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Bike lane projects become popular in Orange County

Garden Grover city transportation planners Erika Aguilar/KPCC

For years, the Orange County Transportation Authority couldn’t find enough bicycle projects to fund—but that’s all changed.  

This week, the transportation agency awarded about $19.5 million to six Orange County cities and the county for bicycle and pedestrian mobility projects. It had double the number of project pitches and funding requests.

“We went many, many years—we couldn’t find enough bike projects to put money to, which is not good in its own right but now we’re in the opposite side of that,” said OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson during a meeting last week.

Orange County cities such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove have begun developing master plans to make their cities more bike and pedestrian friendly.

“I’m happy that they’re doing something,” said Byron Von Korper, owner of Pappa Wheelie Bicycles in Garden Grove.

But he's not entirely impressed. Garden Grove received $1.1 million from OCTA to make improvements. But the city's existing bike lanes are under-utilized. The city counted bicyclists last September and in the report, released in June, found the majority rode on the sidewalk. A full 40 percent chose to ride on the sidewalk even when bike lanes were present. 

Von Korper said Garden Grove needs to take a page from the city of Long Beach where some bike lanes are separated from vehicle traffic, have physical barriers from the street, and their own traffic signals.

“They want to put bike lanes in but they’re not making the people any safer,” he said.

The push for more bike infrastructure comes with Orange County's transition from a bedroom community to a dense urban environment. With density have come traffic and parking challenges cities are hoping to alleviate with alternative transportation and revitalized downtowns. 

Von Korpers said while city and transportation planners in O.C. are starting to consider cycling as an viable alternative to driving, he thinks residents will be slow to catch on.

“They don’t see bikes as a vehicle,” said Von Korper. “They’re toys.”

Santa Ana received about $4.4 million in funding from OCTA for three projects that will add protected or buffered bike lanes on Bristol Street and Hazard Avenue and bike racks citywide.

The money comes from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, which provides funding for projects that meet the Clean Air Act requirements.

The majority of the awarded projects were in North County cities. Some OCTA board members complained that South County projects were not funded despite a $500,000 surplus. Transportation authority staff plans to revisit projects that are currently on the waitlist.