In an abrupt turnaround, the City Council this week agreed to pressure state transportation officials to accommodate bicyclists in their plans to add lanes to Pacific Coast Highway.
More than 100 bicyclists packed Monday's council meeting to urge that bike lanes be added to a 2.2-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway targeted to be re-striped as a six-lane highway. Council members, who previously held that the city can do little to influence plans for a state highway, set up a subcommittee to lobby state officials on behalf of the bicyclists.
The re-striping plan has been in the works for more than a decade. The state Department of Transportation plans to add a vehicular lane in each direction on the highway between Beach Boulevard and Golden West Street. Bicyclists who vehemently oppose the plan have said they would be squeezed into a two-foot, unmarked gap along either curb.
The cyclists have called for marked, five-foot bike lanes in both directions. City officials, however, say the only way to accommodate bike lanes would be to widen the street, which would cost up to $12 million for land acquisition.
If the city does not opt to re-stripe the street, it would lose a $945,000 Orange County transportation grant for the project, and would face worsening traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, officials have said.
After listening to about 90 minutes of testimony from cyclists on Monday, the council agreed to take action on their behalf.
Mayor Pro Tem Grace Winchell, Councilwoman Linda Moulton-Patterson and Councilman Jack Kelly will serve on a subcommittee that will meet with officials from Caltrans and other agencies in an effort to resolve the needs of bicyclists while accommodating traffic demands.
The subcommittee will explore a variety of alternatives, including acquiring state grants for an independent bike path along the beach or abandoning the six-lane proposal for Pacific Coast Highway.
In their decision, council members said they prefer keeping a four-lane highway and accommodating safe bicycle access on the street.
The council's reversal was triggered by Winchell, who delivered a passionate speech echoing the position of cyclists: that commuter bicycling helps ease traffic and reduce smog.
"The whole society is screaming, 'Let's use less oil, let's reduce pollution,' and we're (considering) taking away bike lanes," she said. "It's beyond my expression of disgust."
Other council members also spoke out in favor of the bicyclists.
"I think we ought to take a very tough stand in our negotiations with Caltrans," Councilman Don MacAllister said. "What we really should be doing is negotiating something . . . to get a bike lane."
After the council's decision, which came more than four hours into the meeting, the cyclists' leading spokesman said he was pleased with the new development.
"No doubt this is a tremendous turnaround," said Don Harvey, spokesman for the Orange County Bicyclist Coalition. "It's only my pessimism from this whole ordeal that makes me worried."
Harvey said he remains concerned that no one on the subcommittee is familiar with the needs of commuter bicyclists. He said he plans to request that council members add him or another cycling advocate to the subcommittee.