Poppies cause traffic nightmare

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The Super Bloom is back and better than ever. This year, California’s wildflower Super Bloom can be seen from space. This natural wonder has throngs of visitors from all around the world flocking to Lake Elsinore to see the poppy fields in Walker Canyon, causing chaos with crowds and excessive traffic throughout the region.

Drivers encountered hours-long backup leading into Lake Elsinore and hundreds of vehicles parked on the shoulder of the freeway, creating a bit of a traffic nightmare for drivers traveling on the 15 Freeway between Murrieta and Corona.

Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos said the city could have never anticipated the crowds, “Tens of thousands of visitors have poured into our city, wanting to take part in what could be a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.

Lake Elsinore is an old, historic community and its current infrastructure was not designed to handle this amount of tourist traffic. City streets turned into virtual parking lots and a city employee who was directing traffic was clipped by a hit-and-run driver.

“This has been a crisis never experienced before, unlike anything we have faced in Lake Elsinore,” said Lake Elsinore Police Chief Michael Lujan in a press conference. “As the crowds have increased, so have the needs for the public safety risk associated with the Super Bloom.”

Citing a public safety crisis, the city temporarily banned tourists from visiting the display. The city reopened the area just one day later but imposed viewing restrictions to handle the huge population of guests.

The City of Lake Elsinore, County of Riverside and Transportation and Public Safety personnel are working together to create a unified approach to addressing the Disneyland-like crowds and increasing challenges related to this year’s Super Bloom.

“The city has remained focused on putting our residents and public safety first. We have had our challenges. In some ways we have succeeded, in other ways, we have failed. But we are learning how to manage this situation, and one that we could have never predicted, and this will provide the blueprint for future generations to deal with similar events,” said Manos.

The Pechanga Tribal Council gifted Lake Elsinore a grant of up to $100,000 to support the city to better manage traffic control and public safety for the thousands of visitors flocking to the area to enjoy this unique attraction. The city plans to use the funds for additional resources including law enforcement, traffic control and public safety personnel.

For the past two weeks, crowds were still big but much more organized due to the city implementing its new plan that includes road closures, elevated law enforcement presence, limited access routes, stricter parking rules and weekend access to the area by shuttle service only.

According to Lake Elsinore’s spokeswoman Nicole Dailey, last weekend the shuttles carried more than 13,000 adults who paid $10 each for a round trip ticket, which improved the traffic flow and crowd control.

Although the traffic flow has improved, drivers can still expect traffic to come to a slow crawl when approaching Lake Elsinore and Walker Canyon as drivers slow down to catch sight of the epic display of wildflowers.

Commuters can expect the traffic nightmare to go away in a few weeks when the show-stopping sight of red, orange, yellow and purple wildflowers fades away.

A Super Bloom is a rare event that typically occurs every decade; however, this is the second Super Bloom southern California has seen in two years, the last being in 2017. Before 2017, there had not been a Super Bloom since 2008.

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