Where The Sidewalk Starts: Fighting for Safer Streets in Santa Ana

Jenny Cain for Voice of OC

Brenda Miller, an active transportation advocate, begins her commute from Santa Ana to Tustin following SAAS' workshop Saturday.

On Saturday, traffic engineer Bryan Jones asked a group of about 30 Santa Ana residents to describe the streets in their neighborhoods.

Their responses did not paint a pretty picture: “disconnected,” “busy,” “aggressive,” “dangerous.”

Yet such blunt assessments are hardly surprising. Santa Ana, despite being home to a large population of low-income residents who rely on walking, bicycling and other low-cost forms of transportation, remains very much a car-centric place.

But there is hope. Despite all of Santa Ana’s holes in connectivity, safety, and accessibility, many think it has potential. And realizing that potential was the point of Saturday’s Active Transportation Leadership Program workshop at KidWorks, the first in a series hosted by Santa Ana Active Streets Coalition.

The coalition, which includes KidWorks, Latino Health Access, NeighborWorks OC, El Fenix, and Bicycle Tree aims to empower and engage Santa Ana residents to transform their streets, so that walkers, bikers, and other non-motorists can safely pursue active transportation.

“Envision Santa Ana Transportation 10 to 20 years from now – what do you want it to look like?” asked Jones, who is a senior planner for the San Diego-based consulting firm Alta Planning + Design.

It was an enticing question for the workshop participants.

“It’s a Holy Grail,” said Marcel DeCruyenaere. “Car has been the king. There’s so many opportunities, we could be here forever.”

The overriding sentiment at the workshop was that one way or another the car must be dethroned.

According to the US Census, Santa Ana has one of the lowest average household incomes in Orange County, and 21.5 percent of residents live below the poverty level. Jones said the costs of owning a vehicle can be too much.

“For some people that’s 30, 50 or 70 percent of their take-home pay per month, and they still have to put food and vegetables on the table, they still have to pay rent or mortgage,” Jones said. “I’m definitely not anti-car, but I’m pro-safety in building and connecting communities.”

The price of not having access to protective infrastructure for walking and biking can be deadly.

“In most suburban communities in California, you have a higher chance of being killed on your roadways than by a violent crime in your neighborhood,” Jones said, “Incomplete streets exist.”

With congestion from local freeways pouring on to Santa Ana surface streets, downtown Santa Ana is being used by outside commuters, Jones said.

“Commuters on the freeway want to go 65 miles per hour, so what do they want to go in your community? 65 miles per hour,” Jones said. “How do you make the roadways safer so they can’t do that?”

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, one solution might be to narrow roads, which will force slower speeds. High-speed roadways create a fear of walking for residents like Elba Lucero, 86, who lives downtown and is a member of the Wellness Corridor Steering Committee.

“Everyday, I’m in danger, but I walk on the sidewalks anyway,” Lucero said. “Bristol has bicycle lanes but no one uses them because the cars drive too fast.”

Creating Safer Routes

In October 2014, California legislators renewed the Complete Streets Act.  The law directs Caltrans, California’s department of transportation, to provide safe mobility for motorists and pedestrians alike. But enforcing it requires coordination, feedback, and advocacy from groups like the active streets coalition.

Cory Wilkerson, Santa Ana’s active transportation coordinator, listed a number of current projects the city has taken on in support of active transportation.

Bike lanes are expected to go in along Bristol Street as the street widens. In a few weeks bike lanes will pave First Street (west of Harbor) and a portion of New Hope Street. A bike path along Grand Ave and a narrower crossing along the Maple Trail are also in the works.

“They’re just small little segments, but eventually with all these segments we can piece them together and get them to all connect,” Wilkerson said.

Orange County Transportation Authority has played a role in funding projects, by awarding the city eight grants in 2014 totaling $4.9 million for active transportation.

Jones cited a number of thrifty ways streets could be revamped to enforce safety like introducing sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. “bulb-outs”) and creating roundabouts with small domes.

“Active Transportation doesn’t have to be expensive,” Jones said.

Wilkerson says public engagement is also essential in creating safer routes: “It’s what makes or breaks these type of programs.”

Among the biggest roadblocks to the vision of active transportation advocates are existing policies, said Wilkerson. And a crucial part of the process is revisiting and questioning such policies.

“Does it reflect what it’s important to the community?” said Wilkerson. “That’s going to be the biggest hurdle, and that’s going to be where the biggest victory is going to come from.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of NeighborWorks OC. We regret the error.

Jenny Cain is an Orange County-based journalist. Please contact her at jnncain@gmail.com.

  • iMi

    I recently moved to Santa Ana in July 2015. Ridding my bike is my primary transportation. And even when trying to travel on the public bus with my bike has its downfalls because half the time the bike racks are full and then forced to ride the streets. I have no future plans for purchasing a vehicle any time soon. I’m dealing with a financial crunch and I’ve been cited twice with a traffic ticket in tustin. Originally the officer attempted to pull me over due to I was riddng with traffic as close as I can get to the sidewalk on the street. Officer asked me why I think he pulled me over, I said, “no helmet”. Gave me a ticket for ridding with headphones. Clearly he was concerned about my safety..what i really hope is that the money i owe in traffic tickets on my bike go towards a fund so i can ride safe! Its so difficult ridding through these streets. Every time I’m traveling in this area is as if everyday I’m playing the game of ” Frogger©
    Cyclist dodging traffic daily should be a sport itself! I’m so paranoid to even ride because of the constant police contact I’ve accumulated living in Santa Ana, and as if I haven’t already got enough debt from the courts already. Highly recommend safe streets need bike lanes thought community. If the law labels cyclists as equal to driving a motor vehicle then HONOR THE CYCLISTS’ RIGHT AWAY!

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  • Nate

    Lack of traffic law enforcement is a major part of the problem. The other components of it are lack of education among a largely immigrant community about basic pedestrian and cycling practices. If you’re using the sidewalks (on foot or bike) the red hand means don’t cross. Cyclists see the green light and fly across intersections and are struck by motorists making right hand turns.
    Aside from enforcing safety laws, the City needs to have a more holistic planning strategy. That they did not incorporate bike trails on the Bristol expansion demonstrates the lack of vision in City Hall.
    The attempts to sustain the re-emergence of downtown will fail if we do not facilitate the trends among those who are the catalysts for it. The X’ers and Millenials prefer a more organic and simple life, which includes a growing preference to walk or cycle to work, shopping and entertainment.
    City planners need to wake up or make room for those who are imaginative and determined enough to accommodate these trends with meaningful and relevant infrastructure.
    The ultimate truth, however, is the hardest to sell. That is that ultimately, it is the voter’s responsibility to care enough about the City. It looks more and more like activism will be the price of admission. But it should not only include the execution of initiatives. We must also include the termination of careers. If a city politician has not brought meaningful and measurable change to their district, we must fire them. Until we do that, it is not “Our” city, it’s “Their” city. –Peace

  • Manuel Pedroza

    SAPD has really gotta start enforcing basic traffic laws and giving out citations. People roll through stop signs and cut other drivers and pedestrians off. I can count a handful of times I almost got hit

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  • “they still have to put food and vegetables on the table”…….. Hmmmm

    Like if vegetables are more than food.

    Folks, the judeo-progressive-reactionarism teaching us to go back to the future.

    However, are we gone walk naked in the future if killing of animals for their hide is forbidden by these judeo-progressive-reactionists? … how about killing your neighbor for the woolly mammoth’s leftovers? … or for spinach and broccoli, politically correctly speaking.

    • cap’n

      literally what?

      • IQ only!
        There is no literal interpretation available.