Speeding causes most PCH collisions, report states

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Highway traffic woes expected to increase this fall when the two-year-long construction of a $10 million sewer begins.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

The Pacific Coast Highway Taskforce met last week at Malibu City Hall to discuss the latest highway safety concerns and to strategize ways to best mitigate them.

Also discussed was construction of the $10 million Central Interceptor Relief Sewer, a two-year-long project expected to further congest traffic along the highway, beginning in the fall.

The PCH Taskforce, first convened several years ago by Senator Kuehl, has been reconvened to work specifically on safety issues relating to cyclists’ and pedestrians’ use of the highway. The meeting was hosted by the offices of Senator Fran Pavley and Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, and was attended by representatives of each. Also in attendance were representatives of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department, along with Malibu City Council members Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal, and various residents of Malibu, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.

The meeting opened with a law enforcement report that included various statistics about collisions along the highway from Jan. 1 to May 31 of this year. A total of 96 traffic collisions occurred in that time frame, 35 of which were caused by speeding, 15 by unsafe lane changes and nine by right-of-way violations. Eight of the total collisions were caused by vehicles following each other too closely, six were triggered by improper turning, five by violations of traffic signals and signs, and three by driving under the influence. Two of the collisions involved pedestrian violations, two by unsafe starting or backing, another two by driving on the wrong side of the road, and one by hazardous parking.

The causes of five of the collisions are unknown, while the remaining three were caused by hazardous parking or other movements.

Some meeting attendees were surprised by the report, which stated only two fatalities resulted from the 96 collisions. At least four people were killed in collisions along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu last April, including local teen Emily Rose Shane, whose parents also attended the meeting.

Sgt. Phil Brooks of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department explained that homicides were not included in the report.

Since speeding was the cause for most of the accidents, meeting attendees suggested the possibility of implementing double fine zones along the highway. Caltrans representatives, however, stated that speeding would be more effectively controlled by increasing law enforcement personnel. The benefit of double fine zones could not be concluded, they said, because those who could afford to pay the fine would speed anyway.

The City of Malibu recently went into deficit spending to pay for an additional CHP motorcycle to patrol the highway, but Councilmember Lou La Monte said the city is continuing its effort to entirely reinstate the CHP along the highway in addition to the Sheriff’s Department. The biggest obstacle in doing so is obtaining the funds, as the state has heavily limited its budget due to its financial crisis.

“The CHP needs to be here because Pacific Coast Highway is a very unique situation, and they are trained specifically to deal with specific traffic issues of this highway,” La Monte said during the meeting. “We’re trying to find some grant money and various ways to finance making this a safer place to be.”

Malibu resident Susan Saul, a co-founder of the local group A Safer Pacific Coast Highway, commented on the importance of educating the public about the rules of the road.

“Pacific Coast Highway is scary,” Saul said during the meeting. “When you send your kids out on that road, you just hope they’re going to come back.”

Saul and others suggested that newspapers and media outlets in Malibu’s neighboring cities, including the Los Angeles Times, help diffuse the message to slow down and drive safely on PCH.

“We’ve been trying to educate the people of Malibu,” Saul said during the meeting. “We want everyone who comes to anywhere on PCH to know you have to drive safely. We want surrounding areas to know that we’re taking this seriously. We need help from outside areas. If we can all work together and get the message out there, it will be much more effective.” More traffic congestion along Pacific Coast Highway is anticipated in the fall, when the Los Angeles Department of Public Works begins construction on the Central Interceptor Relief Sewer.

The purpose of the project is to divert urban runoff to the sanitary sewer system during year-round dry weather, preventing stormwater from discharging to Santa Monica Bay, except during rain.

The project is expected to be completed in fall 2012, and includes the construction of a 4,500-foot gravity relief sewer between Will Rogers State Beach and the City of Santa Monica near the Annenberg Community Beach House located at 415 Pacific Coast Highway. About 1,300 feet of the sewer will be built on PCH, and 1,400 feet in the parking lots for Will Rogers Beach and Santa Monica Beach Club.

Potential construction impacts include reduced southbound traffic lanes throughout the construction: two lanes open from 5 a.m. though 9 p.m., and one lane open from 9 p.m. through 5 a.m. No impacts are expected on the northbound side of the highway.

Other potential project impacts include noise and loss of beach parking. No bicyclists will be allowed within the construction zone along PCH but the bike path will remain open.

The project is funded by the Proposition O Clean Water Bond. In 2004, Los Angeles voters appropriated $500 million for stormwater pollution prevention projects.

More information about the CIRS project can be obtained online at www.lapropo.org or by calling 213.978.0333