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Transit Planners Gear Up for Feedback

Residents with an opinion about their experience getting around town – whether riding the bus, pedaling a bike, pushing a stroller or driving a car — can get in on a conversation underway as Laguna Beach pursues two transit related initiatives.

Vancouver-based IBI Group studies Laguna’s public transportation options even as a city-wide mobility plan is under development by Irvine’s RBF Consulting.

One of the first opportunities for public feedback comes Monday, Feb. 10, at a 5:30 p.m. workshop at the Susi Q Center, 380 Third St. IBI Group will make some initial recommendations after presenting an assessment of the city’s buses, summer trolleys, taxi voucher program and senior transit. The analysis shows the city’s blue and white buses consume almost half of the annual transit budget but less than 15 percent of transit ridership.

At the same time, RBF is attempting to outline a citywide network that accounts for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and includes reliable public transit options. The plan will incorporate IBI Group’s transit research and an already completed parking management plan.

“This will tie everything together,” said principal planner Scott Drapkin, who applied for the $180,000 Caltrans grant, which requires the city to match 10 percent. The City Council approved a $200,000 contract with RBF last summer.

The mobility plan effort springs from the state’s “complete streets” mandate to make streets accessible to more than vehicular traffic and the city’s goal to draft a compliance plan by 2015.

RBF’s team now includes Ryan Snyder, a UCLA urban planning instructor and virtual complete streets guru, who has helped coordinate manuals on the subject. The public can expect to see notices for public workshops, a key grant stipulation, by March, if not sooner, Drapkin said.

Besides the workshops, residents are encouraged to visit a special “Enhanced Mobility and Complete Streets Transition Plan” page on the city’s website for information, to sign up for the project’s e-mail list and to take a survey.

“Most folks don’t even know what complete streets are,” said Chris Prelitz, chair of Laguna’s complete streets task force, explaining that the concept is to correct “auto-centric” street design to make roads safer for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Both equal rights and safety are at issue, he said, as well as curbing congestion and pollution.

At least one local group is already on board. Earlier this week Transition Laguna e-mailed their membership, urging them to take the mobility plan’s online survey and to attend the meeting next week.

After five months of research on ridership, performance, and financial viability of Laguna’s transit services, IBI will present their findings and make suggestions for providing better and more cost-effective service, said Public Works director Steve May.

Suggestions in IBI’s report include possible rate hikes and a reinvigorated taxi voucher plan as well as better coordination of bus routes and “flex” routes for certain areas. IBI will refine their options and may even hold another public meeting before their findings are submitted to City Council, said May.

The initial public workshop held on Jan. 15 was poorly noticed and therefore poorly attended, local resident Rita Conn, of the advocacy group Let Laguna Vote, informed the City Council last month. Better noticing this time included a space on the city’s web calendar, as requested by Council member Steve Dicterow.

Even as these initiatives get underway, the City Council this past Tuesday authorized establishing a transportation infrastructure fund to hold $1.5 million received Jan. 23 from Heritage Fields, an Irvine housing developer.

Laguna Beach negotiated a $6 million payment toward infrastructure improvements or municipal services to help mitigate an expected increase in traffic congestion, in exchange for agreeing not to challenge the project. The phased payouts are to be made as the homes are built.

Some residents at this week’s meeting urged spending the funds on transit to Laguna’s periphery – even within the housing development itself — to alleviate incoming congestion. Such a plan would encourage Laguna-bound visitors to leave their cars in Irvine, Ruben Flores said.

“I’d like to get my hooks in that money,” confessed Arnold Hano, a contrarian who suggested that the funds could help pay for citywide undergrounding of utility poles.

Prelitz agreed, adding that installation of piping for recycled water should be considered if streets are to be ripped up. “I’d suggest that a legacy project of a city-wide plan for all three projects could make the best use of excavation, installation, and repaving costs,” he said.

 

 

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