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Posts from the The OC Category

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‘That Time Is Past’: Santa Ana’s Bold Plan to Eliminate Traffic Collisions

The Safe Mobility Santa Ana plan was released earlier this month. Credit: City of Santa Ana

The Safe Mobility Santa Ana Plan was released earlier this month. Credit: City of Santa Ana

The Safe Mobility Santa Ana Plan was released earlier this month with very little fanfare, yet it may be the planning document that will possibly have the biggest impact on the city’s streets for years to come.

The plan identifies 42 high-priority projects–37 corridors and five intersections–that would take an estimated $40 million to complete.

But most compelling is the language in the plan that hints at a culture shift in the city away from motorist convenience and towards a focus on pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Current planning in the city relies on regional guidance as laid out in the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Master Plan of Arterial Highways (MPAH). Cities are supposed to make sure their plans are consistent with the MPAH, or risk losing local sales tax revenues. But the new plan boldly claims:

With a focus on safety, many of the recommendations in the Safe Mobility Plan are not consistent with the current MPAH.

And that’s okay with the city. Instead of focusing on vehicles, as the MPAH does, the Safe Mobility Santa Ana Plan will either reclassify streets to align better with bicycle and pedestrian safety, or remove them from the MPAH system.

Talk about whoa. While previous active transportation projects have requested that roads be reclassified in the MPAH so as to redesign them, this may be the first city document to outwardly proclaim it plans to do so routinely.

The City’s main arterial streets will see much of this change, as they have been the ones identified as having the most collisions. Some notable projects:

  • 17th Street, currently six travel lanes, would be narrowed to four lanes and add an eight-foot protected bike lane.
  • First Street, currently six travel lanes, would be narrowed to four lanes, add a seven-foot protected bike lane and add median refuge islands at two intersections.
  • The contentious Warner Avenue Project–about which we’ve written in a prior posting–would include a widened sidewalk on the north side of the street, four ten-foot travel lanes, and a five-foot-wide bike lane.

The city’s Public Works Agency  was in charge of completing the plan. I sat down with Fred Mousavipour, Public Works’ executive director, and Cory Wilkerson, the Agency’s active transportation coordinator to go over the details. The conversation that follows was edited slightly for clarity and length.

Read more…

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Orange County Trains Active Transportation Leaders


Participants at the second Anaheim Active Transportation Leadership Program workshop. Photo by Caro Jaregui

Funding transportation projects in California is a complex and arcane process involving many players, including state and federal agencies, regional planning authorities, and local cities and counties. It usually comes with strings attached, needing to fulfill requirements of state or federal legislation or of a local sales tax spending plan. A project can start with local residents advocating for something they want, but needing to fit it to state or regional goals for planning, air quality, or transportation.

Do we expect a parent who wants their child to have a safer route to school to know all this? No, I don’t think so. But cities lose out when its residents are left in the dark and don’t know they can weigh in to improve projects being planned, or make their own suggestions about what improvements they need.

Alliance for a Healthy Orange County (AHOC) is stepping up to change that. In Garden Grove and Anaheim, the group has launched an Active Transportation Leadership Program to encourage and train residents to become advocates for their community’s needs.

“The purpose is to have grassroots community engagement,” said Michele Martinez, executive director of AHOC. Staff and city council members in Anaheim and Garden Grove advocate for more active transportation policies and projects in their cities, Martinez said, but there aren’t many community leaders doing it. “We want to make sure to have champions at all levels,” Martinez added.

The Active Transportation Leadership Program is funded through grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Endowment. The three-year program launched in Santa Ana last year, with Santa Ana Active Streets (SAAS) taking the lead (full disclosure: I worked on the first ATLP program with SAAS).

The ATLP was chosen for Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana because of transportation plans being proposed in those areas, including the OC Streetcar Project, Martinez said. Garden Grove is working on its bicycle/pedestrian Active Streets Master Plan, and Anaheim on its Bicycle Master Plan.


The second ATLP workshop in Anaheim addressed how to be a champion for active transportation. Photo by Caro Jaregui

This week’s workshops will give residents a chance to learn about how projects are planned and funded, with presentations by planners at the Orange County Transportation Authority, Southern California Association of Governments, Caltrans, and the respective cities.

