Measure M: #MakeLACounty Connected with the Santa Clarita Valley

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On November 8th, L.A. County residents will vote on Measure M, which will provide approximately $120 billion for transportation projects, including $4 billion for walking and biking, over the next 40 years. This regional measure covers all of L.A. County, and its versatility can be demonstrated in the Santa Clarita Valley, where relief is needed for the region's specific transit needs.

You can link the Santa Clarita Valley's rapid growth directly with America's love affair with the car stemming a network of wide, high-speed streets. As a result, this has created obstacles for commuters traveling distances both near and far.

The Measure M investments coming to the Santa Clarita Valley will not only help relieve traffic, but also build better neighborhoods supporting improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Nina Moskol is the Chair of the Santa Clarita Valley Bicycle Coalition, a local LACBC chapter and knows area's needs. We asked Nina to describe the Santa Clarita Valley's current landscape and how Measure M can help #MakeLACounty connected. 

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Nina and the Santa Clarita Valley Bicycle Coalition's hard work has paid off with the City of Santa Clarita's recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.

How would you describe the Santa Clarita Valley?

The Santa Clarita Valley is the large valley that sits just to the north of San Fernando Valley that most Angelenos are familiar with. It is a place that has two distinct identities: Historical California and Modern-Suburban SoCal.

Geologically, the Santa Clarita Valley, and the surrounding steep mountains, creates a shape like a folding fan; its canyons feed the streams that create the Santa Clara River. The Santa Clara River is the last free flowing, uncontrolled river in Southern California, and it ends in the fertile farmlands surrounding Oxnard and Ventura. Off the populated valley floor, the surrounding land, much of it National Forest, is very natural, wild and scenic.

The City of Santa Clarita is the civic anchor of the area. It is a “stand alone city” tucked in the mountains, unsupported and unbounded by its large neighbor, L.A. Much to the surprise of many, the City of Santa Clarita is L.A. County’s 3rd largest city by population, and by size, one of the largest as well, at over 62 square miles.

What makes the Santa Clarita Valley special is that it is a place that specifically ties SoCal to its history of settlement. The area dates to Native American Tribes that settled in the area of Castaic, and then, heavily and steadily, onward from the Rancho San Francisco period, to the 1870’s, when it became home to the sites of the first discovery of gold in California, the connection to the Transcontinental Railway, and the development of the first commercial oil wells in the state. Later, became famous for its locations seen widely in the film industry. It now identifies itself as an up and coming, highly rated “edge city," popular as a place to settle for families, with a lot of civic priority placed on the outdoors and recreating in them. In its original form, it was a classic “old west outpost," in its new form, it is a highly designed and planned residential haven, with more and more power to sustain itself with tech, entertainment, and service industries.

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Nina (left) teaches the next generation of Santa Clarita Valley bicyclists.

What is it like to bike around the region?

One the best thing about biking in Santa Clarita is how much variety the area offers. The City of Santa Clarita has placed immense priority on parks, open space, and trails. The City features approximately 50 miles of paved, Class 1 trails, mostly away from traffic, following the form of the Santa Clara River. The City also features on-street bike lanes and routes, and is working on more and more of these every year. The trails are very friendly for all types of users, are clear and efficient, and can be ridden by people of all skills and levels.

How important is it to have transportation options in the area?

Santa Clarita is a crossroads town. Looking at the infrastructure, it can be seen from the high voltage electrical grid that crosses the airspace of the valley, to the Santa Clara River and its watershed flowing through the base.

The city is crisscrossed with wide, fast moving roads that are actually highways owned by Caltrans, but governed by the City. Goods move by truck from the large interstate and state highways throughout the city and to points beyond. The city is also home to thousands of "super commuters” who drive long miles to work. Transportation options are key to keeping the city, and the valley, moving at a fast pace, and productive. To be frank, the city, in its modern form, was designed with the car in mind, but it still must function at human scale.

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There are a number of Metrolink stations in the Santa Clarita Valley where you can connect by bike.

As Santa Clarita continues to grow, the need for the network on the neighborhood scale is even more important. Every year, by informal parks planning counts, the number of people that are using their bikes increases. The Santa Clarita Transit system is also seeing increased service, and increased multi-modal rides. Transportation accessibility is key. Because of the size and type of geography that Santa Clarita has, it can be a challenging place to get around.

How would Measure M benefit the Santa Clarita Valley?

Measure M could bring a lot of superior changes to the Santa Clarita Valley, especially for walking and biking. As the third most populous city in the county, there are a lot of people who need to get up and go! With the $3M in local return funds estimated for 2018, there are many important connectivity projects that could be completely funded and thus completed. Santa Clarita has an excellent non-motorized plan that has been slowly worked upon since its approval in 2008. The plan has many projects that the public has been calling for, many a long time coming from what we hear about at the bike coalition. The city has been excited to bring their planned projects to fruition, but it’s been the lack of dedicated and renewable funding that has keep the growth and development stunted. Having dedicated funding would allow our city to grow at the right rate, and provide the amenities that there is a big desire to provide.

Who would benefit from these improvements?

Everyone benefits from walk/bike projects! We build: we make jobs. We create access: more people walk and bike to work and school, alleviating motor traffic. We create safe spaces: people feel free to travel and explore, recreate, dine, and connect with others by bike. A more socially connected city means that people are happy, productive, and healthy. When the City of Santa Clarita leads in the Santa Clarita Valley, it positively influences the whole surrounding county area. We are looking forward to Class 1 connections to Castaic and onward to Ventura County, improvements to the highways reaching in and out of the city, and an overall plan where bikes feature as way for people to travel across the entire valley for both work and pleasure. If the plans come to fruition, Santa Clarita could become a city where bikes are a very common form of travel, and are seen as a normal mode of getting around.

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The Santa Clarita Valley an expanding network of Class I bike paths.

What do you wish to see for the Santa Clarita Valley in the coming years?

I am a big investor in potential, and as a person who was raised in what is now a Bicycle Friendly Community, I think that Santa Clarita has huge potential. What we need to work on starts with better connectivity and communication. Our city needs to complete connections to get people out more, and it needs to complete its trails signage program to tell them how to get there. It needs to work on corresponding with the community about signaling and flow problems that discourage people from riding. In coming years, I want to see a commitment from our school districts to get more kids on foot and on bikes to get them to school, because we have a massive one car-one kid culture that causes gridlock, and lot of civic unhappiness. 

I think that if our city’s non-motorized plan goes forward in strides that we will see conversion of our waterway service roads into paths, and that we will squeeze usefulness out of every drop of asphalt. Overall, I have always said that Santa Clarita has a ”Field of Dreams” problem: they built it and now we are coming, in droves, to use it. Hopefully with funding from Measure M, we can make it better for all of us to use as we come.

Learn more about Measure M and pledge to vote yes on M this November 8th at la-bike.org/MeasureM.

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