Once again, a road diet proposal ignites backlash

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If the Little Old Lady From Pasadena is still driving real hard in her super stocked Dodge, she might have been one of the 300 or so people who packed a community meeting Thursday night about reconfiguring Orange Grove Boulevard.

City officials presented a proposal to reduce the number of travel lanes on Orange Grove—a technique known as a “road diet”—to an audience that, for the most part, wanted nothing to do with it.

“This is going make traffic worse, no doubt,” said Alan Clayson, a Pasadena resident who owns a house near Orange Grove, where he plans to retire.

Thursday’s meeting was the first of two in the Crown City to discuss the proposal, which would affect a 2.9-mile stretch of the east-west thoroughfare between Lake and Sierra Madre Villa avenues, north of the 210 freeway.

Right now, Orange Grove in this area has two vehicle lanes in both directions. Under the proposed reconfiguration, the street would have one lane in both directions, but also a center-left turn lane and buffered bike lanes.

Pasadena’s goal is to make this section of Orange Grove safer by slowing the speed of traffic. The speed limit on the street is 40 mph, but city staffers says a lot of drivers zip through the area at higher speeds.

Similar proposals in the city of Los Angeles have sparked outcries too.

After a road diet was striped in Playa del Rey, commuters filed a lawsuit and threatened to recall Westside councilmember Mike Bonin. Since that debacle, city leaders are proving increasingly hesitant to remove lanes, even as LA works to prevent all traffic deaths by 2025.

Residents who walk on Orange Grove say fast moving cars make the wide street dangerous to cross.

“I cross Orange Grove all the time when I walk my dogs, and I can tell you it’s literally life or death,” said Claudia Morales, who lives a couple houses off the street. “It’s almost like playing frogger across the street because the cars do not stop for you, and the street is so incredibly wide. It’s really hard for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to coexist on the street as it currently is.”

On this stretch of Orange Grove over the past ten years, according to the California Highway Patrol’s collisions database, there have been 418 traffic collisions that have left 309 people injured—and three dead.

City officials emphasized that any changes to the street are more than a year off, and would only happen after the city overhauls aging utility lines beneath the street.

But the extended timeline was little comfort for the predominantly seniorattendees at Thursday’s standing-room only meeting.

“Who’s going to want to be in a single line of traffic?”asks Clayson. “You can’t pass, so you’ll get stuck behind this granny who’s going 10 mph. She has just much right to the street as everybody else, so she’ll take it.”

City staffers say it takes motorists seven to eight minutes to traverse the 2.9-mile section of Orange Grove. They estimate that trip would take an extra 45 seconds to one minute, 40 seconds post-reconfiguration.

Many attendees at Thursday’s meeting said they worry longer travel times on Orange Grove will divert frustrated motorists onto side streets.

“There’s going to be huge traffic increase to the neighborhood streets,” said Frank Duerr, a resident and member of the group Keep Pasadena Moving, which opposes the lane reductions.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there is a greater likelihood that traffic congestion will increase to the point of diverting traffic to alternate routes when road diets are implemented on streets with more than 20,000 daily trips. According to the city of Pasadena, anywhere from 11,000 to 15,000 cars pass through the affected stretch of Orange Grove daily.

Duerr and other Keep Pasadena Moving members also say the city is “biased”towardslane reductions, because their proposal doesn’t include any options that don’t cut the number of lanes.

“As you can see by what’s been presented, it’s a very slanted project,” said Duerr. “And that’s why the citizens of Pasadena are a little bit irritated. We’re here to say, ‘let’s solve the problem,’ if there is one.”

But supporters of the city’s proposal say Orange Grove is a perfect candidate for lane reductions.

“Orange Grove is an ideal place to start because of its low traffic. The width of the road compared to the number cars that use it is out of whack,” said Blair Miller, a resident who lives just off Orange Grove Boulevard and volunteers for the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition.

Miller says opponents are prematurely dismissing the proposed changes without really thinking about why they’re being suggested in the first place.

“I’ve been really surprised that people are so opposed to this without even having heard what the proposal was,” said Miller. “What’s being proposed is basically just paint. I don’t understand why we can’t do this as a pilot project to see if all these terrible things come to pass. If they do, we can repaint. If they don’t then we’ve got a new street.”

Morales, who drives Orange Grove daily to get to work, says he doesn’t understand why some residents are fiercly opposed to a project intended to make the road safer.

“It’s just really sad that three people have been killed and over 300 people have been injured on Orange Grove, and that’s not enough for people. What needs to happen for people to understand that this is a project worth supporting?” she asks. “If it was someone you knew, if it was someone in your family, that one life would be absolutely too many lives lost.”

Pasadena will host a second meeting on the road diet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Marshall Fundamental School.

Update: On Friday evening, the City of Pasadena issued a press release stating that the second meeting has been postponed indefinitely. The release included the following statement:

“While the intent of the proposed “Road Diet” is to “enhance safety, it is clear that there are many concerns regarding the potential impacts of the project as it has been proposed. These concerns have been taken to heart by the City representatives.”

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