Andrew Kanzler, who has biked all over Orange County and other Southern California locales, considers Garden Grove one of the "scariest" places to be on two wheels.
"People would honk at me, yell at me," said the city resident and planning commissioner, speaking of the time when he would bike as part of his commute to a job with the city of San Clemente. "Once someone got out of their car and tried to fight me because I was biking in the street and not on the sidewalk."
So its safe to say that Kanzler is happy to have played a role in putting together a draft of the city's Active Transportation Master Plan, which outlines the transportation infrastructure needs of bicyclists and pedestrians citywide.
The draft plan, which was made public last month, is one step toward Garden Grove's eventual goal of making its streets a place where cars, bikes and pedestrians can move in harmony – a high aspiration for a city where, as Kanzler's experiences illustrate, biking can be a major hazard.
The plan identifies a number of obstacles facing bicyclists and pedestrians, including narrow bike lanes, missing sidewalks, uncomfortable bus stops, and wide streets with infrequent crosswalks, which encourage jaywalkers.
When he takes out his young twin boys, Kanzler trades his two-wheeler for a tricycle, which he only feels safe taking on small, empty streets or on the sidewalk. Many sidewalks, he said, aren’t wide enough to accommodate them.
“It’s the same width as a wheelchair, so I imagine if you’re in a wheelchair the sidewalk is not going to work,” said Kanzler. “So really, nothing is bike or pedestrian friendly in Garden Grove.”
In the city between 2009 and 2014, there were 754 injuries and 25 fatalities in collisions involving a bicyclist or pedestrian, according to the draft plan. Pedestrians were struck by vehicles in 268 incidents over that period. Broadside collisions between a vehicle and bike occurred 256 times.
Surveyors also counted bikers on the street during peak hours for two days. Of the 415 people counted, 94 percent rode on the sidewalk – with 40 percent of those individuals doing so even when there was a bike lane present.
“If 40 percent are riding on the sidewalk with the lanes right next to them, it shows the bike lanes aren’t safe,” said Erin Webb, a senior planner for the city.
So far, most of the city’s efforts toward bike infrastructure have been conceptual. Starting with an “Open Streets” event in 2014, the city has done a number of public outreach events and online surveys to take input from residents.
A Global Trend
The Open Streets event was modeled after “ciclovia” events that began in Colombia and have been held across the globe, where streets are closed to cars to encourage bike and pedestrian traffic and change residents’ concepts of public space.
Also in 2014, the city spent about $25,000 – far lower than typical consulting fees – for a graduate program at Cal Poly Pomona to create a plan for citywide bike and pedestrian improvements.
What's happening in Garden Grove is part of a larger trend. As central Orange County has become more densely populated, several cities have made strides toward becoming more bike and pedestrian friendly.
The city of Santa Ana, for example, has gradually added designated bike lanes and green striping along some of its major thoroughfares.
City officials also say new development projects like mixed-use condominiums and hotels will inject new demand on public streets.
The city’s small downtown, a mixture of residential neighborhoods, big-box stores and small businesses, was rezoned in 2012 to accommodate a wider array of uses, with the hope of encouraging a “live-work” environment in the future where residents can walk and shop nearby. The city recently approved a project by developer Shaheen Sadeghi to convert several downtown homes owned by the city into commercial spaces.
“A lot of our commercial zones are on major thoroughfares – Garden Grove Boulevard, Chapman, Harbor – at some point we have to figure out, if those centers are going to grow and improve, how are we going to handle traffic?” said Kanzler. “The best option is to add more bike and pedestrian options.”
Although most conversations about bike culture have been city-led, recently the Garden Grove chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, teamed up with the Healthy Orange County Alliance to present a series of community workshops on organizing civic action for bike and pedestrian improvements.
Demian Garcia Monroy, president of Garden Grove LULAC, said car-centric planning impacts many Latino residents and others with limited financial means who rely on bicycles, walking and public transportation to get school and work.
“You might have one car in the family and everybody else has to walk or ride a bike to school and work,” said Garcia-Monroy. “So there’s a lot more children walking and biking to school from these lower income areas.”
Councilman Steve Jones, who sits on the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority and who has been the biggest council advocate for improving conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, said he’s encouraged by citizen groups like LULAC leading their own conversation.
“It’s exciting to see the dialogue go from our staff to these community groups that are now engaged,” said Jones. “And groups like the [Southern California Association of Governments], the [Transportation Authority], CalTRANs, those who have the funding to help get this done, know we’re out there with our feet wet.”
Both Webb and Jones both point to the nearby city of Long Beach, which calls itself the “most bicycle-friendly city” in America and where the vice mayor holds a Ph.D in urban planning, as a model of a city that has made biking a priority.
About 10 percent of the Long Beach city streets have lanes or bicycle routes, marked with green paint on the road. In the downtown, planters and white buffers protect bikers from car traffic, and cyclists even have their own traffic lights at intersections.
The city has pulled together almost $20 million for bike lane and pathway improvements through three half-cent sales tax measures passed by voters in Los Angeles County in 1980, 1990 and 2008, according to the LA Times. The city also took money from traffic mitigation fees paid by property developers, and taxes from offshore oil rigs paid to the city’s Tidelands Fund.
“Long Beach decided as a city that they would market themselves as being a bike-friendly community.” said Webb. “They created the reality that they were the biking place. You can invite people to bike, but also you have to have the safe infrastructure for them to actually use.”
A Need for Entrepreneurial Solutions
For Garden Grove, which faces a nearly $4 million deficit and pressure from residents to channel new revenue toward public safety, funding for any future bike projects will be hard to come by.
Jones said funding will need to come from “either grant funding, or getting creative and entrepreneurial.”
“I think we’re leaning heavily on grant funding and we’ve got a number of applications in the works,” said Jones. “I have entrepreneurial ideas about invigorating parts of the [Pacific-Electric] right of way with retail kiosks, things that could generate revenue, if we had to do it privately without grant assistance.”
Webb said that completing the transportation plan and other studies of the city’s bicycle facilities will help the city to apply for grants, and show a commitment to active transportation projects.
The city is currently applying for a number of grants and is partnering with the Garden Grove Unified School District to write a grant application for bike and pedestrian improvements along routes between neighborhoods and local schools, Webb said.
Still, investing in bicycle facilities doesn’t always pan out. In Anaheim, officials spent more than $185 million dollars on a new train station, ARCTIC, billing it as a future transportation hub. Despite the spending, ridership has fallen far below original projections and the facility operates on a deficit.
The Transportation Authority also piloted a bike share program in Fullerton aimed at getting riders mile to and from the train station, but the program was scrapped after a year when it failed to attract enough riders
Jones said agency learned that bike share programs need a certain density and demand to make it work.
“There’s a tiny percentage [of people] that are hardcore bike riders who commute to work, and beyond that, there’s a void unless you make bike lanes feel safe,” said Jones.
Kanzler believes that, in addition to people who depend on bikes for their main form of transportation, better bike facilities will make it possible for residents to stay out of their cars for short, local commutes.
“If you’re not comfortable on two wheels, three wheels is fine. Everybody knows how to ride a bike, but not everybody knows how to drive a car,” Kanzler said.
The draft Active Transportation Plan will be available for public input until August 1. The next Active Transportation workshop hosted by LULAC will be on July 23th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Garden Grove Community Center.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.