Los Alamitos will implement a two-phased project to improve traffic safety, which will include speed limit signs, lane narrowing and striping throughout the Old Town West neighborhood after residents reported speeding in the area.

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The first phase, estimated to cost $45,000, will install the traffic measures on Walnut Street between Katella Avenue and Sausalito Street and Chestnut Street between Cerritos Avenue and Katella Avenue, according to a staff report

New speed limit signs at appropriate locations and narrowed lanes with striping will be used to evaluate drivers’ behaviors and determine if it is appropriate to extend the changes to the entire neighborhood, the report says. 

If the initiatives are deemed effective, the measures will be added to the rest of the Old Town West streets in the second phase of the project. The cost of these additions will be determined as part of the capital improvement project program in 2022.

The Los Alamitos City Council at a special meeting on Oct. 12 voted 3-0 in favor of the measures that were recommended by the city’s traffic commission. Mayor Richard Murphy and Council member Dean Grose both recused themselves because they live near the area where the changes will take place, so only the three remaining members voted.

The striping plan and pavement markings will narrow lanes to 10 feet wide in each direction. A buffer zone, which will be installed between lanes and the parked cars to create space when opening car doors, will also improve visibility, according to Ron Noda, the acting deputy city manager. 

Noda also explained during the council meeting that this striping method has been implemented throughout Los Angeles County and has proven effective in reducing speed.

“Having a wide lane generally makes the driver have more leeway to speed,” traffic engineer Farhad Iranitalab said during the meeting. “That’s why… when you have a narrow tunnel, those lines [will] reduce the speed by about 5 miles per hour.”

The safety measures are a result of an August 2019 petition, which was signed by approximately 98 Old Town West residents in 82 residences who claim that speeding vehicles do not obey stop signs in the area. The petition requested that the city install speed bumps on noted streets. 

“Speed humps would slow traffic and discourage drivers from using our neighborhood streets as a shortcut – a use these streets were not intended for,” resident Tara Barnhart said in an email to the city’s traffic commission in September.

Although the petition specifically requested speed humps, the traffic commissioners found the project to be too expensive and instead discussed and approved lane narrowing and striping to combat the excessive speeding. Noda explained during the meeting that a single speed hump costs approximately $5,000 to install, meaning it could cost the city nearly $100,000 to install speed humps throughout Old Town West.

“I am disappointed in the decision but understand the need to compromise,” Barnhart said in an interview after the meeting. “The city does seem to be trying to address the situation by adding more obvious crosswalk striping and more frequent monitoring of the intersections, which I do appreciate… I hope I am pleasantly surprised, but I’m not very optimistic.”

In late 2019 and early 2020, the city conducted three speed surveys in Old Town West. Even though all the data indicated there was no significant speeding impact in the neighborhood, the traffic commission recommended the traffic safety measures.

The city will open bids for the first phase of the project in November, and the City Council plans to award the bid in December. While the implementation and installation of the initial phase is planned for early 2021, a 10-12 month evaluation period to approve whether or not to proceed to a second phase is scheduled to continue into early 2022, according to the staff report.

“We have been talking about this for years, and it would be nice if we could show the residents we are actually going to do something,” Council member Shelley Hasselbrink said during the meeting. “It might not be the perfect solution or the final solution, but we recognize the problem and we are going to try to address it.” 

The Los Alamitos City Council meets again Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. The body streams meetings live on its website.

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