Keeping the ‘Country’ in a Canyon Road

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The City Council is considering new pathways and bike routes in Laguna Canyon but don’t want concrete curb-and-gutter sidewalks as part of the mix.

The council Tuesday directed city staff to meet with state transportation department officials to determine options for paving materials that would provide a contiguous pathway past the art festivals to El Toro Road.  Permeability and aesthetics were preferred.

“The canyon has an ambiance that, to me, doesn’t suggest concrete sidewalks and curbs and gutters,” commented Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger.

The council set aside $100,000 last November from a $300,000 Pedestrian Pathways and Complete Streets account to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access along Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road.  The council chose not to pursue the staff suggestion to improve sections of Coast Highway in order to hear options for Laguna Canyon Road, including permeable surfaces, from Caltrans first.

“That might be something we absolutely need considering our flood issues,” said council member Toni Iseman.   “If we lose surface that absorbs water, it only accelerates the water that comes into town so it would be counterproductive to our goal of making Laguna safer.”

Iseman suggested looking into decomposed granite, similar to the pathway near the Day Labor Center.  “You can push a baby stroller on decomposed granite, it’s very smooth, it’s just as pervious and that’s what we need,” she said.

Public Works director Steve May said undergrounding utility poles along Laguna Canyon Road needs to precede pathway plans except at Big Bend, where an undergrounding design with Southern California Edison is already underway.  As an option, he said widening the pavement along Laguna Canyon Road would not conflict with future undergrounding and may not fall under the jurisdiction of the American Disabilities Act, which requires wheelchair and electric cart access.  City Manager John Pietig reminded the council that all improvements must be approved by Caltrans due to liability.

The council also suggested seeking input from Laguna Canyon residents. “Do you know how many times they’ve come back to us and said, ‘You never let us know; we didn’t know what was going on and now you’re ramming this down our throats’,” said council member Kelly Boyd.

Council members discussed the drawbacks of adding sidewalks and bike paths to either the outbound or inbound side of Laguna Canyon Road. The outbound side’s numerous driveways were considered a potential hazard while more pathways on the inbound side would force canyon residents to cross a highway reputed for its curves and blind spots.

May said there is already a five-foot-wide paved shoulder on the inbound side in some areas “when it’s not covered with mud and debris.”  Police Chief Paul Workman noted that bicycles on Laguna Canyon Road, as on any highway, must ride with the flow of the traffic.

“In exploring your alternatives, try and keep it more of a woodsy, country highway.  It’s the look and feel we want, right?” said council member Elizabeth Pearson.

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