Thursday, December 9, 2010

Designated Bike Route Would Make Streets Safer

Letter to the Editor:
Laguna Beach has no accommodation for cyclists except for a few random bike racks, and a quarter-mile stretch of striped lane on Monterey Street that might be mistaken for a bike lane — even though it is not marked in any way. The city just spent $1.6M to resurface streets and paint new lines, without adding a single accommodation for bicycles. This action not only ignores Complete Streets state legislation, but also demonstrates a complete lack of concern for the safety of cyclists in our city.

Laguna should establish a designated bike route that would create a safe environment for all cyclists and raise awareness throughout the city that bikes belong. The route could safely navigate from Crescent Bay Park to Nyes Place, while only crossing PCH twice, and could also connect downtown with the Sawdust Festival. The route would have a positive effect on existing traffic patterns by following side streets with less traffic flow than PCH, and by using streets that provide multiple lanes like Cypress and Glenneyre.

Because space is the primary argument against providing traditional bike lanes, the route should utilize a painted "sharrow" indicating that cars and bikes should share the lane. These "sharrows" are painted on the road surface, and are being successfully adopted in Long Beach, Santa Monica and many other cities around the world. Creating a designated bike route will only require that drivers, cyclists, skateboarders, etc. obey posted speed limits, stop signs and traffic signals, pay attention, and respect the safety of all users.

I know there are many locals and tourists who would like to ride bikes in town, for both recreation and utility, but with no provisions for cyclists, most don't feel confident enough on our car-dominated streets. I regularly commute by bike in Laguna, and by avoiding PCH I am able to limit my exposure to the most dangerous high-speed traffic. Still, even on the side streets, I'm disappointed by how many drivers roll stop signs, exceed speed limits, talk on cell phones, and generally drive carelessly, with seemingly little recognition of the damage that they can inflict with their 2-ton vehicles.

The Laguna Beach School District recently proclaimed that they could not recognize Walk-and-Roll-to-School Week, citing the fact that the streets are not safe enough to encourage children to walk or ride their bikes to school. Are these the conditions that we want to continue to accept in our city? It's time to embrace the concept that our streets should be a SAFE part of the community, open to all responsible users, and not just a network of speeding cars. A designated bike route through our city would be an excellent step in the right direction.  -J.Gresh

Justin Gresh lives in Laguna Beach.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

DOT Policy Ignored

With regard to the $1.6M street re-surfacing project on PCH and Laguna's residential streets, and the on-going  $10k change-order for striping and final adjustments, now would be a good time to recall the updated policy from Caltrans, California's Department of Transportation. It says "The Department views all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in California and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system." This means even small paving projects are an opportunity to make small adjustments to better accommodate all travelers, such as shifting striping to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, or in the case of Laguna Beach, providing the stripes in the first place. Today virtually all the streets planned for re-surfacing are finished while the DOT policy goes ignored. Further, the status quo argues that Complete Streets policy mandated by the State doesn't apply till January 1 2011, so CS policy can be safely ignored till then. With the prime interest rate hovering at zero, I will argue it is better to comply with Complete Streets policy yesterday than it will be tomorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More on Complete Streets for Laguna Beach

Last week I introduced Complete Streets interventions to improve overall mobility when applied to our city streets. Balancing mobility reduces automobile traffic and the demand on parking while maintaining safety. Adopting these interventions will begin to restore balance among four modes of mobility; walking, biking, busing, and driving. Every person walking, cycling or busing in Laguna means one less person driving a car. There are locations around Laguna where street access is restricted, in most cases access could be provided at minimal cost by removing a fence, painting a route, posting a sign.

Sidewalks: Sidewalks in South Laguna are incomplete along Pacific Coast Highway from 11th Street to the Montage. Pedestrians at these locations are forced to walk in the emergency parking lane shared by parked SUV's and moving traffic. Meanwhile there are a mix of residential homes and apartment buildings (23) on Ramona Street. Residents there can see Ralphs supermarket located at the south end, but can't walk there due to a fenced barricade. To get walking access to the supermarket, fast food or the Community Church, residents on this street must pass through the tenant entrance of the last apartment building or drive a car to go one block.


Crosswalks: Wayward pedestrians at Beach or PCH and Broadway ignore traffic lights and wander into traffic. Anxious motorists proceed without waiting for pedestrians, perhaps the posted speed is too high. The pedestrian bridge at Aliso Creek is blocked by a private gate and disallows pedestrian access. Pedestrians at Three Arch Bay need a trail link between Stonington Drive and Virginia Way to complete the route north.

Bikeways: Within Laguna Beach 70% of all bicycle accidents (29) and 50% of all pedestrian accidents (51) occurred on Pacifc Coast Highway and the Canyon in a 20 month period. For the bicycle component of mobility, establish a safe bicycle route between Central and South Laguna and another through Central Laguna. A utilitarian bike route along Virginia Street and Monterey would serve South Laguna and remove bike traffic from PCH.

