive risk management training and loss control services.

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