City Abandons Orange Grove "Road Diet" Plan

“No consensus, no funding, no dialogue,” says City Manager; opponents jubilant

Published : Tuesday, October 16, 2018 | 4:51 AM

Scenes from a March 22, 2018 community meeting show the depth of the opposition generated by a City plan to reconfigure a section of Orange Boulevard. Last night the Council voted to remove that reconfiguration component from its Capital Improvements Program.

Just six months after a raucous community meeting on the issue, the City Council Monday unanimously approved City Manager Steve Mermell’s recommendation to shelve a “road diet” and traffic calming plan for a one-mile-plus stretch of Orange Grove Boulevard.

The proposed pedestrian and bicycle improvement program will be eliminated from the future projects Section of the City’s Capital Improvement Program — although two new traffic signals from a related plan will still be installed.

“We had no consensus, no funding, and not enough dialogue,” said Mermell on Monday.

Councilmember Victor Gordo had requested last month that the City Council agendize discussion of the Orange Grove Boulevard Complete Streets Project.

The reconfiguration plan would have affected Orange Grove Boulevard from Lake Avenue to Sierra Madre Villa Avenue.

Planning for the discussion, City staff recommended terminating the project and removing it from the Capital Improvement Program Budget.

Said Gordo Monday, “The plan had unintended, but foreseeable, circumstances.”

Gordo agreed with opponents to the plan who feared that slowing traffic on Orange Grove Boulevard would cause traffic to spill onto nearby parallel-running streets, creating dangerous conditions in the various neighborhoods.

“Traffic is like water,” said Gordo. “It seeks its own level.”

The Orange Grove plan was one of several policies developed by the City intended to promote “multi-modal transportation” and enhance safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, according to a City staff report.

The now-abandoned project would have converted 1.8 miles of Orange Grove Boulevard from Allen Avenue to Sierra Madre Villa Avenue from a traditional, vehicular-oriented street to a “complete street” by reducing it from two traffic lanes in each direction to one, then adding back a turn lane running down the center of the street and two bicycle lanes along the sides of the street.

Commonly referred to as a “road diet,” the proposed street reconfiguration would also have included include pedestrian curb extensions to shorten crossing distances at some intersections.

The project was never actually funded, and remained part of the Future Projects section of the CIP.

Both Councilmembers Andy Wilson and Tyron Hampton voiced concerns over the death of the plan, wondering how similar “alternative” traffic plans would fare in the future.

“How does this bode for the future?,” asked Wilson. “How do we get ahead of this, without just facing this problem again?”

Responded Mermell, “We will find consensus somewhere else” in the City.

Frank Duerr, the spokesperson for Keep Pasadena Moving, thanked the Council in advance of their vote, saying that the group, which had loudly protested at the March meeting, was “Not anti-bike,” but wanted to find “common sense solutions.”

Keep Pasadena Moving, a grassroots citizens organization formed specifically to oppose the Orange Grove road diet plan,  claims a membership of about 1,000 members.

“We will work collaboratively with the City,” he said.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek characterized the decision as resulting from “irreconcilable differences.”

“There is no way in the foreseeable future that we won’t travel by car,” continued Tornek. “But, we overreached here. This was not managed responsibly by the City. City Hall got ahead of itself.”

Adding an optimistic note, Tornek said, “There will be plenty of opportunities in the future. We will all benefit from this discussion.”

With the recent passage of SB 1 and the pending influx of additional funds for street maintenance, the Public Works Department had proposed to reconstruct and resurface Orange Grove Boulevard eastward from Lake Avenue to Sierra Madre Villa Avenue.

Because the pavement reconstruction project would preclude modification of the pavement surface for approximately seven to ten years, the Transportation Department then seized the opportunity to implement some of the unfunded capital project’s goals, such as the restriping of Orange Grove Boulevard, as a part of the reconstruction work.

At several community meetings, the opposition was loud and organized.

Residents voiced concern about the proposed reconfiguration, many of whom live adjacent to the Orange Grove corridor. These concerns included fears that widespread congestion would be created, which would increase travel times and push traffic into adjacent neighborhoods.

When City staff announced last March that the reconstruction and resurfacing of Orange Grove would be delayed for appropriately 12 months for the installation of a new distribution line in the street, the staff had reportedly hoped to re-engage with the community, through the establishment of a broad-based community working group focusing on the area east of Lake Avenue, and one on the area west of Lake.

Staff had planned for the working groups to meet a total of four times beginning this month, with the final meeting to occur in January 2019. Those plans have been abandoned.

The City Manager’s recommendation did conclude, however, that, “it is important to note that this recommendation in no way suggests that the City should abandon the policies it has adopted as part of the Mobility Element. There have been numerous successful projects within the City that advance these aims and there is every reason to expect that with proper planning and robust community engagement, success will continue in this regard.”

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