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Bike lanes, open ears and the culture of entitlement

Posted: September 5, 2009 4:54 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Going into Wednesday's town hall meeting concerning the re-striping of Decoro Drive, it seemed self-interest may have been the reigning sentiment.

Instead, what came out of that roughly two-hour meeting was a compromise everyone could apparently live with.

In case you missed it, around Aug. 19, city workers re-striped a one-mile stretch of Decoro Drive between McBean Parkway and Seco
Canyon Road, adding two bicycle lanes and removing two vehicle lanes. It was all part of a City Council-approved bicycle master plan.

The paint was barely dry before the complaints poured in from residents who live near Decoro.

With only one lane in each direction, they said, their hilly street had become a nightmare to travel. Common among their woes was more traffic congestion, many near-collisions and a lack of cyclists using the new lanes.

When Decoro-area residents crowded the Council Chambers for the Aug. 25 City Council meeting, Santa Clarita's leaders were quick to listen.

For that we say "hats off" to our local officials.

If they were surprised by the outrage, we say they had a right to be.

The addition of bike lanes to Decoro was included in the nonmotorized transportation plan approved publicly by the City Council back in the in spring of 2008.

The public approval followed some two years of surveys and public-input meetings. Nothing was carried out in secret.

But when the rubber of planning met the road of reality, it didn't work. And try all you want, pull out as many computerized traffic models as you can, you can't convince people there isn't a problem when they see it every day.

And so City Manager Ken Pulskamp hosted Wednesday's meeting. About 150 people packed the multi-purpose room at Helmers Elementary School.

At the onset, Pulskamp presented three options for Decoro: Leave it be, return it to the original configuration or compromise and make it four lanes with two narrower bike lanes.

He spent about an hour passing a microphone around the room giving residents a chance to voice their concerns and frustrations.

And in the end, it came down to a simple show of hands to decide what to do. The majority decision: Option No. 3, expected to be implemented within the month.

It won support from cyclists and noncyclists alike.

So thank you, Mr. Pulskamp, for your willingness to listen to people and provide options for compromise and resolution. People need fewer "deal with it" responses from government and more open dialogue.

And thanks to the community for being open to a compromise.

However, a few more things must be said.

The addition of those bicycle lanes was not a secret. As mentioned above, the nonmotorized transportation plan was approved publicly. There were public meetings advertised and held.

There were surveys conducted. These things were reported in The Signal. There is also an information-laden city Web page devoted to the plan; one can download the entire document.

The information was there, but apparently some people did not care to pay attention.

Last week, a handful of residents spoke for the nearly 200,000 people in the city and decided by a show of hands to spend more taxpayer money - money generated from all city taxpayers - to re-do the bike lanes.

The Decoro controversy throws an unwelcome spotlight on the culture of entitlement in which we live. It's likely residents off Decoro may have heard of or seen something about the bicycle master-plan meetings, but since they weren't cyclists they weren't interested - until it affected their daily commutes.

When you live in a community and pay taxes to that community, there is a certain responsibility that you are entrusted with.

It is incumbent upon you to pay attention to what your city leaders are doing and where your money is going.

Our lives are bigger than ourselves, and we owe it to ourselves and the community around us to pay attention, to be involved and to seek what's best for everyone.

So at the end of the day, many thanks go to city leaders for being humble enough to own up to their blunders and to do what the people asked for, and to Valencia residents for agreeing to a solution that takes into account the needs of both sides.

But let us take from this experience that the governance of a community is a collaborative and active process.

It's easy enough to re-stripe Decoro Drive, and in the long run the costs are pretty low.

But sometimes, waiting until after the fact comes at too great a price.

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