County of Santa Cruz Active Transportation Plan Moves Forward With Temporary Installations

It has been an action-packed few months for Ecology Action’s planning team. As part of our work on the County of Santa Cruz Active Transportation Plan, we have helped to install two temporary demonstrations of bike and pedestrian infrastructure, known around the office as “pop-ups.” Pop-ups are used in urban planning to test out new infrastructure on a temporary basis with the goal of seeing how it works in practice and getting feedback from the community. In some cases, pop-ups can also help secure grant funding to make projects permanent.

Back in 2018, Ecology Action partnered with the County of Santa Cruz on a grant application to develop the Active Transportation Plan, which will provide a roadmap for future improvements for walking and bicycling in unincorporated Santa Cruz County. Ecology Action is the project manager of the Active Transportation Plan (ATP). Our responsibilities include facilitating community outreach and soliciting input, writing the plan, forming a stakeholder committee, implementing the pop-up installations, and summarizing the data and insights collected. The ATP is a project of the County of Santa Cruz, with County Public Health and Bike Santa Cruz County as additional partners who assist with planning and outreach.

Through community input, Green Valley Road between Amesti Road and Pinto Lake City Park was selected to be the first pop-up location. Green Valley Road has high traffic volume (averaging 21,000 average daily trips) and a speed limit of 35 mph that drivers frequently exceed. The area of Green Valley between Amesti Road and Pinto Lake City Park has a large section of missing sidewalk and painted shoulders that would otherwise provide space for people on bikes.

During the public outreach phase of the ATP last fall, Green Valley Road was among the streets that received the highest number of community comments. We also held small-group stakeholder meetings to discuss needs in South County, and Green Valley Road between Amesti Elementary and Pinto Lake was identified as a priority. Amesti Elementary teachers wanted to be able to take students to the park for field trips, and the lack of sidewalks makes it harder for students who live nearby to walk to school.

The draft recommendation in the ATP for Green Valley Road is to install a multi-use path on one side of the street between Watsonville city limits and Behler Road. For the pop-up demonstration, we installed a temporary path on the west side of Green Valley between Amesti Road and Pinto Lake City Park, along with green bike lane treatments and painted curb extensions at the two intersections along the route. Space for people walking and biking was delineated with orange construction barrels and metal planters, which were decorated with original artwork by Amesti Elementary art students.

The kickoff event for the Green Valley project was well attended. Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent, spoke on the importance of safety and healthy activity for South County students. After enjoying some tacos, attendees walked or biked along the new path and filled out the survey to share their input.

The next pop-up location identified was Portola Drive, which was among the corridors that received the highest number of community comments during the public outreach phase of the ATP. Portola was also selected because of the work done on the Pleasure Point Commercial Corridor Study, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2018.

The Pleasure Point Commercial Corridor Study was based on three community meetings and an online survey, all held in 2017–18. It developed a vision of Pleasure Point as a vibrant commercial area where it would be easy and safe to walk, bike, and drive. The study included concept plans for future changes to Portola Drive such as buffered bike lanes, curb extensions to shorten the crossing distance at intersections, and a road reconfiguration to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane.

Any change to the number of lanes on a street is a big impact to drivers, and the pop-up provided a chance to test out the new design before moving forward with a permanent project. It also gave us a chance to test out a different design for the bike lanes. The Corridor Study calls for buffered bike lanes, which are separated from motor vehicle lanes with a painted buffer (think Broadway Avenue near Arana Gulch in Santa Cruz). The Portola pop-up tested out separated bikeways by putting up a physical barrier between the people on bikes and the people driving. Separated bikeways have been installed on Water Street and near the Wharf roundabout in Santa Cruz; they have also been used in other cities throughout the country and have been shown to reduce collisions and encourage more bicycle trips by making cyclists who are less confident feel more comfortable on the road. We wanted to try this design to get feedback on whether a recommendation for separated bikeways should be included in the ATP.

Community input on the Portola project has been robust. As soon as construction started to change the road to three lanes, we heard frustration from the community about traffic delays and confusion regarding what was happening. Conversations on NextDoor have generated hundreds of comments, and the County and our team have been flooded with questions and comments from residents.

County Supervisor Manu Koenig held a community meeting on July 6th to answer questions and address community concerns (you can watch the recording of that meeting here). People shared their frustrations with traffic delays and new traffic on residential streets, concerns about future development in Pleasure Point, and the need to repave streets in Pleasure Point before installing anything new. One resident who rides bikes with his kids shared that he was avoiding Portola Drive during the pop-up because drivers were so frustrated that they were acting unsafely. A few residents expressed support for the new stop sign at 36th Avenue, and others shared that they appreciated the slower traffic through the Portola Drive corridor.

Over the next month, the planning team will continue to analyze survey data as well as data on traffic delays and the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers who used Portola Drive during and after the pop-up. Supervisor Koenig has offered to share that data with the community, and you can subscribe to his newsletter here for updates. There is currently no funding for a permanent project on Portola Drive, and Supervisor Koenig stated at the meeting that he is not interested in pursuing a project that does not have community support. The County will re-evaluate the plan for Portola Drive and conduct additional public outreach before moving forward with any permanent changes.

Transportation planning requires balancing the needs of people who use different forms of transportation, and the Portola Drive pop-up clearly tipped that balance in a direction that was frustrating to many community members. The major benefit that we see, however, is that these projects got hundreds of new people involved in the planning process. It can be hard to make time to attend a public meeting, and pop-ups allow residents to experience something firsthand and share their input. While approximately 600 residents weighed in to create the Pleasure Point Commercial Corridor Study, nearly 2,000 took the Portola Drive pop-up survey within two weeks of it being installed. Our hope is that this process and the input of residents will result in change to both Green Valley Road and Portola Drive that community members support.

We appreciate everyone who has taken the time to share their feedback on both the Green Valley Road and Portola Drive pop-ups. Everyone’s voice in the planning process is important, and community input will be used to determine future plans for these corridors.

If you tried out the Green Valley Road or Portola Drive pop-up installations but have not yet taken the survey, please tell us what you think here: https://ecoact.org/poweredbyme

Interested in learning more?

Press Coverage for Green Valley Road Pop-Up:

https://pajaronian.com/temporary-protected-bike-pedestrian-path-on-green-valley-opens/ 

Press Coverage for Portola Drive Pop-Up:

https://lookout.co/santacruz/recreation-sports/story/2021-06-23/ride-bikes-portola-drive-what-to-know-temporary-makeover