Guest Editorial: Simple Measures to Reduce Dangers on PCH

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Letter to the Editor

On Feb. 7, a driver was killed near Malibu Seafood, after her car was hit and knocked into oncoming traffic. Three days later on Feb. 10, there was a multicar collision on PCH at Big Rock Drive during rush hour, caused by a motorcycle making an illegal u-turn. One of the cars hit went spinning into the intersection. With the grace of God, fatalities were avoided. This week, March 10, at 5:40 am, a 21-year old pedestrian was killed when she got out of her car to stretch near Ramirez Canyon Road. The next day, March 11, a motorcyclist went down on PCH near Pepperdine University. Serious traffic accidents and traffic fatalities on PCH are a far-too-frequent fact of life in Malibu.

Considering the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, it is amazing that the following, relatively simple measures, have not been taken years ago. They would be a blessing to drivers and pedestrians alike:

1.Highway Dividers: “Jersey barriers,” the low (32-34” high) concrete barriers have been incredibly effective in stopping head-on collisions ever since they were introduced in the 1950s. Yet, they are low enough that they would not prevent drivers or pedestrians from seeing the ocean views.  So simple, so effective. So where are they? There could be plenty of breaks in the dividers to enable pedestrians (as well as animals) to cross. And, paint them white or sand color to improve aesthetics if desired.

2.Pedestrian Traffic Lights: Pedestrian traffic lights (not cross walks) would only turn red when a button is pushed by a pedestrian, thereby minimizing traffic disruption. These would provide greater certainty and safety for drivers as well as pedestrians. Even an alert, cautious driver can’t always see and avoid pedestrians who foolishly dart out in front of cars, or stand in the middle of PCH. And most pedestrians would welcome safe places to cross the highway. Jersey barriers, with pedestrian traffic lights at open crossing points, will provide that safety. (Simple pedestrian cross walks, even with blinking lights on the road, cannot be seen well enough in heavy, fast-moving traffic. They are dangerous in a setting like PCH.)

3.Proper Highway Lighting: Better lighting gives drivers and pedestrians extra time to see and avoid hazardous situations on the road. Even a couple of extra seconds notice is often the difference between death and no accident at all. Today’s lighting technology can provide energy efficient, limited imprint lighting — lighting that illuminates only the road.  As it is now, pedestrians can cross all along PCH, but most of the highway is very dark from dusk to dawn. It’s amazing that more pedestrians are not killed near the many popular restaurants, bars and beaches. A burned-out streetlight was listed as a significant factor in the death of a woman crossing PCH near Moonshadows in 2013. Pedestrians often don’t realize that drivers can’t see them after sundown. I support the concept of dark skies in Malibu – and that is achieved for most of Malibu. However, we have to get real about PCH. How many deaths are we willing to allow – how many lives are an acceptable sacrifice in service of a rigid, misplaced “dark skies” policy on PCH? The 26 miles of PCH in Malibu is not wilderness. The lights from cars traveling all night long on PCH mean that PCH is already not a dark skies locale. Yet, car lights provide spotty lighting at best. If we are to get serious about reducing pedestrian fatalities, lights have to be part of the plan. If it’s OK to have lights for football games, it’s immoral not to have them to save lives.

4.Better and Wider Shoulders: Better and wider shoulders will give space for people to get out of their cars without interfering with the road, and will make PCH safer for cyclists.

5.Better Modernization and Synchronization of Lights: This is especially important in the event of a need for residents to evacuate, so that lights could be set to facilitate traffic needs.

PCH is a vitally important, heavily trafficked highway that cannot be converted to a limited access freeway at this point. So, we need to work within that constraint.  

Reducing speed limits on PCH will not solve the problem. The above measures will. The current speed limits are not unreasonable, given the nature of the road.  PCH is a highway people use to drive long distances for work and other needs. Most drivers on PCH observe the speed limits, and of course, when traffic is heavy, the flow of traffic is well below the limit – yet accidents still happen. Given the distances needed to travel, reducing speed limits will only result in more driver frustration and more tickets, not more safety.   

No measures on any highway will provide 100 percent safety, but the very do-able measures suggested above could vastly increase safety without creating an unworkable situation for the people who live, work and play in Malibu.