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Bicyclist group floods council with concerns about safety

About 100 bicyclists pedaled to — and then filled — Laguna Beach City Council chambers Tuesday night in a quest for safer streets.

They knew the council was expected to vote on an urban planner, and they wanted their voices heard.

The group banded together under the name Livable Streets Laguna Coalition after one of their own, Laguna resident John Colvin, 55, died June 17 after being struck by a car during an early evening ride along North Coast Highway near Emerald Bay.

From outside council chambers before the meeting, Joan Marcus-Colvin recited the last text message she received from her husband: "Hi sweetie; finished a meeting and going home to ride."

"It's unimaginable the city does not have one dedicated bike lane — that is unacceptable," she said, flanked by the couple's two daughters, Natalie and Shayna. "Could a rumble strip have warned the driver he was moving into the bike lane? By being here, you are all sending a message to the City Council that it's not OK to lose lives in the city."

After further discussion during the formal meeting, the council hired Berkeley-based planning and design firm MIG for up to $300,000 to update the city's downtown specific plan, a key document that outlines design and land use guidelines.

Marcus-Colvin told the council that she and other residents were fed up with what they called a lack of bicycle infrastructure and implored members before the vote to think of cycling safety.

Bicycle safety should be a key component of future plans to revitalize downtown and improve traffic flow, added Coastline Pilot columnist Billy Fried, who spearheaded the coalition.

In Laguna, more signs and sharrows would be a good start, Pat Freeman, 47, who grew up cycling around town, said before the council meeting.

"Look at bike maps, and Laguna is the black hole when it comes to bike routes and bike lane signage," Freeman said. "It's been that way for a long time. Unfortunately it took someone dying" before a unified front fostering cyclist safety was developed.

Pedestrians have also been killed on city streets. Nina Fitzpatrick, a Laguna College of Art + Design student, died after she was hit by a motorist in April on Laguna Canyon Road. She had been walking in a crosswalk near the school.

City Manager John Pietig said city staff are working to comply with the 2008 California Complete Streets Act, legislation that mandates that cities and counties provide for pedestrians, bicyclists, children, seniors and public transportation.

Laguna has installed sharrows on Glenneyre Street and Cliff Drive and blinking crosswalk lights. The council has OK'd a pedestrian trail from LCAD to the Act V parking lot. Caltrans will be installing a pedestrian-activated traffic signal this summer near LCAD.

In addition, the city commissioned an urban design firm, RBF Consulting, to study ways of improving pedestrian and bicyclist movement along Laguna Canyon Road; a report is due to the council Aug. 19.

The Orange County Transportation Authority is working on a southern Orange County regional bikeway plan that will identify projects in certain cities and possible funding sources.

Resident Max Isles suggested to the council that schools educate children about bicycle safety.

"The cars aren't always to blame," Isles said. "Motorists aren't always to blame. We buy our kids bikes and teach our kids how to ride bikes, but we don't give them any idea to look after themselves and be safe."

"We all have to be active," Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said. "I think MIG has the best package of tools to reach out to the broader community. There's 22,000 people [living in Laguna]. A lot of people need to be reached. We need to hear their input."

Part of MIG's role would be analyzing Laguna Canyon zoning issues. MIG employees have worked on Laguna traffic and parking projects, and that familiarity played a part in the hiring decision, Pietig said.

MIG plans to host public workshops and design "charrettes," gatherings that foster group communication, to help the urban planning effort, according to a city staff report.

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