Caltrans abandons plans for new crosswalk on PCH

A no pedestrian crossing sign is displayed on PCH between Malibu Seafood and Dan Blocker Beach. The sign forbids pedestrians to cross the street. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

Caltrans has abandoned a plan to install a crosswalk at a troubled section of Pacific Coast Highway. The recent announcement may be due to longstanding community blowback against the plan. 

The crosswalk in this case would have been a pedestrian hybrid beacon (PHB) like one currently located at PCH at La Costa Beach. A PHB is a traffic control device designed to help pedestrians safely cross higher-speed roadways at midblock crossings and uncontrolled intersections. The beacon head consists of two red lenses above a single yellow lens.

When a pedestrian wants to cross the street, they push a button which activates the device. The lights will then flash yellow for a few seconds and then turn solid yellow. This is an indication to drivers that there’s a pedestrian waiting to cross. Drivers should reduce their speed and come to a stop. Pedestrians will still see a red hand symbolizing do not walk. Next, drivers will see the beacon lights turn solid red. This should be treated the same as any red light and drivers are required to stop. The pedestrian symbol will change to walk. At this point the pedestrian should make sure traffic is stopped and then safely enter the crosswalk. As the pedestrian crosses the street, the red lights will begin flashing. Motorists are still required to remain stopped, but they may proceed with caution once the crosswalk is clear. After a countdown, the pedestrian symbol will change back to do not walk. Drivers will see the beacon lights go dark. If all the lights are turned off drivers may proceed through the crosswalk if it is clear.

The PHB location would have been on PCH near Malibu Seafood, a stretch of busy highway that currently has no crosswalk or nearby intersection. The section of highway that slopes to near sea level where scores of beachgoers are seen illegally running across the highway, going either to or from the popular restaurant or the beach. 

Caltrans recognized it as a problem after a 2015 PCH safety corridor study the same year Caitlyn Jenner was involved in a fatal crash in the vicinity. Thirty-two accidents were reported at the site across from Corral Canyon Beach from 2004 to 2019. Two involved pedestrians. 

In 2019 when Caltrans met with Malibu residents about installing a sidewalk, they were met with opposition to the PHB by a very small but vocal group. Caltrans then presented five options to address pedestrian safety: The agency could install a pedestrian traffic signal, construct an overcrossing, an undercrossing, a PHB or do nothing at all. The Malibu Public Safety Commission acknowledged the problem but unanimously opposed the crosswalk idea in favor of building an undercrossing at an existing drainage culvert instead. Longtime residents claimed a signaled crosswalk would actually be more dangerous to pedestrians and drivers on their descent in either direction on PCH. They voiced concerns that speeding drivers would ignore traffic backups due to a red signal and cause even more accidents. 

The residents at the 2019 meeting were so passionate about constructing an undercrossing, some insisted they would shovel it out themselves with a “volunteer shovel brigade.” Supporters of the undercrossing also noted that they missed watching the seventh game of the World Series to attend the Caltrans meeting that night, all in the name of public safety. Caltrans officials insisted that the undercrossing idea was not viable due to a high-water table, possible flooding, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, utility relocation, and homeless encampment removals. Residents insisted they had never seen flooding in the proposed culvert.

Now that plans for the PHB are scraped, The Malibu Times asked Caltrans what will be done at the Corral Beach location. A spokesperson answered by email: “Our Traffic Operations Division is working with our Maintenance Division to expedite the installation of several ‘No Pedestrian Crossing’ signs at this location.”

When asked why the agency abandoned the PHB, TMT received the following response: “The contract was suspended in May of 2021 while Caltrans worked closely with the City of Malibu regarding the city’s concerns about the PHB and the city’s requirement for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP).” 

Since October 2021, Caltrans has communicated with the city to install interim measures and partner on alternatives for a future project. Caltrans has also been working with the city’s Planning Department and Public Works Department to obtain the CDP for the interim plan, but has not been able to secure the CDP. To avoid further expenses and to allow the contractor to move on to other work while these issues are addressed, it was deemed necessary to terminate the project.