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Letter to the City. Re: Bear St. Improvements

The following letter was sent to the City Public Services Department and to the members of the Bikeway and Walkability Committee. For project background, see here.



Raja Sethuraman, Jennifer Rosales, and the Bikeway and Walkability Committee


City of Costa Mesa

77 Fair Drive

Costa Mesa, CA 92626

January 6, 2020


Members of the Bikeway and Walkability Committee, Director Sethuraman, and Transportation Services Manager Rosales,


Introduction: The Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets would like to provide the following information regarding the recently approved Education First school and proposed Bear Street Rehabilitation Project to facilitate informed decision-making.


Background on Bear Street: Bear Street between Sunflower and Baker is classified as a major arterial in the Circulation Element of the city’s General Plan, and has a Class II bike lane existing (north of the 405) or proposed (south of the 405) in the 2018 Active Transportation Plan. The general plan also indicates that there is a pedestrian priority area along Bear from north of the 405 to the city boundary. The speed limit along Bear in this region is 40 MPH. Bear Street has been designated by N-MUSD as a “Suggested Route to School” for children who live north of the 73 and 405 freeways and attend Paularino Elementary.


Background on Education First: In December 2020, the Costa Mesa City Council approved several entitlements to allow Education First to build an international school at the former Trinity Broadcasting Network site on Bear Street just south of the 405. The school plans to enroll more than 1,300 international students at a time, with roughly 600 living on site and the remainder living with host families no more than a 45-minute journey via transit or bike from the school. Students at this school will not be permitted to drive personal vehicles and will be discouraged from using commercial rideshare operations or being driven by host families; Education First expects students will get around primarily by walking, biking, or mass transit. South Coast Plaza, Metro Pointe, the Camp, the LAB, and other commercial areas on Baker and Bristol are within a mile of the campus and perfect destinations for international students.


1. Complete Streets design principles are crucial to modern transportation infrastructure, emphasizing that streets should be designed for users of all modes of transportation (driving, bicycling, walking, etc.; US DOT). California guidelines (cited below) recommend that roadway improvement projects consider the impact of street design on all users. Complete Streets principles are the specific focus of both the City’s General Plan and the Active Transportation Plan.


  • Policy 1 of Goal 2.0 in Costa Mesa’s Active Transportation Plan (and recommendation C-8.5 in the General Plan) states that the City will “Utilize Complete Streets elements as demonstrated in most recent versions of National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide and Bikeway Design Guide.”

  • California SB 743 (2013) directed the Office of Planning and Research “to amend the CEQA Guidelines to provide an alternative to LOS [Level of Service] for evaluating transportation impacts … those alternative criteria must “promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” … Once the CEQA Guidelines are amended to include those alternative criteria, auto delay will no longer be considered a significant impact under CEQA.” The OPR released a technical advisory on this topic in 2018, which, among other things, states that multi-modal transportation projects (including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects) are typically exempt from CEQA requirements (pg 19).

  • Goal 1 of Caltrans’s California Transportation Plan 2040 (PDF) is to “Improve multimodal mobility and accessibility for all people.”

  • The Highway Capacity Manual, 6th edition, includes guidance on the evaluation of Multi-Modal Level of Service.


Application to Bear Street: As currently proposed for restriping, Bear Street’s design is heavily biased to users of motor vehicle transportation, and (as described below) does not meet the guidelines recommended by NACTO design guides, as directed by the General Plan. Bicyclists would have a 5-foot travel lane, including a 2-foot gutter with a seam between it and the asphalt, in each direction, with no buffering or protection from motor vehicles traveling more than 40 mph. Pedestrians have continuous sidewalks on both sides of the street, but these sidewalks are placed directly adjacent to the street, creating an unpleasant and less safe walking environment.


2. High-volume, high-speed streets require separation between bicycles and motor vehicles.


The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Designing for All Ages and Abilities” subsection) specifies:

  • “Build protected bike lanes where motor vehicle speed consistently exceeds 25 mph, where daily motor vehicle volume is higher than approximately 6,000 vehicles per day...or wherever there is more than one motor vehicle lane per direction.” (NACTO.org)

  • “On streets with multiple motor vehicle lanes in each travel direction, convert one travel lane to a protected bike lane, better organizing the street and improving safety for people biking, walking and driving.” (NACTO.org)

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Buffered Bike Lane” subsection) specifies:

Buffers should be at least 18 inches wide.


Application to Bear Street: Currently there is no proposed separation, via either painted buffers or physical barriers, at any location in the proposed design. Adding a buffer between the bike lane and motor vehicle travel lanes would enhance safety and comfort, and allow for future installation of protective elements.


3. Buffered bicycle lanes are included in the Active Transportation Plan’s definition of Class II bike lanes (page 18 of the 2018 ATP).


Application to Bear Street: Striping buffered bike lanes would be consistent with the 2018 Active Transportation Plan’s proposal to put Class II bike lanes on Bear Street.


4. NACTO design guidelines state that “Lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street's safety without impacting traffic operations.”

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide (in the “Lane width” subsection) specifies:

  • “Lanes greater than 11 feet should not be used as they may cause unintended speeding and assume valuable right of way at the expense of other modes.”

  • “As the width of the lane increased, the speed on the roadway increased ... when lane widths are 1m (3.3’) greater, speeds are predicted to be 15km/h (9.4 mph) faster.)” (Fitzpatrick et al 2000, cited on NACTO.org).

  • “The measured saturation flow rates are similar for lane widths between 10 feet and 12 feet...Thus, so long as all other geometric and traffic signalization conditions remain constant, there is no measurable decrease in urban street capacity when through lane widths are narrowed from 12 feet to 10 feet.” (Florida DOT, cited on NACTO.org).

