In the year and a half I've been writing for the Coastline Pilot, nothing has generated more heat than my last column on safe biking and walking in the wake of John Colvin's senseless death. Hopefully that passion will show up at Tuesday's City Council meeting when our leaders chose Laguna's new Urban Planner.
I heard from local leisure, mountain and road bikers, pedestrians, advocates from neighboring communities, and sadly, the relatives of two bikers killed on Coast Highway in the last year. They all had much to say about the tragedies, and how it could so easily have been them but for the grace of god. I also heard from local motorists who believe cyclists put themselves in harm's way and don't belong on our streets.
It's a sobering reminder that local and visiting bikers just want to safely coexist and enjoy their fabulously invigorating pastime in a community as potentially perfect for biking as any in the world. Creating kinetic motion on two wheels is music to begin with. Add rolling, scenic hills, ocean views, charming, bucolic, neighborhoods, public art, a rideable scale, and a damn-near perfect climate and you have a symphony of pleasures. But instead, we have a cacophony of hazards that makes us notorious as the most dangerous place to bike in Orange County.
Cars drive too fast. Drivers are more distracted then ever. Narrow roads with no shoulders. A community that largely feels this is a car town and there's no room for bikers. And therefore no sacrifice of car or parking lanes to make room for dedicated bike paths, as hundreds of cities are doing.
To be fair, the city has undertaken a variety of measures to comply with the 2008 Complete Streets Mandate. They've painted sharrows and posted bike route signage on several streets; installed bike racks and new crosswalks on Glenneyre Street; and recently completed a parking management plan to reduce circulation in the future.
They've also hired a consultant in cooperation with CalTrans to assess improvements to Laguna Canyon Road for bicyclists and pedestrians, are developing a mobility plan from a $180,000 grant from CalTrans, and are about to select an urban planner to review the downtown specific plan, Laguna Canyon, and the mobility discussions.
Additionally, CalTrans has added several lighted crosswalks on Coast Highway; are adding a pedestrian-activated signal to the Laguna College of Art + Design crosswalk; and are studying options for ADA sidewalk improvements.
And finally, OCTA is studying a comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan for Coast Highway from San Clemente to Seal Beach.
These are all laudable, and a move in the right direction, though there certainly appears to be some redundancies and an excess of studies instead of action. It is action that can be seen in cities with far more massive infrastructures, like Rome, London, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and LA transforming their towns into biking meccas, and yes, smaller towns too, like Long Beach, San Clemente and Corona Del Mar. They're making room for a future transportation grid independent of oil, and full of vigorous people who revel in the power of the pedal.
Paradoxically, much of the current General and Specific Plans already have all the bike and pedestrian infrastructure we've been asking for. They just didn't get done, because no one seems to have the will to see it through.
We have well-intentioned government officials and a diligent city staff. But what we lack is a visionary, a crusader who is equally passionate about biking, equally outraged over traffic violence, and possessed with a higher purpose to radically remake our city so his or her kids can all travel freely, safely, and healthfully in and about town, without fear of death. Who can slash through the arcana of fear and dissent with a machete.
In that same dream I see us diverting some of the that money spent on studies into hiring our own Livable Streets Commissioner who breaks free of the shackles of consensus group-think, and who leverages the collective brain power of people like Les Miklosy, Michael Hoag, Max Isles, Tamara Hlava, Chris Prelitz, Hans Rey, Brian Lopes, Patrick Fetzer, Barbara and Greg MacGillivray, Art Wahl, Mick Danoff, Pat Freeman and countless others who have biked these roads and trails for lifetimes and have collectively studied Laguna's issues with a global perspective for far more hours than any planning firm. And they'd work for free.
And then this official would do what Portland, New York, and even Los Angeles transportation czars have done: Find the money; risk public scorn; and try things. Quickly. Before another death that might have been prevented. And then go at least a year (preferably two) to gain empirical data needed to adjust, expand, or dismantle. It seems to me the money is there with all the parking revenue increases. Doesn't it make perfect moral sense to tax drivers and reward bikers in view of our congestion woes, just as cigarette taxes are used to fight lung cancer?
But somehow, sadly, we have engendered a culture of fear in our city. Fear of angering bosses, colleagues, constituents. Fear of angering groups with a pipeline to the Coastal Commission and who hang the Damocles sword of appeal over anything they don't like. And particularly, fear of liability, that great inhibitor to doing anything progressive. But these are different times. And the rigidity of the Coastal Commission has been neutered by the Complete Streets Act. Yes, we can remove parking and replace it with bike infrastructure.
Hopefully, just maybe, this Tuesday will be a flashpoint for change. The City Council is meeting and unveiling their choice for Urban Planner.
And we will be there too. The newly formed Livable Streets Laguna Coalition is asking all two wheelers, two footers, skateboarders, elders, disabled and others who don't use cars to stand with us and be heard. We want these critical issues fast tracked, prioritized and marked urgent.
We'll be respectful. We'll acknowledge the efforts underway. But we want to convey that theoretical studies that beget analytical studies that beget feasibility studies that beget General Plans, Specific Plans, and Vision Plans that are elegantly rendered but never executed are so yesterday.
Meet us at 5:30 p.m. on the grounds of City Hall for a peaceful but forceful showing that we will be ignored no longer.
Here is what we are asking for:
1. Collaboration with CalTrans to implement traffic calming and Complete Streets on Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road: rumble strips on the shoulders; blinking lights at all cross walks; bulb outs (curb extensions to slow and calm traffic); trimmed overgrown vegetation along shoulders and sidewalks; roundabouts; bike corrals; and possible median strips with vegetation. And ultimately re-engineering the streets into something more balanced and efficient. They're waiting for us to ask.
2. Complete north and south safest route through town: sharrows on Glenneyre from Bluebird Canyon to Nyes Place; sharrows on Cliff Drive from Circle Drive to the Laguna Art Museum; and sharrows on Catalina (as an alternative to Glenneyre, which we believe is precarious). Bigger, bolder signage on Coast Highway at the gateways (Nyes's Place, Cliff Drive and Broadway) that say "Safe alternative bike route to PCH," and investigate use of "green" bike lanes wherever possible and certainly on Monterey Street, where we have the only dedicated bike lane.
3. Complete bike routes to trailheads to enable mountain bikers to safely access trails.
4. Commit to being a pedestrian- and bike-friendly town: there is an actual protocol for this designation that many cities have adopted. Some of the inclusions would be a comprehensive network of bike racks, dedicated bike lanes, bike share stations, education in schools and through the recreation department on safe biking, plus safe bike and map promotion on the city website, mobile apps, in concert with other stakeholders like the Visitors Bureau, Chamber, etc., and greater police enforcement of car violations at pedestrian cross walks.
If you have any thoughts please email me. Hope to see you there.
BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at email@example.com.