This is what happens when transportation planning focuses on moving cars instead of creating spaces for people.
At the same time that California is aggressively moving to ditch the Level of Service standard that has forced transportation and planning projects to measure and mitigate their impact on car traffic, some projects evaluated under that car-centric system still lumber on at the city and municipality level.
This explains how the City of Santa Ana in Orange County is one step away from approving a massive road widening project on one mile of Warner Avenue through the heart of the city. The plan would widen the already four-lane surface street to six lanes, add planted medians and bicycle lanes, and add ADA accessible street crossings.
The project is being completed to “improve traffic flow and improve safety,” according to the city. Worst of all, it is presented as a solution based on complete streets principles. Again, this is what happens when even well-intentioned cities make transportation decisions based first on how it will impact car traffic.
While it is encouraging that the city is committed to increasing its downtown bike network, there is an inherent contradiction between improving traffic flow, i.e. increasing the speed of traffic, and making the street safer for people who walk or bicycle. Speed is a contributing factor in one-third of fatal traffic crashes nationwide. Fast-moving cars on a six-lane street make a daunting obstacle for pedestrians to cross, no matter how nice the planted median is.
The cost of the project is a cool $55 million, 20 percent of which the city already has in hand. Some of that money comes from Orange County’s transportation bond, Measure M, which handcuffs how municipalities can spend the money.
For the 37 families that will be displaced by the widening, the cost is much higher. Danny Cortes’ family lives at one of the homes Santa Ana plans to purchase for the project. When Cortes learned about the project at community meetings in 2012, his house wasn’t on the list of properties that would be purchased for the project. Only after checking the city’s website in January did he learn that his family would likely be evicted from the place they have called home for over a decade, when the homeowner cashes out.
“It is hard to just leave the place because you have to, when there’s no other option,” Cortes said.
Cortes has been working with Santa Ana Active Streets (SAAS)**, a nonprofit coalition of advocacy groups who push for complete street and smart growth solutions for regional transportation problems. In a document submitted to the city as public testimony, SAAS notes that despite the addition of a bike lane and ADA-compliant street crossings, this plan is not one that will make life safer for street users.
While the proposed bike lane is a much needed asset to create a comprehensive bicycle network in the City, adding bike lanes doesn’t mean the streets will be safer for bicyclists. At Santa Ana Active Streets’ Active Transportation Leadership Program workshop on February 21, 2015, Alta Planning + Design’s Senior Planner Bryan Jones said: “The mere act of adding bike lanes and sidewalks does not make a roadway safe; it has to do with the greater design.”
Santa Ana is not a city of people who are opposed to progressive transportation or have a knee jerk reaction to fighting non-automobile transportation options. Read more…