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Transportation grant asks pedestrians, bicyclists in Costa Mesa to ‘Reimagine 19th’ Street

Traffic gets backed up at the intersection of Anaheim Ave and W. 19th St in Costa Mesa.
Traffic gets backed up at the intersection of Anaheim Avenue and W. 19th Street in Costa Mesa. “Reimagine 19th,” a new grant-funded project asks local residents to envision how local roads could be made safer, more comfortable, and more appealing, to pedestrians and bicyclists.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

When recently asked to “Reimagine 19th” Street in westside Costa Mesa, residents, pedestrians and bicyclists — many who endure inhospitable conditions and contend with vehicle traffic on the busy thoroughfare — had a long list of suggestions.

Wider sidewalks, shade trees and more bike lanes might make navigating the area more comfortable, they said, while planters, road striping and traffic circles could reduce prevailing speeds and make cars less of a danger.

That kind of input was exactly what the Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets, a nonprofit advocate for smart street design and land use, was seeking Monday night when it conducted a virtual outreach meeting to brainstorm improvement ideas for the urban corridor.

But Monday’s discussion wasn’t just a bull session.

Working with a $9,600 mini-grant through the Southern California Assn. of Governments “Go Human” campaign, alliance members have launched a new initiative focused on improving West 19th Street.

A "Reimagine 19th" flyer on the light signal post at Anaheim Ave and W. 19th St in Costa Mesa.
Nonprofit Costa Mesa Alliance for Safer Streets held an outreach meeting Monday to ask local residents how portions of West 19th Street could be made to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Reimagine 19th” aims to identify, design and possibly implement quick-build, temporary road improvements to help vulnerable road users who depend on biking and walking during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Alliance President Russell Toler.

“It is a part of town that’s been historically neglected. There just hasn’t been much investment there,” Toler said of the area. “If we could get some killer renderings of what 19th Street could look like … and we could circulate and promote that — that would be a huge win.”

A survey sent out to 4,000 recipients within a quarter-mile radius of the thoroughfare, from Harbor Boulevard west to Monrovia Avenue, has so far netted more than 200 responses.

Those who attended Monday shared their experiences with Costa Mesa City Council members Arliss Reynolds and Manuel Chavez, who represent the west side, as well as other city staff and transportation advocates present.

Among the biggest issues identified by the group and survey respondents were not enough good places for bicyclists to ride, speeding and aggressive or careless drivers and a generally unpleasant environment replete with noise, trash and car exhaust.

Car-centric businesses, such as In-N-Out Burger at 19th and Anaheim Avenue, where cars waiting to place orders sometimes clog city traffic lanes, were also called out by frustrated residents.

David Martinez, an 18-year-old Costa Mesa High School graduate who doesn’t have his driver’s license and relies mainly on his bicycle for transportation, attended Monday’s online meeting to see what others had to say.

Traffic at the intersection of Anaheim Ave and W. 19th St in Costa Mesa.
Traffic gets backed up at the intersection of Anaheim Ave and W. 19th St in Costa Mesa Monday. A new initiative aims to explore plans and projects that would make the thoroughfare more pedestrian and bike friendly.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

His biggest complaint with the busy area is its lack of bike lanes and drivers frequently making right-hand turns without looking for opposing traffic in the crosswalk.

“After biking around the city, I’d see in some places there are great bike trails. Then, seeing 19th Street, it’s like — eh,” Martinez said. “We need to fix these streets and make sure everyone has a chance to bike and walk.”

Toler said one bright spot to come out of the coronavirus pandemic has been that city leaders are becoming inspired to reimagine land use in light of business closures and creating opportunities for denizens to walk and recreate during periods of home isolation.

“Now that the streets are emptier, this is our chance to try something, to test a pop-up bike lane and planters and see how that works,” he said, adding plans can be used to inform council members of good ideas generated from the ground up.

Costa Mesa City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, who attended Monday’s meeting, assured participants the city was listening to their concerns and that positive changes could be on the horizon.

“Your council members are fighting for you and what you need on the west side,” she said. “This pandemic could change the landscape and reconfigure the way we use our streets.

“I’ve taken copious notes and will be working with staff to make sure we’re addressing the short- and long-term needs,” Farrell Harrison added.

To learn more about the “Reimagine 19th” initiative, visit cmabs.org.

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