Feds fund traffic safety improvements for PCH

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Crossing Pacific Coast Highway on foot mid-Malibu is treacherous enough. Imagine the responsibility of leading the way for your congressman, three councilmembers, Malibu activists and assorted Caltrans representatives.

Longtime Malibuite Walter Young, partially sighted and walking with a white cane, shepherded that group across PCH and back. Each time, drivers sped through the crosswalk within feet of the pedestrians. The sheriff’s deputies in attendance at the event, out of their patrol cars and standing in the parking lot, could only shake their heads.

Rep. Brad Sherman needed no better advertising for his proposal. The U.S. congressman came to town last Thursday to announce safety improvements along PCH (see sidebar). While several attending the presentation questioned the means and timeline, everyone agreed the cause was a matter of life and death.

Sheriff’s Capt. Bill McSweeney best summarized the purpose of the improvements: “For decades, the community has accepted living with four to five deaths a year. It’s unacceptable, and we’re sickened by it.”

The deaths of young Sabrina Csato and two Pepperdine Students, Kimberly Ellis and Jeannine Gregory, who were killed on PCH, focused renewed attention on the highway’s safety.

Standing in the parking lot of Colony House Liquors, Sherman announced and explained proposed safety improvements to be federally funded and implemented within a year.

The $650,000 in federal funds derive from the 1998 Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century. Of these funds, approximately 90 percent comes from excise taxes on motor fuels, with the remainder coming from sales taxes on tires, trucks, buses and trailers, as well as truck usage taxes.

Of California’s share of the funds, 95 percent is handed directly to Caltrans, less than 5 percent goes to federal demonstration projects.

For Malibu, that demonstration project is the installation of three Smart Crosswalks, which, according to Sherman’s office, are “pedestrian-activated crosswalks with overhead cautionary lights and ground-level imbedded lighting that will illuminate the walk area when a pedestrian crosses the highway.”

Caltrans representatives indicated these walkways are new to California, probably new to the United States. The system was developed in New Zealand and has been installed in London, England. According to Caltrans engineer Sameer Haddadeen, Caltrans “will install, then monitor, the effectiveness of the device.”

Other funds are destined for Malibu’s proposed Traffic Information Emergency Radio System. While Caltrans plans broadcasts of traffic conditions, the city plans to broadcast weather conditions to beachgoers coming from the Valley, in hopes of reducing U-turns made by disappointed sun worshippers. While Sherman stated there were no priorities among the proposed projects, Malibu Councilman Tom Hasse insisted the radio system is, according to the current city budget, the city’s top priority among those projects.

Sensors embedded in PCH asphalt, which are losing their sensitivity, will be replaced by cameras. “It’s not surprising they break down with cars and trucks traveling over them,” said Sherman.

With the funds thusly spent, “That leaves half the money awaiting that left-turn and U-turn study,” said Sherman. The study may consider widening, striping and lighting issues.

Mayor Walt Keller said he hopes to see the return of a raised median or even K-rails dividing PCH along the stretch from Zuma Beach to Trancas. “Rumble strips are not good enough to stop people making turns looking for parking,” he said.

Frank Quon, Caltrans District 7 division chief of operations, called the projects “ambitious,” but suggested that the real improvements come from drivers. “We’d like to ask everyone who uses this highway to keep safety foremost in their minds.”