They were braced for a rush on City Hall, even a bombardment of the mayor's hotline.
But traffic engineers were surprised and relieved to discover that a preliminary test of reduced lanes at the traffic circle went over relatively well.
"It was more successful than I thought," Orange Traffic Engineer Hamid Bahadori said. "I anticipated a higher level of confusion, if nothing else, just because of the element of surprise. It looked like a war zone with the sandbags and all."
City employees organized the test run, Sept. 14-16, in anticipation of a major renovation of the downtown plaza, known more commonly around the county as "the traffic circle."
City Council members had agreed to the make-over last spring, when a group of architects suggested restoring the plaza to its late 19th century origins. This meant cutting the circle from two lanes to one, and increasing the sidewalk area so restaurants could have more outside dining.
Construction likely will not begin until April, but Bahadori said engineers wanted to make sure the lost lane would not be a complete disaster.
Instead, they found that pedestrian safety increased, parking was easier and congestion along Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street was not any worse than normal.
Best of all, he said, public outrage was minimal. With 35,000 to 40,000 vehicles circling the plaza daily, only about 20 people felt moved to call, and not all of them thought it was bad.
"If this had been a big failure, we would have been bombarded," Bahadori said.
The circle is back to two lanes for now. Studies will continue until January, when the council will be asked to approve a bid package, he said. Construction should be completed by Labor Day.
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Orange officials used sandbags last week to simulate design changes proposed for the traffic circle. The test proved a success--improving traffic safety while increasing sidewalk space around the historic roundabout. A look at the plan and the test results:
Chapman Avenue: 18,800 cars daily
Glassell Street: 15,400 cars daily
Two lanes become one
Pocket allows for easier parking
Nodes prevent cars from cutting corners
Remodel reduces number of parking spaces by 25%
New curb line doubles dining, pedestrian space
Crosswalk relocation cuts distance to park, increases pedestrian safety
Average traffic speed reduced by 5 mph
Traffic proposal doesn't address landscape plans for park
Source: Hamid Bahadori, Orange Traffic Engineer
Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD / Los Angeles Times