Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Harbor Blvd. Median Improvements Discussed

Tuesday night Costa Mesa Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman led a discussion of the proposed $1 million median project that is planned for Harbor Boulevard between Wilson Street and 19th Street before a small group (fewer than 40) concerned residents and business owners at the Neighborhood Community Center.  Half of the $1 million cost will be covered by a grant.  In response to a couple questions Sethuraman affirmed that we are not in danger of losing that grant money, yet. 
Among those in attendance were councilwoman Sandra Genis, former council member and council candidate Jay Humphrey, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kim Pederson and Vice Chairman of the commission Bob Graham, who stopped in for the final few minutes of the meeting.  Daily Pilot reporter Luke Money was in attendance, so look for his story on the meeting soon.  The remainder was a mix of concerned residents who are active in the city on many fronts and some folks brand new to the process, but concerned about this project.  We were told that business owners had been contacted and the project discussed in detail with some of the larger ones - those with the greatest transportation impact, like Robins Ford, Newport Rib Company and the K-Mart Plaza.  We were told that residents within a 500 foot radius of the project area were also contacted.  It was the view of many attendees that insufficient outreach had been done for this meeting.

For ninety minutes Sethuraman presented an overview of the project, discussed some of the reasoning behind the perceived need for a divider along that stretch of roadway.  The crowd was focused and sometimes impatient as questions were asked and answered. 
Residents had many questions/concerns.  Most of them involved the impact of small businesses contiguous to this project.  The medians will hamper left turns into and out of many of the existing businesses along that stretch of roadway.  For example, this slide shows the area near Harbor Blvd. and Bay Street, adjacent to Robins Ford.  You will note that left hand turns out of the primary parking lot driveway will be impossible with the medians in place as planned.  Similarly, it would be impossible to turn north out of Tim Lewis' rental yard across the street.  Lewis was not at the meeting.
This slide shows a stretch of Harbor Blvd. just a little further up the street and reflects the same problem.
Sethuraman explained in detail how the decisions were made, using traffic studies.  He explained the safety reasons for this project. Some of those numbers are in the second slide, above.  Basically, by reducing opportunities to make uncontrolled left turns the opportunity for serious accidents is reduced.  He said this project reduces "100 points of contact" to around 10, which should significantly reduce traffic accidents in that nearly 3/4 mile corridor.  He also acknowledged that this project will probably slow traffic in that area.
He then went into a discussion of the Landscape plans.  There were also charts and photo arrays showing the plant palette being considered, but the images are much too small to be easily-viewed here.  The current plans include using Sycamore trees in the dividers.  This concept will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission at their meeting on Thursday, August 25th, beginning at 6:00 in City Council Chambers.
Apparently it will take at least 6-9 months for construction plans to be created, at which time the project will be put out to bid.  At some point in the very near future these slides and others will be available on the City website.  Irrigation and power will be provided to each of the medians.  The plans are still in the process of being fine-tuned to address issues brought up last night.

For example, the left turn lane of southbound Harbor Blvd. at 19th Street is presently a nightmare.  It sometimes takes more than two signal cycles to make that turn, which leads folks to the 55 Freeway.  Presently cars back up well past the designated left turn lane into the median lane.  With a more restrictive median in place those cars will remain in the number 1 lane, impeding through traffic.  You may be able to make out that intersection on the image below.
One member of the audience suggested some kind of a trial period, where barrels could be used to replicate permanent dividers to study the impact of the restriction of left turn capabilities.  Sethuraman calmly explained that the studies they've done with computer modeling are quite sufficient to make decisions about this project without all the turmoil such a "practice" run would make.
Several residents mentioned the similar changes on East 17th Street that were completed within the past year or so.  Initially, some of the elements of that project turned out to be problematic and the Transportation Services organization listened to residents and modified the offending areas.  Sethuraman mentioned that there would be another such meeting, following the Parks and Recreation Commission presentation, at which time the input from this meeting and other community input would be considered and blended into the plans.  When I left shortly before 8 o'clock a dozen people remained in the room, evaluating the charts provided and asking questions of the staff and consultants on hand. 
I left satisfied that the rationale behind this project is sound and that the safety concerns are valid.  That being said, if it was my choice between spending a million bucks on this project or adding to the public safety staff, I'd go with more cops and firefighters first.  I am willing to listen to the argument, though, that by installing these medians we, in theory, reduce the calls for service in that area by reducing accidents.

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Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Sycamores are not a good choice for median trees now. They are host trees for shot hole borers, which have causes the removal of hundreds of trees in Orange County and they are not that drought tolerant.

Is the project being done because of the need, or is it a case of - "Oh, we forgot we have some grant money. Let's hurry up and spend it" - like the million dollar bike path that's only about 1,000 feet long.

8/17/2016 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Were the studies done adequate for 17th Street? Is that what they want to do on Harbor? Good Lord, there isn't a more dangerous road that I can think of. Now "they" want to turn Harbor Blvd. into another fiasco such as 17th Street? I suspect the intention is to attempt to make it strictly one-way through traffic on each side of the street for the many high density projects that are planned for both sides of Harbor Blvd. Being able to cross the road would impede through traffic. That is the only thing that makes sense. Easier to move massive traffic.

There are so man more places in this town to throw money, I don't get it. But what I do get, is that it is an election year, and the theory is that if you throw the residents a bone, they will vote for you.

I'm hoping the residents can see through that and remember what the last several years have shown. Time for a new council majority.

8/17/2016 07:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

There are better choices for median trees. Crepe Myrtle is lovely, and some species are evergreen. The liquidambars on Fairview Road are colorful in autumn, and they are fast-growing.

8/17/2016 03:59:00 PM  

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