It was a beautiful, breezy early-summer afternoon in Laguna Beach, much like many others, perfect for a relaxing bike ride.
Patrick Fetzer, owner of Laguna Cyclery, and his 7-year-old son Luke hopped on their bikes at his store on Thalia Street to take a slow cruise to Bluebird Park, taking the hilly alley paralleling South Coast Highway.
As a constant cyclist and 13-year bike-shopkeeper, Fetzer said he’s highly attuned to bicycle safety, especially when it comes to his family, which also includes 12-year-old daughter Lauren.
Alleys, said Fetzer, are the safest routes for kids in a town that lacks bike lanes. Coming out of the backstreet at Mountain Road, he and Luke were caught short when they heard tires squealing coming from Coast Highway behind them. “I shouted to Luke, ‘Get over to the right’,” Fetzer recalled. A motorist blasted his horn and then stopped in the middle of the road ahead of them.
After Luke hiked his bike up on the sidewalk, Fetzer said he pulled up by the car and, suddenly, the driver stomped on the accelerator “and swerved over like he’s trying to run me over.”
Fetzer called 911. The driver started shouting at Fetzer that he was teaching him a lesson. Fetzer tried to explain that running him over was counterproductive. The police arrived within minutes and Fetzer was able to make the point that the unsafe situation wasn’t caused by cyclists but by a seemingly aggravated motorist.
“If we had a designated area for bike-riders and pedestrians, not only would people feel more encouraged to get out and use it, alleviate some of the congestion, enjoy the nice air and the amenities of living in a small town, but we’d also feel a lot more protected,” attested Fetzer.
A plan to replace one traffic lane in each direction on Glenneyre Street with designated bike lanes, reducing the street to two motorist lanes from four, was given a tentative go-ahead by the City Council last week. The proposed plan to restripe the street allows for a middle turn lane for motorists and suggests sharrows, right-of-way symbols for bicyclists and pedestrians, on Catalina and Glenneyre streets.
The proposal was included in a report presented by Steve Brown of Fehr and Peers, a transportation consulting firm specializing in pedestrian and bicycle pathways. The report covers most of Glenneyre Street and includes other proposed features such as roundabouts to replace crosswalks, increased street parking and widened sidewalks.
The option accepted by the council was enthusiastically supported by the city’s Complete Streets Task Force as the start of completing the first street catering to cyclists, cars and foot traffic in a town known as a thoroughfare for team cyclists and a mecca for internationally acclaimed mountain bikers.
As an option to the plan, the council also green-lighted testing the double traffic and bike lane configuration on Glenneyre between Thalia and Calliope Streets and to add advanced stop bars to crosswalks. But before anything receives final approval, the plan must be vetted through the city’s planning commission. At council member Elizabeth Pearson’s request, sharrows will also be considered on Glenneyre to Bluebird Canyon Drive.
Sharrows, however, are simply a pacifier, admonished Michael Wilkes, a member of the city’s Design Review Board. “Sharrows have been popping up in cities all over the country,” Wilkes told the council. “All too often, they are inexpensive cop-outs to appease the cycling public and avoid implementing truly needed bicycle-related facilities.”
Wilkes said the goal is to create a safe environment that will encourage the community to walk and cycle, as is being done in cities across the country. “Catch up and become a leader,” he told the council.
Even so, not all locals, or council members, consider Glenneyre a good place to put a complete street, a 2008 state-mandated policy to make streets less car-intensive and friendlier to people using their own power to get around.
Local resident Rick Holder asked the council to consider future traffic needs before reducing traffic lanes on Glenneyre. Concentrating wheeled or foot traffic in one area increases potential fatalities, Holder warned. “It defies logic to take four lanes down to two lanes, even with a turn lane.”
Council member Toni Iseman, who lives on Glenneyre, has stated in related discussions that she’s not a fan of reducing the street’s traffic lanes and is concerned about city liability. “Let’s see what happens when we lose two lanes,” she said at the meeting, adding that she was willing to give the test area between Thalia and Calliope a try.
Art Wahl, a charter member of the Complete Streets Task Force, has been biking the streets of Laguna for nearly 50 years. He said the less-than-a-mile test zone will not disrupt motorized traffic. “I ride that all the time. That’s a piece of cake.”
That’s just the point, said Iseman. “What good does it do?” she asked in a later interview. “What does that actually achieve?” Iseman insists that Laguna’s popularity, with a congested state highway bisecting hordes of beachgoers on one side from shops and restaurants on the other, creates the perfect storm for bike-riders.
Lack of bike lanes is why others say bicyclists aren’t out in greater numbers. “More locals on bikes means fewer cars and less congestion, and studies show retail sales go up,” said Chris Prelitz, chair of the Complete Streets committee. The National Complete Streets Coalition Annual Report states 125 U.S. cities voluntarily adopted multi-use street policies last year.
“Maybe having a bike lane will not only help bike riders feel more safe but encourage more people to get out of their cars and get around by bike because they feel safe,” offered Fetzer.
“All of us love to get around town, we all love the quaintness of Laguna,” he added. “But so many people feel intimated that they can’t help but contribute to the problem. They think about getting out on a bike and they think it’s scary so they get in their car and they’re back to being part of the problem.”