  • “Cities may choose to use 11-foot lanes on designated truck and bus routes (one 11-foot lane per direction) or adjacent to lanes in the opposing direction … For multi-lane roadways where transit or freight vehicles are present and require a wider travel lane, the wider lane should be the outside lane (curbside or next to parking). Inside lanes should continue to be designed at the minimum possible width.”

Application to Bear Street: The 21’ right-hand travel lane along northbound Bear does not meet NACTO guidelines, and that space could be used for installation of additional bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Also, see paragraph 5, below.


5. The currently proposed 5’ bike lanes do not meet NACTO desirable design guidelines.

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Conventional Bike Lane” subsection) specifies:

  • “The desirable bike lane width adjacent to a curb face is 6 feet. The desirable ridable surface adjacent to a street edge or longitudinal joint is 4 feet, with a minimum width of 3 feet.”

  • “The desirable dimensions should be used unless other street elements (e.g., travel lanes, medians, median offsets) have been reduced to their minimum dimensions.”

  • “Bike lanes should be made wider than minimum widths wherever possible to provide space for bicyclists to ride side-by-side and in comfort. If sufficient space exists to exceed desirable widths, see buffered bike lanes.”

  • The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Buffered Bike Lane” subsection) specifies:

  • “Where bicyclist volumes are high, bicyclist speed differentials are significant, or where side-by-side riding is desired, the desired bicycle travel area width is 7 feet.”

Application to Bear Street: Motor vehicle lanes along Bear, as proposed, will be more than 10’ wide throughout the entire project (with the exception of left-turn lanes at Bear/Baker), typically 10.5’ or 11’ (but up to 21’ near the 405). Narrowing motor vehicle lanes to 10’ would free a minimum of 4’ of additional width throughout the project, which could be used to make the bike lanes on each side of the street 7’ wide, thus aligning the bike lanes with NACTO’s recommendations without affecting traffic flow, and with a likely benefit of reducing speeding.


6. The current striping plan appears to have extra motor vehicle lanes between the 73 and 405 that could be considered for removal without dramatically impacting traffic flow.

  • Bear Street has multiple points at which it only has two through lanes in each direction:

  • The bridge over the 405 freeway has two motor vehicle lanes (and a 5’ bike lane) in each direction

  • Under the 73 freeway, Bear Street has two through motor vehicle lanes striped in each direction.

  • Northbound Bear Street has two through motor vehicle lanes underneath the 73 (and the 73 offramp has only two right hand turn lanes), yet just north of the 73 offramp signal the street transitions to 3 northbound lanes. This third northbound lane is proposed to travel only ~600 feet before it is removed and the street returns to two northbound lanes.

  • Southbound Bear Street has only two motor vehicle lanes across the 405, but transitions to three lanes nearly immediately after crossing the 405, despite no major additional traffic sources occuring before the Paularino intersection.

Application to Bear Street: Removing the third northbound travel lane north of the 73 offramp would free up 10.5’, sufficient width to create a 7’ bike lane with a 3’ buffer on both sides of Bear continuously from the 73 to 405. Removing the third southbound lane between the 405 and Paularino (or the 73) could also provide additional room for multimodal infrastructure. Changes such as these would be in line with the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide recommendations (see paragraph 2, above).


7. The proposed striping plan requires bicyclists traveling straight along southbound Bear at Baker to merge across two dedicated right-turn lanes (one of which is a trap lane); the resulting merge is a challenging and dangerous maneuver that will be amenable only to the hardiest of cyclists.

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Through Bike Lanes” subsection) specifies:

  • “Dotted lane line transition areas to through bike lanes shall not be used on streets with double right turn lanes. Double right turn lanes are extremely difficult for bicyclists to negotiate. Shared lane markings may be used in the center of the inside turn lane to designate the preferred path of through bicycle travel.”

  • “Dotted lane line transition areas to through bike lanes should not be provided at any intersection approach where a through travel lane transitions into a right turn only lane (also known as a right turn drop or trap lane). In such instances consider utilizing an exclusive bicycle signal phase with the bike lane remaining to the right, or not delineating the merging area connecting to the through bicycle lane. Shared lane markings may be used to provide additional guidance.”

The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (in the “Conventional Bike Lane” subsection) specifies:

  • “A through bike lane shall not be positioned to the right of a right turn only lane or to the left of a left turn only lane (MUTCD 9C.04). A bike lane may be positioned to the right of a right turn only lane if split-phase signal timing is used.”

The study “Contextual Guidance at Intersections for Protected Bicycle Lanes” (trec.pdx.edu), the results of which were integrated into an addendum to the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide (“Don’t give up at the intersection”) reports:

  • “Protected intersections (aka bend-out) and separated bike signal phases were found to provide the most comfort to the most people … designs that move bicyclists and motor vehicles into shared space (mixing zones or lateral shifts) were viewed as least comfortable.”

Application to Bear Street: Traffic studies may be useful to determine if both of the right turn lanes for motor vehicles are desirable in this location; removal of one of the motor vehicle right turn lanes would simplify the intersection and free space for multimodal infrastructure to make the intersection safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. If both right turn lanes are included in the project, installation of a bicycle signal head and split-phase signal timing at the Baker/Bear intersection would allow for bicyclists traveling straight along Bear to safely stay to the right of the right-hand turn lanes (NACTO information on bicycle signal heads). This could be done in conjunction with additional protections, such as are commonly found when building protected bike lanes through intersections.


We hope this information is useful, and would be happy to provide additional assistance on this, or other matters, if desired.


Sincerely,

The CMABS Board of Directors


The project scope and locations of selected examples:


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Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets is a 501(c)(3) public charity located in Costa Mesa, California.