Future workshops will train attendees to assess their communities to identify Active Transportation needs, including collecting data about what’s already there and what’s missing. There will also be sessions about how to advocate for improvements and whom to talk to.

All workshops are free and open to the public. Anyone can become a leader for active transportation. See after the jump for workshop details.

Read more…

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“Level of Service” Planning Is Not Dead Yet

To see a higher-res version of the image, click ##

To see a higher-res version of the image, click here.

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…


Sheriffs Blame Cyclist Victim in OC Road Rage Bottle-Throwing Incident

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

Screen capture showing Gatorade bottle thrown at cyclist. Source: Youtube

On May 31, 2014, Bryan Larsen was bicycling on a crowded stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in south Orange County. He began to notice a pattern of harassment by the occupants of a large white 4×4 Ram Truck, with Texas Virginia license plate “TX 65-500.” When passing cyclists, the truck would spew thick black coal-rolling exhaust.

Larsen got out his phone and began to record video. He then captured this road rage incident.  The truck swerved out of the car lane toward Larsen, who was riding in the bike lane. The truck slowed and its passenger threw a bottle full of Gatorade at the cyclist. When Larsen held his phone up and shouted that he had captured the incident on video, the truck blasted more exhaust and drove away.

In a television interview, Larsen describes the incident:

I was in a lot of fear. They came into the bike lane. The tires were as big as I was and I thought they were going to run me over.

Larsen posted the video online and reported the incident, submitting the evidence to the Orange County Sheriffs Department.

OCSD responded that they were investigating, but stated that there really was nothing law enforcement could do, since even though it was caught on video, no sheriff had actually been present to eye-witness to the incident.

Meanwhile, the video went viral. The incident was reported in local media. Larsen approached Arizona-based advocacy organization Look! Save A Life which produced an annotated version of the video, slowing down and clarifying what occurred. Just over a month passed with no response from OCSD.

On July 7, Look! Save A Life published this Open Letter to the Orange County Sheriffs Department. The letter was also shared widely.

The next day, the OC Sheriffs finally responded.

But not quite in the way cyclists expected.

OCSD stated that they will not be charging the truck’s driver. They may charge the passenger with assault and battery for throwing the bottle.

And the kicker: OCSD plans to charge cyclist Bryan Larsen for shouting obscenities. On the video, Larsen can be heard stating “do that f—ing on video right now!”

Read more…


Riding for DREAMS: OC to LA DREAM Act Ride

Photo by Victor Entre Puertas

Having only trained for three hours in one week’s time, Adrian Gonzalez knew he wasn’t ready for the 50-mile Los Angeles to Orange County DREAM ride. Gonzalez, a deaf studies undergrad at California State University, Northridge and undocumented, wasn’t a consistent bicyclist. Yet while wanting to participate in a DREAM event, he found a deeper meaning in the ride.

“Been going on for a little more than 10 years,” Gonzalez said. “There’s all this frustration, being sleep deprived . . . a lot of energy expended. But once we get there- it will be like the (DREAM) ride- once we get there it’s going to be amazing.”

Going on its second year, the 2012 DREAM Ride on March 4 is a full day bike ride from Orange County to Los Angeles. While the ride this year aims to continue building bridges with activists and non-activists, it will also celebrate the passage of the California DREAM Act.

“Student immigrant movement, immigrant rights movement, bicycle culture, all three have overlapping shadow areas,” said Erick Huerta, Eastside blogger and DREAM Ride organizer.

The ride will start at El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana, and end at Solidarity Ink in Lincoln Heights where there will be a end of ride party. Though the ride takes a full day to complete, its leisure pace makes it manageable for even the most novice cyclist, Huerta said.

Bicycle mechanics from Bici Libre, a bicycle cooperative in Westlake/Pico Union, will be riding with equipment to fix people’s bikes, and group leaders will make sure no cyclists are left behind. Registration costs $20, up $5 from the year before.

DREAM activists have used bicycle cultural for the past few years for big events like Tour de DREAMS, the group bike ride from Northern to Southern California, to DIY rides through CicLAvia. Yet the Orange County/Los Angeles group bicycle ride was an idea born and nurtured in Boyle Heights.

