By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Planning Commission unanimously approved designs last week for a slate of improvements to Coast Highway between Broadway and Legion Streets, including pedestrian scrambles at Forest and Laguna Avenues.
These two redesigned intersections will allow pedestrians to simultaneously cross in several directions, minimize the potential conflict between pedestrians and vehicles, and reduce the time motorists spend waiting for a green light.
Plans for a third pedestrian scramble at Broadway Street were abandoned because computer modeling showed it would have doubled the time motorists wait at the intersection, Associate Civil Engineer Tom Sandefur said.
“This is our front porch to the beach and this is the busiest traffic-wise and pedestrian-wise section of Coast Highway in our town, and we want it to be beautiful,” Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin said.
One sticking point for the Planning Commission is a Caltrans requirement that the city install four concrete bollards that are 5 feet high and 11 inches in diameter at Coast Highway and Forest Avenue. These structures are designed to stop vehicles if they fail to make the winding turn.
Shohreh Dupuis, assistant city manager and director of public works, described the bollards as essential safety equipment.“We’ve had several major accidents in that location where we’ve had vehicles crashing through the public, and there was one many years ago where a vehicle actually went through a storefront,” Dupuis said.
Whitin and Planning Commissioner Jorg Dubin want city staffers to consider adding some artistic designs to the bollards or incorporate planters to make them more aesthetically pleasing.
“I hope we do something a little more interesting than concrete, acid wash finishes,” Dubin said.
Dupuis said she would request fancier bollard alternatives from the architect, who’s already helping with the Downtown Action Plan, and bring the designs back to the Planning Commission for further review.
Among the other approved upgrades is the 170-foot extension of the left-turn pocket at Broadway Street to reduce the number of turning cars that block vehicles driving south on Coast Highway. Similarly, the left-turn pocket at Legion Street will be extended by 100 feet and the left-turn pocket at Forest Avenue will be extended by 40 feet.
The planning commissioners had mixed reactions to city staffers’ plan to convert Ocean Avenue into a one-way street between Coast Highway and Beach Street.
Commissioner Anne Johnson said she was thrilled with the proposal because it would allow the eight parking spaces in front of Main Beach to be relocated to Ocean Avenue.
“I’m just so excited that we’re going to get rid of those parking spaces in front of Main Beach,” she said. “I’ve been talking about those for 22 years.”
Ultimately, the public would see a net gain of two spaces from the one-way conversion, Dupuis said. However, the main public benefit from reconfiguring Ocean Avenue is the creation of separate left and right turn lanes. Currently, motorists often stack up behind vehicles waiting to make a left turn to head south on Coast Highway.
City staffers are also planning to relocate the Ocean Avenue crosswalk to the north side of the intersection so vehicles to have to wait for pedestrians to cross Coast Highway before they can make a left turn.
Planning Commission Chairman Ken Sadler was displeased with converting Ocean Avenue because, he said, it will prevent him and fellow Top of the World residents from making a left turn out of the Whole Foods’ parking lot.
“That was not something that was brought up by a lot of the members of the public when we were talking about improvements downtown,” he said.
City staffers have promised Mayor Bob Whalen that all of these upgrades will be completed by Spring 2020, Dupuis said. The entire project is expected to cost more than $700,000, Sandefur said.