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A Push for Broader Complete Street Plans

Glenneyre Street test rejected

 

Cycling enthusiasts Patrick Fetzer and Max Isles. Photo by Jody Tiongo

After substantial input from residents, city staff and a traffic engineering consultant, the city’s Planning Commission unanimously rejected the City Council’s “piecemeal” plan to start making Glenneyre Street friendlier to people-powered transportation, saying it was a poorly conceived pilot project.

In October, the City Council approved a plan to test a six-block section of Glenneyre from Thalia to Calliope streets by adding bike lanes, reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to two and adding a shared middle left-turn lane. The state-mandated “complete streets” plan prompted the proposed road makeover, which requires California cities to incorporate other modes of transportation, such as bicycling, walking and running, on public streets.

“I think we’re being asked to make a decision in the dark,” planning commission chairman Norm Grossman said at a meeting on Dec. 12. “Council took a blind shot at trying to cut a baby in half and that’s what they did.  It’s not a fair test.  We have no guarantee it will work. My biggest concern is we’re guaranteeing failure.”

The city’s budget set aside $300,000 for “public pathways and complete streets” with $5,000 allocated by the council to evaluate Glenneyre as a complete street between Forest Avenue and Calliope.

Planning commissioners called the council’s plan to test a three-quarter mile portion of Glenneyre as “piecemeal,” patched together from recommendations by traffic engineering firm Fehr and Peers. “It was kind of arbitrarily extracted from the consultant’s recommendations. Why would we just do Calliope to Thalia?” said commissioner Robert Zur Schmiede.

“There’s something about this that is totally piecemeal,” commissioner Anne Johnson concluded, calling for actions that take in the “bigger picture.”

Grossman said that implementing a “chopped up” compromise might threaten the success of a complete streets project in Laguna.  “I want a real study,” he said.  “It’s a mistake to say that we’re rejecting complete streets.  I think that we’re doing the complete opposite.  We’re saying we’re rejecting this compromised solution. Let’s do this the correct way.”

The commission came up with a counter-proposal, recommending that the council spend another $5,000 for Fehr and Peers to gather data on the full stretch of Glenneyre, including peak-hour traffic counts, the feasibility of using round-abouts instead of stop signs, possible motorist overflow to nearby streets such as Catalina and the results of complete-street efforts in other cities such as Corona del Mar, Long Beach and Belmont Shores.  “We can’t treat it as an island,” said Johnson of the Glenneyre Street test.

Round-abouts instead of stop signs, according to the Fehr and Peers’ report, improve traffic flow when the number of lanes is reduced, a component omitted from the council’s recommendation to the dismay of some commissioners.

Steve Brown from Fehr and Peers suggested round-abouts on Glenneyre at the four-way stops at Park Avenue and Legion and Cleo streets because they can prevent traffic from backing up.  To avoid public complaints over too many changes on Glenneyre, commissioners agreed with resident Scott Sebastian’s suggestion to test a temporary round-about elsewhere in town, possibly at Laguna Beach High School or in north Laguna.  Trial round-abouts were also discussed on Glenneyre at Cress or Thalia streets.

Resident and walking enthusiast Michael Hoag pointed out that studies on street changes to accommodate other modes of transportation, such as round-abouts, typically are initially resisted by local residents.  “All municipalities have these concerns,” Hoag told commissioners.  “The fact of the matter is that after they do the improvements, all the townspeople love it.  They’re fearful and then they love it.”

Zur Schmiede said “complete streets” are meant to balance a variety of transportation preferences, and agreed with testing the efficacy of round-abouts.  “The only thing about these experiments,” he said, “is that people get all worked up. It’s an experiment; if it doesn’t work, we take it out.”

Billy Fried, whose business offers a local 7.5-mile eco-bicycle tour, pointed out the necessity of linking  bike lanes on Monterey and Cypress streets in North Laguna to Glenneyre and as far south as plausible.

“This could be one of the best biking towns in Southern California,” said Fried.  “The problem is, as we’ve all talked about, there’s no safe place to bike, particularly in the southern corridor of town.  The city’s done a great job in North Laguna but we need to connect the dots.”  Fried said completing a bike route along Glenneyre sends a “powerful signal” that the city supports bicyclists.  “Bikers need a safe place to ride,” he added.  “It’s in the best interest of the motorists as well.”

In the past four years, vehicles killed three people on foot, while another 53 pedestrians and 38 bicyclists were injured in collisions with vehicles, police said. No bicyclists died as a result of a vehicle collision. Those statistics place Laguna as No. 3 for pedestrian injuries and 10th for bike injuries of 108 comparable cities in 2009, according to findings by the state Office of Traffic Safety.

The commission did agree with the council’s recommendation on one point:  to strengthen crosswalk stripping for higher visibility along Glenneyre, including painted cross bars on some sections of the street.

The council is expected to discuss the planning commission’s recommendations at a meeting in January.

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