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Council aims for safety on Laguna Canyon Road over more vehicle lanes

Heeding residents’ suggestions for Laguna Canyon Road, the Laguna Beach City Council took a less-is-more approach Tuesday.

The proposal to add traffic lanes to the existing two-lane state highway seems to be off the table. The council instead focused on bicyclist and pedestrian safety as well as undergrounding of utility lines.

Members voted unanimously to direct City Manager John Pietig to communicate with Caltrans, which owns and operates the road.

Pietig’s task is also to confirm how much it would cost the city to gather information on property lines, traffic and drainage conditions as well as to apply for two Caltrans grants to help fund such a study.

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Paramount to any future work is knowing where property begins and ends, Councilwoman Toni Iseman said.

“I don’t think we can do what we need to do if we don’t know the right-of-way,” she said. “We don’t know how we’re impacting businesses.”

The council’s vote follows the work of a 20-member task force, which met nine times since October to discuss top priorities for road improvements, including ways to ease traffic congestion, along a stretch of Laguna Canyon Road from El Toro Road south to Canyon Acres Drive.

The task force, co-chaired by Mayor Bob Whalen and Iseman, included representatives from OC Parks, Caltrans, the Orange County Transportation Authority and Southern California Edison.

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Task force members indicated a “strong consensus” that utility poles should be removed and wires placed underground along a section of the road, that bike lanes should be added and that any alterations not cut into open space, according to a city staff report.

Pietig will research how much Edison would charge to design a plan for the utility pole work.

The council kept open the option for a two-lane road with bicycle and pedestrian paths that maintains the existing two-way, left-hand turn lane.

Some speakers said that adding more vehicle lanes would invite additional cars to Laguna Canyon Road, which already suffers from traffic congestion during certain times of day.

Between 38,000 and 42,000 car trips occur daily on Laguna Canyon Road, according to officials from Michael Baker International, a city-hired consulting firm formerly known as RBF Consulting.

That number is likely to increase with the more than 43,000 houses that are being constructed in surrounding areas such as Irvine and Lake Forest since 2003, Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson told the council.

Chris Prelitz, president of Transition Laguna Beach, a grassroots organization that strives for self-sustaining communities, suggested a shared lane that could accommodate bikes and public transit such as trolleys.

Prelitz presented a scenario where a person stuck in traffic on Laguna Canyon Road notices another way to travel.

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“It doesn’t take a few of those moments to say, ‘Hey, I’ll take the trolley next time,’” Prelitz said.

He added, “A shared transit or bike lane could be used by emergency vehicles. It’s the most Complete Streets option, and there is a higher possibility of funding.”

Complete Streets is a national movement that emphasizes safety and the needs of people in the planning of transportation networks.

Ann Christoph, a former Laguna Beach mayor, urged the council to take incremental steps to improve conditions as soon as possible.

“Look at what is possible in the near term,” Christoph said. “What can we do to improve the situation relatively quickly?

“The highest priority is a pedestrian pathway that goes on the east side of the canyon to [Laguna Coast] Wilderness Park. This is something in the realm of feasibility the city can do in the next couple of years.”


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