Despite an ongoing awareness effort, many Orange County cities are still not taking full advantage of state money to improve their infrastructure to make things safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
In a recent competition for $184 million in state grants for active transportation projects, 11 Orange County cities — including some with relatively large populations like Buena Park and Mission Viejo — didn’t submit proposals, according to state records.
And of the cities that did apply, some were more ambitious than others.
Santa Ana, for example, submitted 11 projects worth up to $6.7 million, and received $3.3 million in funding. But Garden Grove – which has about half the population as Santa Ana – requested just two projects worth $350,000 and ended up getting no funding.
(Click here to see a full list of funding requests from Orange County cities.)
Together, Anaheim and Santa Ana were able to garner $5.7 million for bike and pedestrian projects.
In Anaheim, improvements include a pedestrian signal on Western Ave. and closing sidewalk gaps on South St. and Cerritos Ave.
In Santa Ana, funding is slated to help with the city’s complete streets plan, safe school route improvements for Heninger, King and Washington elementary schools, and the creation of a bike boulevard identified as “Bishop-Pacific-Shelton.”
The new state funding comes amid a nationwide movement toward making cities safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.
“We’re definitely seeing this whole space of bicycle projects catching on,” said Orange County Transportation Authority Chairman Shawn Nelson at Monday’s board meeting, where the bike projects were discussed.
Advocates argue cycling boosts physical and mental health, encourages a sense of connection with communities and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, tensions have sometimes arisen over to how balance space between cars and bicyclists.
Increasing rates of injuries and deaths among cyclists prompted an April forum at which government officials from across Orange County gathered with dozens of activists to hear their ideas about increasing bike safety.
At the meeting, OCTA officials unveiled a public awareness video and website aimed at teaching cyclists and drivers how to navigate the road safely. The agency has budgeted $250,000 in the current fiscal year for the effort.
After the event, the transportation agency’s officials said they planned to take a close look at the advocates’ ideas and keep the conversation going.
At Monday’s meeting, a local biking activist chided OCTA officials for not continuing to meet with activists and moving more quickly to implement safety improvements.
“Why is it Long Beach and other cities are buying into this and we” as the county of Orange can’t, asked resident Craig Durfey.
OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said the agency plans to follow up on the spring meeting with a roundtable workshop in San Juan Capistrano on September 17.
Going forward, local cities are competing for a larger share of active transportation funding through the Southern California Association of Governments.
Orange County communities are slated for $13 million in that round of grants, more than double what local cities received in the first round.
OCTA board members have chosen 16 projects for that process, including several to help complete the cross-county Orange County Bicycle Loop.
The bike loop is also the subject of two community forums this week designed to gather public input on how to complete the loops.
Tuesday’s forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Seal Beach Community Center (3333 Saint Cloud Drive). Wednesday’s is planned for 6 p.m. at the Fullerton Community Center (340 West Commonwealth Ave.).
The issue of bike safety has certainly been on the minds of local elected officials, who themselves often face dangerous situations as cyclists or drivers.
Transportation board member John Moorlach, who is also a county supervisor, noted on Monday that the streets where he works in Santa Ana can be fraught with danger.
“I drive through Santa Ana every day, and I get so scared watching these guys riding their bikes, thinking, ‘no wonder we have people getting hit,’ ” said Moorlach.