Parking: Revenue from metered parking should benefit the immediate community where meters are placed. Pool meter fees collected at these locations into a provisional fund. The revenue should be re-invested into the local community to re-vitalize the business district.

School Routes
Young students from Arch Beach Heights can see TOW Elementary School from Moulton Meadows but can not walk there because a fence across a private road bars their access. Consequently they are driven by parents to and from TOW Elementary contributing to unnecessary traffic jams at 8:00am and 3:00pm daily. The intervention here would allow walking routes for students to their school with painted bikeways and signage complying with federal standards for Safe Routes to School. Complete a bike/pedestrian way from Moulton Meadows to Old TOW for school children, bikers and hikers.

These are case studies where Complete Streets are incorporated and business districts revitalized:

USA: West Palm Beach, Pittsburgh, NYC, San Francisco, Boulder, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Portland, Davis
Europe: Copenhagen, Brugge, Muenster, Freiburg, London, Paris

For further information see www.completestreets.org

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Designing Complete Streets for Laguna Beach

Complete Streets interventions improve overall mobility when applied to city streets. Balancing mobility reduces traffic and the demand for parking while maintaining safety. Adopting these interventions will restore balance among four modes of mobility; walking, biking, busing, and driving. These examples are not sophisticated and offer a place to begin.

Walkways: Folks tell me they don't walk or bike in Laguna because the streets are not safe enough. "Nearly half of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less, 28 percent are one mile or less distances easily covered by foot or bicycle. Yet 65 percent of trips under one mile are made by automobile, in large part because incomplete streets make it dangerous or unpleasant to walk, bicycle, or take transit." Intervention is needed here to make walking routes a safe alternative to driving. Existing walkways should remain free of parked vehicles and violations enforced (Bluebird, Summit, PCH). Bicycling and walking are very healthy alternatives to driving and complete streets encourage simple walking as part of your daily exercise routine. "43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home meet recommended activity levels"

Traffic Calming: Raised island medians, landscaped bulb-outs, slower speeds, planted trees and painted right-of-ways remind drivers of the shared use of streets and to drive with caution. This slows the traffic. Traffic calming techniques could be used on PCH to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians sharing the corridor between North and South Laguna. Drivers from the 133 connector enter Broadway speeding from the Canyon despite the reduced speed limit. Use traffic calming techniques here to slow traffic from the canyon at the entry to the Festival of Arts. Establish a uniform speed limit for Park Avenue (there are four different ones now) and complete the bike and pedestrian infrastructure along this street. Complete the traffic median islands on Alta Laguna to slow vehicle traffic. Slow the downhill traffic on Bluebird Cress and Summit to protect pedestrians.

Bikeways: Years ago a utility bike-route was designed by Roger Taylor M.D. and Mick Donoff to define a safe cycling route through Laguna. The route carries bike commuters North or South along the safe quiet back streets of Laguna far removed from dangerous PCH traffic. This route follows Catalina in Central Laguna through downtown to Monterey Street in the North and gives bike access to the banks, post office, printer, city hall, 4 pastry shops, office services and 7 great coffee shops along the way. (Who could resist this route?) All of this bike access requires no new or existing car parking. Despite the utility of this route, a permanent bikeway was never established. An intervention here would define this route as a permanent Class II bikeway for utility bicycle commuters with signs, striping and large bicycle silhouette to define the way for riders and drivers. Cyclists complying with traffic rules make better commuters and promote more cycling. Next week: sidewalks, crosswalks, parking and schools.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Complete Street Design Interventions for Laguna Beach

To investigate the solution for greater mobility in Laguna Beach, the Complete Streets Task Force was asked to research, consolidate and report recommendations for infrastructure improvements and interventions that would build a Complete Streets (CS) network and restore balance among four forms of mobility, walking, biking, busing, private autos, and to do it safely. Cities that build Complete Streets have taken the necessary steps for socially responsible living and made the necessary investment for a sustainable economy. The benefits are better health through exercise, preparation for escalating energy prices, adopting new mobility safely, and combating climate change.

Cal Worthington said 'Cars are made to get around (California) and there is no other way to get around'. California shaped transportation policy around this prophetic statement and Laguna Beach bought it too. When a city adopts Complete Streets in the circulation element of its general plan the roadways are designed to accommodate all users not just cars. That means pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users and automobiles. A mobility network balanced among all these elements reduces the demand for parking and automobile infrastructure and increases the incentive for commuters to use safe alternatives to the automobile. Infrastructure used in a complete street include sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, comfortable and accessible transit stops, frequent crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, and curb extensions to slow traffic.

Here are some examples where CS interventions would make sense in Laguna.

