One thousand collisions, 376 injuries and nine fatalities in three years: the numbers don’t lie, Malibu’s stretch of Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the region. Now, after a safety study that began in 2012 has been published, the roadway is finally due for its first major overhaul in a generation.
A joint meeting of the Public Safety Commission and Public Works Commission on last Thursday evening resulted in a speedy 8-0 vote approving a monumental 850-page PCH Safety Study, which has been in the works since 2012.
One commissioner, Carol Randall of the Public Safety Commission, abstained from voting. The approval included two small amendments.
The mammoth safety study includes data from every traffic collision in Malibu in the past three years, in addition to a list of 130 suggested improvements along the highway, from increased bike lanes to raised medians and flashing pedestrian walkways crossing the corridor.
“We found approximately one collision per day for the length of this study,” said Rock Miller, senior principal with Stantec, the company contracted to complete the safety study. “That seems like quite a few collisions.”
Some possible bright spots in the analysis are a relative rarity of pedestrian and bike-related accidents, with most incidents reported as rear-end collisions.
“Pedestrian collisions were much fewer in number [than rear-end collisions] and tended to involve pedestrians crossing PCH away from intersections or crosswalks,” the study states.
That is not to say that pedestrians are generally safe on PCH, though.
“Pedestrian collisions almost always result in injuries and pedestrians were involved in a majority of the fatal collisions,” the study goes on to say.
Despite the staggering number of collisions, the study points out that there is not any one hotspot for vehicle collisions that result in injuries.
“Collisions involving fatalities, pedestrians or bicycles do not tend to reveal concentrations,” the study states. Therefore, Stantec suggests more systematic and widespread improvements along PCH in Malibu that can prevent pedestrian-and-bicycle related accidents along the road.
The study’s 130 suggestions were organized by location as well as merit score (meaning the greatest combination of collision relief, community support and congestion relief) that it’s predicted the project will create.
The study at the top of the merit score list is signal coordination and timing between John Tyler Drive and Topanga Canyon Road, meant to create “reasonable gaps for cross streets and driveways,” with the possibility of including a “state-of-the-art adaptive timing system to develop optimized timing plans based upon real time traffic conditions.”
Other top suggestions on the merit-based list include a similar (but lower-tech) timing plan for Western Malibu (between Trancas Canyon Road and Paradise Cove Road) and the widening of the bridge between Las Flores Canyon Road and Rambla Pacifico Road.
Overall, many of the suggestions were for raised medians in the highway — such as a raised median at Moonshadows and another at Paradise Cove — as well as additional, well-marked bike lanes throughout the highway wherever there is no street parking allowed.
State-of-the-art, pedestrian-activated flashing lights at crosswalks in Eastern Malibu are also on the list, as is lane narrowing in Western Malibu to encourage vehicles to slow down.
The total estimated cost of suggested possible improvements adds up to $20.63 million.
As for how to pay for these improvements, Miller seemed confident the City would easily get funds from area agencies invested in safety along PCH.
“I don’t think you’ll find the recommendations we’ve made to be that difficult to fund,” Miller told Commissioners. “The regional agencies that dole out funds to the City generally are very receptive to safety and improvement … so I don’t think it’s going to be a real challenge.”
State Measure R funds were later discussed as a possible source of revenue for the extensive project.
Public Safety Commissioner Meril May asked representatives from the City how the approved projects will be implemented, presenting an optimistic timeline that some of the projects “can actually get done, cost effectively, in the next week.”
“What’s sort of the ranking and timeline for how these things can start being implemented?” May asked.
Public Works Director Bob Brager told May it could be a long process, including City Council approval, finding funding and bundling projects together. According to the study document, even the smallest improvements are estimated to take 12 to 24 months or more.
In the end, Commissioners voted unanimously to approve an amendment lengthening the left turn lane into Paradise Cove from PCH 500 additional feet.
With May’s suggestion to the joint Commissions that they “not let the perfect get in the way of the good,” the study was approved, though several Commissioners stated they did not feel they gave it as thorough a reading as it deserved.
City Council will now review the study and suggestions, likely at their June 23 meeting.