Forum addresses PCH traffic issues

Traffic has been backed up on Pacific Coast Highway for as long as 90 minutes during peak hours. Photo by: Photos by Hans Laetz/TMT

A Caltrans official says the highway already has more cars traveling on it than it can handle, and the traffic will increase by as much as 30 percent by 2020. The mayor pro tem of Calabasas says “we must declare a war on traffic.”

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

The topic for this month’s Malibu Coastal Vision forum turned out to be a timely one. The title “Is PCH Driving You Crazy?” addressed not only the issue of traffic problems on Pacific Coast Highway but also possible remedies to solve them.

Sameer Haddadeen, a senior engineer from the California Department of Transportation, said a major problem is that there are more cars traveling on Pacific Coast Highway than the road can handle, adding that the amount will increase by as much as 30 percent by the year 2020. He said this is because for many people, the highway is a connector route from Los Angeles to Ventura County. Drivers are trying to avoid the busy 101 and 405 Freeways, so they use Pacific Coast Highway as an alternative.

But as Haddadeen explained, a solution for the traffic problems on Pacific Coast Highway is not as easy as it might be for other highways. This is because the road cannot be expanded due to the highway’s unique situation of being a road with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other.

“So what we need to do is, we need to think out of the box,” Haddadeen said. “We need to reduce demand for PCH.”

One way to do that, Haddadeen said, would be to expand the 101 Freeway. He said the freeway should be expanded by one lane in the south direction and another in the north direction from the Topanga Canyon Boulevard exit to the Ventura County line. Haddadeen said a further idea would be to make those lanes high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes. These are lanes restricted to those traveling with at least two people in the car.

“Once you do that, you’re encouraging carpooling,” said Haddadeen, who said an important thing that must be done is to reduce the number of cars on the roads, with encouraging carpooling being a major way to do that.

Haddadeen said other ways to reduce the number of cars on the roads is to establish relationships with the business community to encourage concepts like carpooling and having people work from home through telecommunication rather than driving to work every day.

Calabasas Mayor Pro Tem Barry Groveman, the other speaker at the forum, also talked about a need to encourage businesses to adopt policies that could reduce traffic. Groveman, who has filed to run for the 41st Assembly District seat that will be vacated by Fran Pavley in 2006, said other ideas include encouraging teachers to come to work 30 minutes earlier.

“I think we need to declare war on a road like this [PCH],” Groveman said. “We need to declare war on traffic.”

Groveman spoke about a series of ideas to deal with traffic, although he cautioned that none of them should be considered solid proposals. He said at this point all ideas should be considered.

In one moment of drama, a person in attendance questioned why a policy could not be adopted for Pacific Coast Highway that other cities use in which one northbound lane is turned into a southbound lane and one southbound lane is turned into a northbound lane during certain times of the day, so that there are more lanes open in the direction where more cars are traveling. Haddadeen said the issue had already been studied, but was determined to be unfeasible. This turned into a minor argument in which Groveman insisted the idea should still be further studied.

Longtime Malibu resident David Kagon said the issues being discussed had not changed for several decades.

“We’re playing a lot of old records here, gentlemen,” Kagon said. “We have been talking about what’s going to happen… for almost 40 years and what’s got to be done.” Kagon said that something he would like to see done is the creation of signs that will communicate to people how long they should expect a drive to take. If a traveler is coming from the Valley and sees that it would be a lengthy drive to reach Pacific Coast Highway, he may choose not to travel there. Haddadeen said Caltrans did already have warning signs on the 101 that informed travelers about emergency traffic situations on Pacific Coast Highway.

Also during the forum, Haddadeen spoke about other ways Caltrans was looking into improving traffic flow. Among them was creating the ability to tweak malfunctioning traffic signals from a center station, rather than having to send somebody to the intersection to make the repair.