Laguna Central Connector

The single most direct means to connect Central Laguna with South Laguna is via automobile on Pacific Coast Highway. Today there are no other safe means of mobility connecting Central with South Laguna except walking on the beach or swimming. The emergency parking shoulder on PCH is utilized by bicycle riders and pedestrians at their peril. The northbound road shoulder at Aliso drives directly into the support column of the Aliso Pedestrian Bridge and into the curb at Aliso Bridge. The sidewalks north and southbound are discontinuous and do not serve pedestrians along those routes. In case you were wondering, yes these routes are used by brave pedestrians and cyclists competing with automobile traffic passing at 45mph. Even dog walkers risk waking on Pacific Coast Highway despite traffic blasting by within inches of Fido.

In cities where complete street interventions are successful, city policy played a crucial role in encouraging those interventions. Substantial increases in bicycling, pedestrian traffic and public transport require an integrated package of many different complementary interventions, land use planning, and restrictions on car use. Cities begin the change of policy by supporting resolutions to complete the streets.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Introduction to Complete Streets Policy for Laguna Beach

The Vision Laguna 2030 Strategic Plan completed in December 2001 states, "We will be a safe and enjoyable community to walk and bicycle with convenient transit and smooth traffic flow". Nine years later in April 2009 the City Council in a 4-0 decision approved the Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP), however the agenda bill deleted the bicycle provisions. Subsequently the Council amended the agenda bill to authorize a task force to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and re-incorporate bike provisions into the Plan. The "Complete Streets Task Force" has been meeting with City members since September 2009 to investigate mixed mobility for Laguna Beach including bicycles, pedestrians and public transit.

Both Laguna Beach residents and visitors are inconvenienced by traffic congestion and perceived scarce parking due to our romance with the automobile and a car saturated transportation system. At peak commute hours we experience traffic 'bottlenecks' because we rely on private vehicles as the sole means of mobility around town. Laguna Beach residents and visitors could help relieve traffic congestion by adopting a transportation system of mixed-mode mobility that includes walking, cycling, public transportation and private transport.

Mixed-mode mobility is consistent with other world class cities as the means to greater connectivity between destinations while improving the quality of life, raising the attractiveness of streets and towns, and lowering the cost to our environment. These benefits are not difficult to rationalize, simply consider that every driver you accommodate with a bus, bicycle, or a walking alternative, you remove one car from our roads and free-up one parking space. Recall the contentious debate that available storefront parking remains a huge necessity to attract, operate, and sustain retail business in Laguna. Adopting mixed-mode mobility relieves the demand for limited store-front parking.

Complete Streets allows different modes of mobility to co-exist with a better record of traffic safety. A complete street means an equal allocation of space is given to all four modes of mobility. A complete street revitalizes the business community by increasing foot traffic and increasing overall capacity of the transportation network. A complete street is designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, dog walkers, bicycles, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Cities with complete streets policies make sure that their streets and roads accommodate all users in a balanced fashion, as well as seniors, children, and people with disabilities.

Streets are made complete through design interventions that balance mobility, but the adoption of complete street interventions is context sensitive. Design interventions may include sidewalks, accessible pedestrian signals, bike lanes, special bus lanes, accessible transit stops, curb extensions, and more. A complete street for a rural area and a highly urban area will look quite different, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

Next week: The Complete Streets Act. This is state and federal legislation that makes complete streets a mandate when forming new city policy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Laguna Prominade

According to archives at the Independent and the Coastline Pilot the first articles on pedestrian traffic and promenades appear far back as August 2002, "Monolithic structures become monumental failures", by Roger Butow. Laguna residents have been contributing ideas and articles on the promenade topic for a long time. I suggest we resist the temptation to oversimplify this topic since all cities are unique and require unique solutions for implementing promenades. Closing a downtown street for a day to invite a 'Bier Fest Happening' will most certainly give different results in Laguna Beach as it will in Budapest and Santa Monica. Promenades in all world class cities are common, but that is the extent of their similarity. Their differences lay in the design and implementation of the promenade for the surrounding infrastructure and usage. The solution for Bogota (the Ciclovia) is different than the one for Santa Monica or Laguna. What contributes to the differences in the implementation? Among them are culture, values, attitude, topography, mobility, transportation, enforcement, capacity, saturation, and not least seasonal traffic. Our City Council recognizes the complexity of downtown issues and has appointed a task force to research, survey, and make recommendations for the implementation of infrastructure such as pedestrian walkways and bikeways, a component of complete streets. The Complete Streets Task Force has been meeting since September of 2009 to make those recommendations. In the following weeks I will contribute articles to illustrate what complete streets are and how Laguna Beach would benefit from adopting them. Complete Streets takes a holistic view of the mobility issue in Laguna, the downtown Promenade may resolve itself as a natural result of the complete streets effort.