A few inconvenient truths about our city’s traffic
So yes, we feel your pain, Irvine. We’re all frustrated by traffic, and happy to see our new city council addressing the issue at the first council sessions of the year. But we’re also realists. Traffic can be improved, certainly. But it’s not going away.
We remember a time not so long ago when traffic was light. It was during the recession and its aftermath when there was double-digit unemployment, zero economic growth and all development had ground to a halt, impacting businesses throughout the city, state and nation. Friends and family lost their homes, and seemingly everyone lost equity, investments, income and retirement security. It was a mess.
Today, Orange County enjoys an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent. Home values are up, as is employment in construction and related trades.
People are driving to jobs in Irvine, and throughout Southern California. The city of Irvine is the most fiscally fit in the nation, as indicated elsewhere in this issue.
Which doesn’t make sitting at the signal at Culver and Alton any more pleasant, and doesn’t reduce the urgency of working toward fixes for traffic congestion.
Rather, this is a request for a reality check. Traffic is annoying, certainly. But some traffic issues are related to attributes of Irvine we all love, and traffic is much, much worse elsewhere.
That’s counterintuitive to what we experience on the road each day, but those concepts are confirmed by data, experience and observation.
What follows are a few examples, we’ll explore more in future issues, along with continuing to press for improvement in the traffic congestion we all experience.
One of the reasons our main roadways like Jamboree, Culver, Alton, Irvine and Jeffrey are impacted by traffic so noticeably is because “the city’s master plan roadway system is designed to minimize traffic through residential areas by focusing traffic volumes to major roadway arterials traversing the city,” as the city’s traffic management study explains.
For those of us who use Waze or other way-finding apps, this is obvious. When driving through neighboring cities, we’ll find ourselves driving through residential neighborhoods we’d never discover on our own, much to the chagrin of the locals who suffer sudden traffic along their streets.
But not in Irvine.
Oh, sure, we have a few secret routes. But generally we’re directed along the same arterials and freeways everyone else takes.
That’s because the streetscapes of Irvine’s villages are designed not as grids, but in the labyrinthine way we’ve all come to love, with only one or maybe two ways in, few right angles, and creative use of cul-de-sacs throughout. So there are few shortcuts available. Once we turn into our section of the village, the traffic dissipates quickly.
The traffic management study by Albert Grover and Associates is full of such gems. We recommend everyone study it closely. A few other pertinent points to highlight include: “The city’s geography contributes to its peak-period traffic congestion. The hills to the north and south of the city combined with John Wayne Airport to the west result in few continuous arterial roadways into and out of the city. These geographic limitations to mobility tend to concentrate traffic flow on a few freeways and key arterial roadways, resulting in high traffic volumes and intersection congestion into and out of the city.”
We’d also highlight the city’s adjacency to Laguna Canyon, the Back Bay, open space, wilderness parks, and UC Irvine as wonderful amenities that add significantly to the quality of life in Irvine. They also limit ingress to and engress from the city, with the result being busier roadways.
Would you be willing to swap open space for a few more roads and freeways? Neither would we.
An additional truth in the consultant’s study is this:
“Traffic peaks for a much shorter duration in Irvine than in other communities, which typically face congested corridors for much longer time periods.”
So yes, traffic is vexing. But at least we’re braving it to return to our homes in Irvine, and not spending hours in it to go a few miles in L.A.