First things first: there was an error in assumption in the previous Peters Canyon article. Like many other users—cyclists, walkers, runners for the most part—this writer wrongly assumed that the posted closure of “7/15 THRU 8/16” was a day more than one month.
Actually, the closure was booked for 14 months, not 33 days. Which has significantly more impact.
The work planned on Peters Canyon is intended to mitigate concentrations of naturally occurring Selenium, which is harmful to the area’s diverse and robust bird population. This will be accomplished by reconfiguring existing runoff patterns, and adding new drainage pipes as needed. The geographic scope runs from Walnut to Barranca, and may involve both the paved and packed dirt trails on either side of the channel and the channel itself.
While the purpose of the project is logical and commendable, the management of the closure has been problematic. And this stems from the multiple entities involved with this particular section of Peters Canyon, writ large.
Based on the signs that appeared in late June/early July, it was a mystery as to what was going on, why it was happening, and who was in charge.
The bike trails people at OC Parks/Public Works and the City of Irvine knew very little about the looming closure, but COI did have an idea that the Irvine Ranch Water District was involved. This was confirmed by Public Affairs staff at IRWD, which sent the following explanation:
IRWD is responsible for managing the project, however there are several partner agencies that are also contributing to the project in one way or another. Those partners are the Cities of Irvine and Tustin, Orange County Flood Control District, CalTrans and the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency.
In answer to why the bike trails were affected:
The bike lane closures are aimed at ensuring the safety of all the residents, cyclists, walkers, etc. who use the path. IRWD worked with its partners to identify two segments of the bike path to be closed for the duration of the project.
We worked with the City of Irvine to design the bike path closures. Their staff signed off on the plan. Evaluation of community impacts is done for all of our projects.
But apparently the communication with the “partners” did not directly involve the parties at the County, OCTA or the City of Irvine who deal with the bike trails. For the staff at these entities, bike trails are seen as an increasingly vital part of transportation. Yes, it’s an attraction and convenience for sport riders, but there’s a greater population of commuters, students, and casual riders for whom off-street paths are the make-or-break for safe travel.
A contact at OCPW who’s deeply involved with the County’s bike trail infrastructure said the first he’d heard of the closure was via calls and emails from displeased users. Ditto from the City of Irvine.
The OCPW guy asked me, “Who’s running the job,” At the time I had I had no idea. “Isn’t there a name and phone for whoever’s running the project on the signage?” There wasn’t, I told him. Is there supposed to be? “Not officially, but it’s the normal way things are done,” he replied.
Isn’t some kind of permit required? “Yes, if you do anything to even temporarily block a bike lane or street you need an Encroachment Permit.” He agreed to look into what had actually transpired.
IRWD was quick to respond when asked about this:
IRWD obtained an encroachment permit through the Orange County Flood Control District since they are in charge of the channel.
A few days later I got a follow-up call from OCPW’s bike trails guy. He confirmed that all permits were requested and approved. He also said that the plans and permit request included detailed notes about diverting users via a marked detour. It is supposed to have signage specifying the alternate route, (but every one I’ve seen simply says, “Use Alternate Route.”) But no one the OC Flood Control District thought it necessary to tell the bike trails staff. Apparently the Flood Control District primarily sees Peters Canyon as water and drainage infrastructure. And apparently the same thing happened at the City of Irvine.
As to OCTA, which is carrying the bike trail banner through a series of public meetings, promoting May as “Bike Month,” and a Cycling page of the web site dedicated to gathering survey input and educating the public about riding bikes in the OC:
While OCTA is working with cities and the county to help plan and find funding to build bikeways, we don’t own or operate any of them. Any closures would be managed by the local agencies, which I believe in this case would be the city of Irvine. OCTA doesn’t keep track of closures.
IRWD was very transparent about the closures:
The first closure is between Como Channel and Walnut. This was done for a few reasons. In addition to pipe installation work that will occur here, the path in this area will also be used as the primary entry/exit point for the project’s heavy equipment and trucks. There will also be a deep excavation pit on the east side of the Como Channel that will be in place for several months.
But it seemed that, aside from putting up signs and barricades, there was nothing going on along what IRWD called the “second closure.” the section of the trail between Warner and Barranca. Users were using the trail, and simply going around the blockade. In an amazing nod to non-violent civil disobedience nothing was broken, tipped over, or defaced. People just ignored the signs.
Calls were made to IRWD about why this part of the trail was closed for no obvious reason. And, as of mid-August, there actually is work going on in that area. But:
The second closure was originally planned for the segment between Barranca and Warner since there will be pipeline installation along the bike path and additional work on the bridge that runs along Barranca.
However, after discussing further with the City of Irvine, we are going to limit the amount of time during which this closure is in effect. Path users will be able to use the Barranca under-crossing and exit out to the street at Warner for the next few months. We are planning to re-close this segment early next year in order to complete the work that needs to be performed on the Barranca bridge and between Barranca and Warner. Once that work is done, the path will be completely re-opened. We hope this happens in early summer, but it depends on the schedule and weather. A wet El Nino type winter could cause some delays.
But the signs are still up. Will the barricades be moved or set aside?
I don’t believe the signs are going to be physically removed, but they will be covered up during the times the path is open. If this hasn’t already been done, it should be sometime later this week or early next.
As of August 14 plastic sheeting covered the signs. A few days later the barricades were moved aside or gone. As of this week riders can use the Peters Canyon Trail from where it begins by the hockey rink on the west side of Barranca to the Warner under crossing: at this point there are barricades and you are expected to exit onto Warner.
If you want to access the trail from westbound Harvard, you have to take Warner towards the District and deal with crossing Warner through a break in the center divider. The trail running along Warner to the Peters Canyon trail is blocked off. But, as with the original closure, users seem aware that there’s nothing happening on that side of the underpass. The signs have been edged open and askew, evidence that for some safety trumps illogic. Is it trespassing? I haven’t gotten a good answer on that, or who would enforce it.
So, a section of a trail popular with a wide range has been reopened. Is it a concession to reason, the fixing of an error in communications, or someone correcting the administrative arrogance that comes with projects being carried-out for the convenience of the people doing the work…if and when they decide to get started?
It’s good to see the trail back in use. Hopefully the actual closure, when it happens, will be managed in a manner that’s more in tune with the needs of the community. There’s no reason to expect otherwise.