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Lane reduction as currently designed for Maricopa Hwy will cost lives, time, money as well as our rural environment, and the actual benefits are limited. Just like in Paradise CA during the 2018 Camp Fire (85 residents perished, mostly in their cars), residents north of El Roblar/Cuyama, in Meiners Oaks, mobile home parks, all along Hwy 33 north will be prevented from evacuation due to a single lane. Our 2017 Thomas Fire blazed no more than 1/4 mile from this same intersection (“5-Stop”), so I am prepared with experts to demonstrate that lane reduction in fire-prone regions is dangerous.
The fact that the current plan does not meet turning radius requirements for large trucks, motor homes, mobile MRI hospital equipment, and firetrucks is evidenced in the 60% Submittal. The claim by supporters that bicycle lanes shall be used for emergency purposes is unrealistic. Butte County Fire officials report that dividing a highway into more than 3 lanes with medians must be avoided, but Ojai’s current plan has 4 separate lanes divided by medians, a dangerous plan. The current lane reduction plan will also increase emergency response times to Ojai Hospital during periods of traffic congestion, and obstruct access to NHS, which served as the regional emergency center during the Thomas Fire. The current plan is dangerous.
The current plan is not suitable for Ojai, it is based on a template used in urban regions such as Denver and Portland, Class IV bike lanes are for commuter-type (fast speed), so they require a lane of parking to separate from bike lanes. There are other ways to separate vehicles from bicycles, but the City Council has not considered any alternatives. The current lane reduction plan on Maricopa Hwy with parked cars down the middle of the roadway will forever mar the view into Los Padres National Forest and surrounding hills. Due to slower traffic, creating longer lines, making it difficult for many to enter intersections, congestion inevitably results, and the drive thru town that was once pleasurable becomes an annoyance.
The promise by supporters that the current plan will significantly increase bike riding among NHS students is unsupported by the facts and parents! The current road diet plan includes eliminating the westbound Ojai Ave passing lane at the ‘Y’, thereby losing the only legal safe passing lane between Santa Paula and Oak View, a distance of 50 miles. Previously, I have called Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy “illegitimate” (please see my 12/22/20 email below). In Malcolm Gladwell’s (also author of ‘The Tipping Point’, ‘Blink’ and ‘Outliers’) 2013 book ‘David and Goliath’, the author explains (pages 207-8) the “principal of legitimacy” as being “based on 3 things”:
“First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice-that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another”.
Taking Gladwell’s definition of “principal of legitimacy” and applying to the City Council’s efforts on behalf of Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy, we know Lane Reduction was developed during 2013-2017 among a select group of bicycle-advocates and supporters at 2:30pm Wednesday afternoons, organized by Suza Francina, a “lifelong bicycle advocate” on the City Council. Those local residents and business owners opposed to Lane Reduction had no voice in those discussions, no voice in the plan, and until recently, no response from the City Council regarding opposition to the current plan.
The 2nd reason Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy is Illegitimate is because the “Demonstration Project” is not predictable (the same tomorrow as yesterday). We should call Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy an “Experimental Project”, see item 9 of FAQ on the City’s website. Did you know the “Demonstration Project” allows “adjustments” to be made during the demonstration project?, we are guinea pigs thru 2021 or until students can long last physically go back to school and we can honestly have a “Demonstration Project”. Those adjustments should include returning Maricopa Hwy to 2 narrower lanes in each direction and eliminating parallel parking down the middle, but I’m betting that is not on the table.
The 3rd reason Lane Reduction is illegitimate is because it is obvious to all that the City Council has not been fair, favoring one group (bicycle advocates) over local residents, commuters, commercial, business and property owners, churches, parents with children enrolled at NHS, Ojai Unified School District, and those that don’t vote for City Council. The City Council has made absolutely no effort to reach out to those most affected by Lane Reduction, those living nearby Maricopa Hwy, and the City Council has made absolutely no effort to reach out to those living in Meiners Oaks because those residents don’t vote for City Council members.
The current plan is driven by interests downtown and on the eastside. Portions of the $2.5 million grant from the State of California can be better spent downtown where there is a greater need for improved pedestrian and bicycle safety, based on non-partisan data. The current “aspirational” plan is based on ideology, not practicality. The current plan divides the community when we should be working together toward common goals. For all these reasons, I consider Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy to be illegitimate, and intend to prevent its installation as currently designed.
Jeffery Weinstein is a Ventura County resident and architect
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal