By Daniel Langhorne, Special Independent
Ocean Avenue will be converted into a one-way street between Coast Highway and Beach Street in Spring 2020 following a vote from the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday.
City staffers believe that by creating separate lanes to turn left and right from Ocean Avenue, Coast Highway will allow traffic to move more efficiently. Currently, drivers looking to head north on Coast Highway from Ocean Avenue often get stuck behind cars waiting for pedestrians to cross so they can turn left to head south on Coast Highway.
The idea of converting Ocean Avenue to a one-way street was first raised in a 2006 report on traffic and parking in Laguna Canyon and downtown. Last year, the City Council directed staffers to reach out to residents and businesses about the proposal and the reaction has been mixed.
Besides the one-way street, city staff said reconfiguring Ocean Avenue will allow for the addition of 10 new parking spaces, which will help offset the loss of eight spaces in front of Main Beach Park to improve pedestrian crossings on Coast Highway. There will also be new designated loading zones for ridesharing vehicles that can create hazards when they stop in traffic to pick up or drop off fares.
Kent Russell, a downtown commercial property owner, said business owners he spoke with were conflicted over the proposal. On one hand, they recognized how it would improve traffic circulation, but they were also disappointed that news of the proposed change hit around the chaotic Thanksgiving holiday. Some Ocean Avenue businesses were also concerned about losing the drive-by traffic they see from drivers turning off of Coast Highway, Russell said.
“Most of them realize there are benefits to one-way traffic, but when they think about having those additional eyes from two-way traffic, that’s important to them,” he said.
In a letter to city staff, Starbucks representative Charlie Arbing wrote that the proposed changes to Ocean Avenue would hinder customers traveling north on Coast Highway from stopping at its Laguna Beach location. If customers aren’t able to find parking on Coast Highway, they’ll have to turn around via Forest Avenue and Beach Street to find side-street parking.
To remedy this change, city staff are exploring the conversion of two parking spaces in front of Starbucks into short-term parking for customers.
As a compromise to limit any potential damage to these businesses, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow proposed putting off the implementation of the one-way street until after Summer 2020 and then conducting a six-month test run of the changes. He added that he didn’t believe a one-way Ocean Avenue would have a big impact on business.
“I think most of these businesses depend more on foot traffic, the internet and word of mouth than someone driving by for the first time who happens to see a sign,” Dicterow said.
Mayor Bob Whalen said he didn’t support delaying implementation of the one-way after significant public outreach, which included hand-delivering about 175 notices to businesses on Ocean Avenue.
“Every time we try to do something downtown, we have a process that goes for months and years,” Whalen said. “We tried this on Forest Avenue, we tried this on Park Avenue, and inevitably somebody comes in the night it’s before the council and says there wasn’t enough opportunity for public input.”