Unsafe at any speed

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Operation Safe Canyons, a joint effort between the CHP and county Sheriff's Department to discourage unsafe driving in the Malibu's canyon roads, had at least eight patrol cars on Kanan Dume Road on Sunday. Photo by Dave Lichten / TMT

Promised PCH projects take years to complete.

By Vicky Shere / Special to the Malibu Times

In highway safety as in the court system, the wheels of justice move slowly.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Malibu’s main road, Pacific Coast Highway, where macabre traffic statistics over the years have galvanized government officials and residents into action.

Research on a random sample of 11 promised highway safety projects showed that five were implemented after a period of at least two years. [See page A18.]

Success stories

Many completed projects and those close to fruition have been effected by the Pacific Coast Highway Task Force, a coalition of state and local government officials, and law enforcement agencies sharing responsibility for the highway.

Formed in 1998 by then Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl after three Malibu highway fatalities in four months, the group has improved communication between the different agencies and increased resources to the highway, Laurie Newman, state Sen. Kuehl’s staffer, writes in an e-mail.

The group’s success stories include annual California Office of Traffic Safety grants, which have been used for traffic safety education, “Please be Safe on PCH” signs, and “Operation Safe Canyons,” Newman writes.

Officials from the California Department of Transportation and veteran highway safety advocate Carol Randall say “Share the road” signs were installed on the highway last spring. This was in reaction to the death of two bicyclists who were hit by a catering truck on Pacific Coast Highway two years ago.

The PCH Task Force, created to bring people together to solve issues along the highway from Santa Monica to Ventura County, has also impacted traffic signal synchronization (a project that tied traffic signals to real-time traffic flow, reported this month in The Malibu Times) and various bicycle safety projects, Newman said.

Meanwhile, the city of Malibu and Caltrans have cooperated on installing vehicle calming signs, stabilizing the slope at Big Rock Drive, shifting the median and restriping the highway there to provide a four-foot buffer.

Operation Safe Canyons, a joint venture of the California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County’s Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station, was quite evident last weekend, when at least eight CHP units were stopping drivers for speeding on Kanan Dume Road.

The “multi-agency effort within unincorporated canyon areas north of the city ultimately results in a safer community for the city of Malibu,” Lt. Debra Glafkides, Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station liaison, wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Malibu, is allocating $90,000 every six months for the Sheriff’s costs, said Yaroslavsky’s senior field deputy Susan Nissman. State law dictates that the CHP is the lead law enforcement agency on unincorporated area roads.

The operation affects the “quality of life” of residents and 50 million visitors a year to area beaches and mountains, Nissman said.

Interagency cooperation is essential for PCH safety because, although the number of Sheriff units [cars] patrolling the city is dictated by its contract with the city, daily deployment of the units is flexible depending on its needs, Glafkides said.

For example, the units might be used by the Malibu Summer Enforcement Team, responsible for targeting roadways within Malibu and adjacent beaches.

Ongoing projects

Caltrans and the city are working to complete projects to stop illegal U-turns in the Zuma Beach area, a traffic signal at Corral Canyon, “Smart crosswalks,” portable accident message boards and increasing the length of the left turn pocket lane at Webb Way, according to city Public Safety Commission minutes.

Both the Zuma Beach U-turn and “Smart Crosswalk” projects have been around since 1999.

Although “candlestick” markers were installed last month between Morning View Drive and Guernsey Drive as a temporary fix until Caltrans can finalize funding to put in a raised median barrier, the interval between the markers reportedly does not deter the illegal U-turns.

Getting the permanent median might take two years, Caltrans spokesperson Judy Gish said.

Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich has asked city Manager Jim Thorsen to see whether the markers can be placed closer together.

“Smart crosswalks,” pedestrian-activated crosswalks with overhead cautionary lights and ground-level imbedded lighting that will illuminate the walk area when a pedestrian crosses the highway-initially funded in 1999 by federal legislation shepherded by Congressman Brad Sherman, whose district includes Malibu-is still in the “experimental” stage.

This month, Caltrans expects to issue a response to Malibu’s application to install a traffic signal at Corral Canyon and get authorization for a weekend traffic study to evaluate whether the pocket lane between westbound PCH and southbound Webb Way can be lengthened.

The Public Works Commission might suggest that the city purchase portable accident message boards, commission minutes say.