Caltrans virtual meeting on PCH plans offers few clear answers

Caltrans is proposing to remove 2,171 highly desirable Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) parking spaces in order to install bike lanes from Serra Road all the way to the Ventura County line. The state transportation agency may hire capable engineers, but the communications skills were severely lacking in a virtual presentation on June 28. 

The online event was billed as a meeting to present Caltrans’ plan to repave PCH throughout Malibu for a smoother ride and to upgrade curbs to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; however, the main topic in its chaotically staged meeting was to present its plan to add bike lanes on both sides of PCH. 

In its slide summary of the project, adding Class II bike lanes was last on Caltrans’ list, yet the matter consumed the bulk of the meeting.  

The subject matter is of great importance to the thousands who use Malibu’s main thoroughfare, but the meeting was sparsely attended, with some 24 devices tuned in. 

The hour kicked off with a full 10 minutes of silence as the project’s director was unable to tune in while the host scrambled to find slides to present for him. Many of the slides finally on view were filled with misspellings of numerous Malibu streets that intersect the project.  

It appears the chief reason for repaving is to add north and southbound lanes for bicyclists. The lanes will be clearly marked, but the community’s questions about the lanes went unanswered or received vague responses from Caltrans employees in attendance. 

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One attendee representing a cycling group inquired regarding buffer zones between bike lanes and motor lanes. Caltrans indicated if there is available space a buffer zone may be allowed, but no other specific details were provided. 

A bicyclist asked whether the bike lanes would be painted green or have reflectors to denote the lane at night. Minutes went by before a Caltrans employee finally answered that he would “take it into consideration.” 

Someone questioned, “why this section of PCH is being prioritized through Malibu where it’s much safer to cycle currently than, say, Sunset Boulevard to Serra Road, which is easily the most dangerous and congested?” No answer was provided except for host Jane Yu’s response, “That’s where our limits begin and end.” 

Another question asked and unanswered: Of the more than 2,100 parking spaces that PCH could lose, how many will be unaffected by adding bike lanes? 

Malibu City Councilmember Mikke Pierson asked when a detailed map of the project would be available. The answer given was unintelligible. Pierson then asked about pedestrian safety on PCH, especially near El Matador Beach. That area has seen numerous accidents as beach-goers jockey for parking spaces and then cross the highway. Caltrans Corridor Engineer Lupe Tamayo said, “We are looking at El Matador for a different issue.” Pierson said he hoped the agency was “aware of the issue and would consider it in plans.” Tamayo said she would look into the accident history. 

Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti stated, “I appreciate you’re trying to squeeze six lanes into what barely has room for four.” When Grisanti asked if bicyclists out of designated lanes will be ticketed when using traffic lanes, Tamayo replied, “It would be based on the vehicle code.” Grisanti retorted, “How can you design a road if you don’t know what the rules are?” The mayor was met with silence and then “we don’t know” from Osama Megalla, Caltrans office chief of project management, who added, “We don’t get involved in any law enforcement issues. You could talk to CHP and ask.” Grisanti said he would do that, adding, “I think that will have an influence on whether or not people support the bike lanes.” 

Adding to the frustration of unanswered questions and nonresponsive answers, participants were asked to fill out a poll on the project. It was unclear if this reporter’s poll function even worked properly. 

The Malibu Times sent questions through the chat portion that went unanswered because of the time lost to the ten-minute glitch at the beginning of the presentation. Questions included: How many parking spots might remain? How many areas will have a buffer zone between cars and bikes? How can the public weigh in with opinions? And finally, is Coastal Commission approval needed given the apparent access issues that will result for those unable to afford paid parking? At press time, no responses to these questions have been received. 

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