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OVN Editorial on OPINION page: Vision for transportation equity

Who would intentionally build a tiny four-lane highway in front of a high school and a hospital? It was part of a larger plan by Caltrans to build four lanes out to Santa Paula, Carpinteria and Ventura that the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai fought against and won in the late 1960s.
Understanding its history gives perspective on how the only four-lane stretch of road in the area came to be.
Our city ranks second worst out of 75 cities of similar size in speed-related fatal and injury collisions, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. Five years in the making, the Active Transportation Project (ATP) seeks to address 80% of Ojai’s 23 average annual injury collisions and improve travel access to our community with a $2.8 million design improvement through state grant funding. 
In favor of the project is the Ojai Unified School District board. Students will finally have transportation equity with safe passage on foot or bike. The Chamber of Commerce is also in favor because it finally connects Meiners Oaks to Ojai with a vision. 
But as people eschew change, improvement or otherwise, a few noisy naysayers to the ATP refuse to stop griping. They started a GoFundMe campaign, disregarding the laws governing the transparency of contributions to political push groups. Despite the questionable mouthpiece of the opposition, let's unpack the benefits and concerns.
Beginning with the flaming red herring: Will we burn like Paradise? No.

 

There are fewer than 100 homes to the north of this stretch of road, so there will be no mass exodus of residents traversing the seven-tenths of a mile. However, after passing it, the road narrows to two lanes and you will not travel faster than the No. 16 bus headed to Ventura. Whatever route you take, you will be choked down to two lanes on Highway 150 in either direction — Casitas Springs or Highway 33.
Will emergency vehicles have their access to the hospital impeded? No. As with every other road in the city, there is room to pull over for emergency vehicles; and both the prior fire and police chiefs gave the go-ahead at the Disaster Council, approving of the project.
Will the traffic for school and events become worse? No.
If and when students return, the project will improve upon the ingress and egress patterns at Nordhoff High School, improving traffic flow. And with more students riding their bikes, car traffic will be further reduced.
The elephant in the room is the social-justice issue. Students of two working parents, or a single working parent, do not often have the luxury of being carted to and from school. OUSD buses do not return high school students home after school. Those who dare to walk or bike using the crosswalks over this four-lane highway have only hope and prayers each day that an impatient driver in the No. 2 lane doesn’t speed by the stopped drivers and hit them at 40 mph, where the survival rate is 10 percent. Having any local school without a safe biking option for students should not be tolerated by our community. In addition to the real economic disparity issue, there is the good parenting issue of promoting independence and physical fitness by riding to school.
We have heard it all from the any-change-is-bad-change contingent, including: “You won’t be able to see the mountains through the new trees they will plant!” to “Two deaths (on the Maricopa stretch) are not enough fatalities to warrant a change.”

 

Second worst in speed-related fatal and injury collisions is not good enough? There is a core of concerned citizens that has worked on this project since 2015. If you haven’t done your homework and you don’t have a better solution, please step out of the way, because in 2021 we are riding our bikes to the fireworks! Restore the highway to a road, improve access for all, and create a physically connected community.
Take action: Ojai City Council needs to hear your support right now. Speak at public comments at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 9. Please email your Ojai City Council district representative or all the council members at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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