Costa Mesa seeks solutions for cut-through traffic

If there's one thing a majority of Eastside Costa Mesa residents can agree on, it's their mutual dislike of cut-through traffic.

That's why the city's traffic engineering team on Wednesday night showed about 75 residents at Kaiser Elementary School some traffic-calming proposals for East 19th Street, a primarily residential thoroughfare connecting Newport Boulevard to Irvine Avenue that motorists often use en route to Newport Boulevard and the 55 Freeway.

For portions of the roughly 1-mile route, city officials are proposing adding landscaped medians and "chokers," which resemble planters built into the street but are designed to convince motorists to slow down on approach.

The chokers, city officials said, have worked well for slowing the traffic on Broadway and have beautified portions of that wide street. The average speeds there went from 34 mph to 29 mph after the chokers were installed in late 2012. The speed limit there is 25.

"That's a big change," said Raja Sethuraman, the city's transportation services manager. "You're talking about a 20% reduction."

The lower speed "does give people some extra time to watch out for pedestrians," he added, "to watch out for a bicyclist."

East 19th's speed limit is also 25 mph. In October, a city study found average daily traffic for East 19th as high as 11,600 cars going 31 mph along the portion closest to Newport Boulevard. For the street's edge near Irvine Avenue, it had a daily average of 5,600 cars going 32.2 mph.

Funding for the East 19th project, estimated to cost $855,700, would come from a federal grant.

Sethuraman said the Eastside's cut-through traffic problems can never be fully stopped, though some other efforts along Newport Boulevard and East 17th Street — which primarily contain commercial properties, not residential — have helped residents' traffic concerns.

"The idea is if you make those streets better, more people will stay on those streets and stay out of the Eastside," he said. "And that did work to some extent."

Wednesday's meeting was also a chance for residents to sound off about general traffic concerns, including parked cars getting hit and residents having a difficult time pulling out of driveways onto the streets.

Others suggested adding speed bumps and "sharrows" — markings indicating a street that can be used by both cars and bicycles — though Sethuraman ruled out the former option.

Adding speed bumps would need a neighborhood-wide traffic study, not just for one street, and would result in diverting traffic, Sethuraman said.

Ernesto Munoz, Costa Mesa's public services director, contended that sharrows are experimental.

They sometimes give cyclists a false sense of security, he said, and that's a safety concern.

Another meeting about East 19th is planned for April, though the date and place are still to be determined.

Sethuraman said the city hopes to finish the project design work by this summer, with construction beginning in early 2015.

The East 19th plans will likely go before the City Council for approval later this year. The Parks and Recreation Commission will also examine some of the project's landscaping and monument sign designs.

Munoz urged residents to provide their input and stay engaged in the process.

"Your involvement is what really makes this project successful," he said.

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