City hopes flashing sign slows speeders

The VCalm sign is solared powered. Steven Genson / TMT

The high-tech devices flash, showing a driver’s speed and urging them to slow down. A total of six will be installed throughout Malibu on PCH.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

The city of Malibu recently purchased and installed a solar-powered, traffic-slowing device called VCalm, or Vehicle Calming Sign, for Pacific Coast Highway. This device and the six more to come were purchased in an effort to slow speeders on Pacific Coast Highway and throughout Malibu by reminding drivers to adhere to speed limits in a residential area.

“I don’t think people even realize PCH is a residential street when driving through sections of Malibu, and this causes one of the most serious problems in traffic speed and safety,” said Lt. Gloria Gressman of the Malibu Lost Hills Station.

Richard Calvin, maintenance manager of the Public Works Department, placed the order for the devices, which look like regular speed signs, except they flash speed limits and urge drivers to slow down, with money allotted from a Caltrans transportation proposition fund. The one VCalm sign installed in Malibu is located near the intersection of PCH and Topanga Canyon Road. Six more are planned for installation throughout the extent of Malibu on PCH.

Sales Representative Nathan Boyden at Fortel, the California-based company that makes the VCalm devices, said the VCalm is useful for any area, but specifically pedestrian crossings, since survival rates dramatically decrease in proportion to increasing speeds. Boyden said that the survival rate of a pedestrian drops from 90 percent to 50 percent when speed is increased from 25 mph to 35 mph. Higher speeds as seen by drivers on PCH make chances even worse.

The VCalm is a solar-powered sign that can be seen up to more than 1,000 feet away. It comes equipped with a 16-inch lower digit display and nine operational modes, each with a programmed combination of settings. The VCalm can display a static setting showing the speed limit at a particular section of a road. It can also show your speed, as well as display a “Slow Down” message when a vehicle exceeds a programmed limit. The VCalm comes with custom software, which allows a sign to store up to 100,000 counts of vehicle speeds per day for 30 days. This information is helpful to the city in collecting data of PCH’s traffic speeds.

Carol Randall of the Public Works Commission said of the device’s effectiveness, “We’re just going watch them and find out how accurate they are. I do think drivers slow down when they see them. It’s a reminder that people are going too fast.” Randall said she has worked for some time to slow down drivers entering Malibu who fail to forget they’re driving through a residential area. Randall’s son-in-law was killed in October 2002 when he was struck by a speeding driver, while hosing off a driveway on PCH.

Gressman said the VCalm device was chosen over other alternatives because “we’re just getting more and more traffic, and the VCalm is a fairly inexpensive way to help stop the speeding.”

She added that the local sheriff’s station also uses a decoy vehicle, which seems to help since people automatically slow down when they see the car. They also have switched to a motorcycle officer on PCH, which has been effective in increasing the number of tickets issued.

Although no speeding reports have come in yet from the VCalm devices, the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and the California Highway Patrol have compiled their own safety statistics for Malibu roads.

Detective Richard Curry of the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said there have been 289 collisions, 111 DUI arrests, and no fatalities on PCH in 2004. “Collisions have been creeping up every year, probably because traffic volumes have been increasing,” Curry said. The detective noted, however, that property collisions were increasing while the number of injury collisions decreased.

CHP Officer Brooke Covington, who patrols Malibu Canyon, said there have been 10 traffic collisions, resulting in 13 injuries and one fatality in 2004. On Mulholland Highway between PCH and April Lane, there were seven traffic collisions resulting in six injuries and no fatalities. VCalm radar devices have been placed in both areas.

While both Randall and Gressman noted that devices like these might only cause a temporary decrease in a driver’s speed, they hope the VCalm systems placed throughout Malibu’s roadways will continually alert drivers to the speed limit.