Proposed Improvements to Laguna Canyon Road

The City Council has appointed a task force to look at ways to accomplish the following on Laguna Canyon Road:  improved emergency response and evacuation time, improved traffic flow, reduced congestion and decrease in travel time, improved safety for bikers and pedestrians, improved circulation and access for public transit, improved drainage and decreased flooding, and retention and improvement of the rural character of the canyon. Village Laguna is represented on this task force and is advocating for preservation of the rural character of Laguna Canyon, undergrounding of utilities (relocation not acceptable), increased pedestrian and bicycle safety, improved public transit, and no additional vehicular travel lanes. The Land Use Element says, “With the exception of right turn lanes, oppose any attempts to widen Laguna Canyon Road oceanward of El Toro Road.”

Task force meetings, held on the third Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, are televised and open to the public.

A $50,000 study prepared for the City by RBF Consulting proposes five possible improvement scenarios for Laguna Canyon Road:

  1. a three-lane road with a turning lane;
  2. a four-lane road with a turning lane;
  3. a four-lane road with a raised median:  
  4. a three-lane road with a raised median; and
  5. a two-lane road with a turning lane.

All of the alternatives include a Class II striped bike lane and utility undergrounding. Options include roundabouts at various locations and a multi-use trail for pedestrians and bicycles.

The cost of the project is estimated to be between $25 and $30 million dollars, excluding undergrounding and right-of-way purchase. It is estimated that the approval process would take 11 years with another 3 years for construction. Currently there is no identified source of funding, but a typical project might be funded by 5–10% federal money, 10–20% local funding, and the balance from other sources.

Additional right-of-way would be needed for all except for the two-lane option (and even for this one if roundabouts or a multi-use trail are included) and for a Class I (separated) bike lane or pedestrian trail. The current right-of-way varies between 64 and 84 feet. A roundabout would require 106 feet at a minimum and could seriously encroach on the Laguna Wilderness Park at El Toro Road and affect frontages of private properties in other locations. If the current right-of-way were to be fully used by improvements, parking for businesses along Laguna Canyon Road would be reduced. The proposed alternatives would require up to a 50% increase in roadway width and increased impermeable surfaces. The centers of the roundabouts would be permeable surfaces. Grading would be required along the edge of the Wilderness Park with most alternatives.

The additional outbound lane is estimated to reduce the drive time between Canyon Acres and El Toro Road at the most congested times during the summer by only 1.4 minutes.

No estimate is given for the increased driving time during construction.

Edison may, by right, place its utility poles in the street right-of-way. If the right-of-way is fully used for other purposes, Edison is required to relocate the poles either to another location or underground.

If roundabouts or medians replaced the current turning lane on Laguna Canyon Road, it’s unclear how emergency vehicles would get through traffic in an emergency situation. Roundabouts take up a lot of space. They either provide traffic calming or facilitate traffic flow (this needs more study), and they often require a car to travel in both directions if the driver wishes to make a left turn. A median may provide increased safety from head-on collisions (study is needed to see if this is a problem). If a median were to be used on a two-lane road, two additional 12-foot lanes would be required in these areas to provide the required space for a vehicle to perform the turning movement. This option would also often require a car to travel in both directions to reach its destination.


Village Laguna's Letter to City Council, Sept 8, 2015

Village Laguna has participated in the Laguna Canyon Road Task Force over the last seven months and  has reviewed all of the related materials and studies. Our positions are guided in part by the consultant’s major finding that almost 60% of the traffic on Laguna Canyon Road consists of pass-through trips that neither originate nor terminate in Laguna Beach. We don’t want to encourage an increase in traffic that has no destination in Laguna Beach. Laguna Canyon is an important scenic resource and this magnificent landscape is beautifully displayed for travelers on the Laguna Canyon Road.  Maintaining the relatively small scale of the Canyon Road is critical to preserving both the scenic resources close to the right of way and the experience of entering Laguna Beach.  Improvements to the Canyon Road should be respectful of the Canyon Road entrance and not disturb the relationship of the rural, narrow road to the large dramatic canyon.  Making the road wider and faster will not only impinge on adjacent trees, geologic formations, and private property, it will fill the canyon with traffic and will irreparably damage the canyon as a whole. Village Laguna’s recommendations are as follows:

  • We approve as a general concept the city-wide undergrounding of electrical wires and encourage researching funding sources for this. We endorse the item requesting SCE to prepare a feasibility study.
  • We support maintaining the current traffic lane configuration between Canyon Acres Drive and El Toro Road of one traffic lane in each direction.  This position is in keeping with adopted City policies in the General Plan:  Land Use Element Action 8.1.5 “With the exception of right turn lanes, oppose any attempts to widen Laguna Canyon Road oceanward of El Toro. Transportation, Circulation, and Growth Management Element Policy 1D. “Discourage new roads and the extension or widening of existing roadways, since traffic almost always expands to fill available road capacity.” Therefore we do not support funding or grant requests for projects that include widening of the road. The projects the city is requesting grants for should be publicly decided on prior to funding and making the requests.
  • We support adding dedicated pedestrian and bicycle pathways and the acquisition of additional right-of-way at Big Bend to match the road width on either end of Big Bend.
  • We approve maintaining the current center turning lane to provide access to the residences and businesses along Laguna Canyon Road and for emergency vehicles.
  • We oppose left-turn pockets and roundabouts because they cannot be accommodated in the existing right-of-way.
  • We support dedicated wildlife crossings.
  • We oppose any intrusion into the Wilderness Parks for any increase in roadway function.
  • We encourage the City Council to immediately improve pedestrian access to the greatest extent possible, rather than waiting for undergrounding and major improvements to the road.  

Thank you for considering these recommendations. 

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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