The co-founders Huerta, Laura Torres, and Jose Beltran were already consistent riders blending DREAM activism with riding. Torres rode the Tour de DREAMS in 2010, and Beltran and Huerta often donned capes, lucha libre masks, and banner waving bikes for small rides through the city or for CicLAvia.

Being undocumented gave them a different perspective on bicycle riding. For example, instead of walking him to elementary school, Huerta’s mother would take him to school on top of the handle bars of her bicycle.

“I’m under the umbrella of accidental environmentalist,” Huerta said. Read more…


Missed in 2011: O.C. Road Agency Brings Toll Project Back from the Dead


This rendering was prepared by opponents of the 16 mile plan to extend the 241 to the beach in Orange County. Proponents of highway expansion argue that the road will have a lot more traffic than pictured.

There was a saying my mentor Janine Bauer used to tell me when I was back fighting wasteful highway projects in New Jersey.  “The public process for highway expansion isn’t over until the road is built.”  What she meant was that the monied interests in building expensive highway projects won’t stop no matter how often they are rebuked by oversight agencies or judges and will always find a new way to push forward.

No where is this better illustrated than in the case if the proposed Foothill South (SR 241) project in Orange County.  The 16-mile project was rejected by the California Coastal Commission, a state agency that reviews projects that could impact environmentally sensitive areas around the coast and the Federal Commerce Department back in 2008.  We should note that both California and the federal government were under Republican administrations at the time.

But that didn’t stop the TCA from trying again.  Back in October, the agency proposed a new plan to build the road extension without running afoul of those pesky environmental laws that so hamper visionaries who look at a forest and see a great place for a new road.  Instead of building the entire road all at once, they’re going to build it, and get it environmentally cleared in phases.

First up is a four mile extension of the SR 241 that would terminate “somewhere in the vicinity of Ortega Highway, though further studies and engineering would have to determine what street north of the highway the segment would feed onto.” Read more…


Bicycle Safety Program Comes to Huntington Beach

Photo of the Huntington Beach Bike Path, it's usually not this empty. Photo:Destination Southern California

(Last month, Huntington Beach announced a new program to offer scofflaw cyclists a chance to go to bicycle safety school in lieu of paying what can be a hefty fine for illegal cycling.  The program received some pretty harsh feedback on social media, but when I looked into it, I thought it was a pretty good program so I asked Huntington Beach Council Member Joe Shaw to write a piece for our best practices series explaining the program.  Incidently, this is Shaw’s third piece for Streetsblog having written for StreetHeat, our predecessor site, in 2007 and again for Streetsblog in May of 2008.  You can follow him on twitter at @joeshawforhb)

Tens of thousands of our residents recently rode bikes to our annual Fourth of July parade and fireworks. On the Fourth of July, Downtown Huntington Beach resembles Amsterdam times ten, with bicycles chained to every available surface.

Huntington Beach conitiues to be one of the most bicycle friendly cities in Orange County, recently recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, only the second Orange County city to be so designated.

From 2008-2010, Huntington Beach had 450 bicycle/vehicle collisions, with around 300 citations issued to bicyclists.

Legally, bicycles are fined just like other vehicles but the citation is not attached to the driving record.  Citations are pricey with a “failure to stop at a stop sign” citation at $233!

As part of that effort to be a bike-friendly community, our police department is now offering an Adult Bicycle Safety program, modeled after our juvenile program in place since 1972.

Now if you’re issued a citation as a bicyclist — attending the Bicycle Safety Program will result in a dismissed citation.

How the program will work: Read more…

Freeway Expansion Coverage Focusing on Construction Delays, Still Missing the Magic Question

Three years of construction.  Massive Delays. Circuitous detours. A $277 million price tag.

For a full list of the delays caused by this project, visit ##

For a full list of the delays caused by this project, visit LA_Now

Unfortunately, arguments about sprawl and damage to the environment haven’t proven to be winners when convincing the larger public that massive highway widening projects are hurting, not helping congestion.  However, a shift in how these widening projects are covered, with a sharp focus on the impact the construction will have on traffic congestion in the short-term, provides the argument that opponents of highway widenings need.

