New project to provide improvements for pedestrians in South Laguna

People enjoy a walk in Laguna Beach on May 23, 2020.
People enjoy a walk in Laguna Beach on May 23, 2020. A proposed Caltrans project approved by the planning commission this week would include upgrading curb ramps, driveways, sidewalks and traffic signals, among other improvements on Coast Highway between Moss Street and 7th Avenue to improve pedestrian accessibility in South Laguna.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A new project in Laguna Beach will take aim at improving pedestrian accessibility in South Laguna.

Caltrans plans to begin construction on the project in January and hopes to complete it by June 2024. Once completed, the work would provide pedestrian and Americans with Disabilities Act enhancements on Coast Highway between Moss Street and 7th Avenue.

The Planning Commission at its regular meeting Wednesday night unanimously approved the design review and coastal development permit for the project. The commission also adopted a categorical exemption for the project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, deeming it would not have a significant impact on the environment because improvements would be made to already existing facilities.

The project will be brought to the Laguna Beach City Council on June 15 for its consideration of a cooperative agreement with Caltrans, according to Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis. The amount the city will pay for project enhancements will be determined at that time.

Residents called into the virtual meeting to express concerns and desires on matters related to the work, such as the width of the sidewalk, additional medians with landscaping to improve the aesthetics and paid parking along Coast Highway.

Laguna Beach Public Works Director Mark McAvoy said it would be the city’s intention to implement metered parking along Coast Highway in the project area near the time of the project’s completion.

“Anywhere that curbs are installed where we have parking, the city can implement paid parking through parking meters or parking pay stations, and so we would be looking to do that,” McAvoy said.

According to a city staff report, the improvements would include upgrading curb ramps, driveways, sidewalks and traffic signals. It would also address drainage and pavement issues.

Caltrans officials said the project was conceived as a sidewalk project, but some additions were discussed, including the construction of three raised medians along the stretch of roadway covered in the project.

Some quibbled with the width of the medians, hoping that they would be wider. The raised medians are to be 6 feet wide.

Andrew Oshrin of Caltrans indicated that the three narrow medians proposed represented a compromise on aesthetics. He said isolated medians would not be effective in slowing motorists, adding that a raised median carries a risk because it provides less ability to recover for errant or nervous drivers.

“We want to protect the bicyclist, as well as the pedestrian, as well as the [motorist], so we have to compromise and allocate space to the extent that it doesn’t overly favor one mode of transportation over another,” Oshrin said.

The scope of the work includes adding street trees, hand rails in various locations and conduits beneath the sidewalk to accommodate wiring for future ornamental street lighting.

“Considering the project is expected to take 2½ years for construction, I think we all hope the end product is something the public will feel was worth the 2½ years of inconvenience and traffic tie-ups and stuff,” Laguna Beach resident John Thomas said.

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