“This project will make congestion worse over time.”

Just look at recent coverage in the Los Angeles Times of the $227 million project in Orange County known as the West County Connector. That project purports to “create a seamless link between carpool lanes and ease rush-hour bottlenecks on the 405, 22 and 605 freeways.”  But the cost of the project is a lot higher for the hapless commuters that presently use this stretch of interstate.  The Bottleneck Blog outlines the seven road closures, spread out over three years, that will be inflicted on drivers.  The headline for the story?  “Big disruptions ahead for key L.A.-Orange County freeway interchange.”

Once the disruptive construction phase is finished, how long with the benefits hold out? The theory of induced demand, that is demonstrated daily on L.A. County freeways, is that newly constructed traffic lanes will be filled by new traffic in a couple of years.  There are so many people that don’t drive because of congestion, that relieving that congestion induces more driving and leads to new lanes being filled more quickly than we can build them.  When construction will create delay for years, as it will for this project, one really has to question whether the project would be worth it if it were free. Read more…


Life Without Measure R: Massive Transit Cuts in Orange County

Earlier today the Orange County Transit Authority's Board of Directors voted, by a 14-1 margin, to cut 150,000 hours of transit service by early next year.  Believe it or not, the plan was actually an improvement from an earlier draft of the cuts had 300,000 hours of service.  The Register describes the cuts:

Eliminated routes include service from Seal Beach to Westminster and Brea to Santa Ana on weekdays. Service from Huntington Beach to Costa Mesa will be eliminated on weekends.

Midday service from Fullerton to Huntington Beach will be eliminated on weekdays. The plan eliminates about 8 percent of the county's bus service by early next year. Eight routes will be restructured and the frequency of service would be reduced on 11 routes on the weekdays.

While transit advocates, such as the outstanding writers at Transit Rider O.C., have focused their advocacy efforts at the Board of Directors; the fiscal mess at the state level and the Governor's illegal desire to raid transit funds to alleviate said mess made today's vote a decision on where to make cuts not if to make cuts.  That's not to say the OCTA, a group that has never met a road-widening project that it didn't love is blameless; it's just that decisions made to basically liquidate the voter-approved state operating assistance fund have left transit agencies in the lurch statewide.  Locally, Measure R may forestall local cuts, but that's not to say that they won't be coming sooner, rather than later.

As is normally the case, the biggest victims of the cuts are students, people of lesser means, the transit dependent and late night workers.  With today's cuts totaling 8% of OCTA's total service hours.  To their credit, advocates and just regular riders packed the Board Room today to speak their piece about the cuts.  While their pleas didn't change the outcome, hopefully these same people will remember today when it comes time to vote on their state leadership next year.


OCTA: What’s the Best Way to Widen the I-405?

8_14_09_405.jpgPhoto of the I-405 as it pases the John Wayne Airport: Treotography/Flickr
A brief article in today's Orange County Register reports that the OCTA, the agency that recently employed Metro CEO Art Leahy as its top boss, is seeking public input on the best way to relieve congestion on the I-405.  While this seems like an inexpensive way to get a snapshot of public opinion; I can't help but notice that the only options the OCTA is proposing involve massive road widening projects.

The four alternatives are basically a one-lane widening in each direction, a two lane widening in each direction, a two-lane widening that would be one HOT Lane and one general purpose lane, and just widening parts of the 405 in Orange County as funding allows.  No mention of trains, buses, bus-only lanes, or anything of the sort appear anywhere inside the Register's article or on the OCTA's project page.

To make matters even worse, the OCTA has already stated its preference for the two traditional widening alternatives. It should be noted that the I-405 in Orange County is already five travel lanes in each direction, so it is more than feasible that the final design for this project could be creating a mammoth 14-lane highway designed to connect Orange and San Diego counties. 

I can't think of a better sprawl acceleration project than that.  For a quick reminder of what a fourteen lane highway looks like, visit this article on the proposed I-710 widening in Long Beach.  Is that really what we want our roads to look like?

In case you're wondering, there is no place on the survey to ask how the project conforms with state mandates limiting sprawl or to improve air quality.  For a complete list of public outreach opportunities on this project, please visit the I-405 Improvement page at