There is no question that the existing Coast Highway traffic configuration at the Emerald Bay main gate is dangerous. The issue is whether it would be better or worse if a traffic signal were to be installed. I have three comments that I did not hear raised at the City Council meeting last week at which the topic was discussed.
- A traffic signal at the main entrance to Emerald Bay may make conditions more dangerous than they are now. Here’s why. As is, cars turning left from the main gate onto southbound Coast Highway dart across the northbound lanes into the relative safety of the center “refuge” or merge lane one car at a time. If a signal were to be installed, cars would stack at the signal waiting for a chance to enter the highway. While the traffic emerging from the main gate would be able to cross the northbound lanes more safely than without a signal, with a signal groups of perhaps five or 10 cars at a time will be squirting out and there will be pressure on the cars in the front of the pack to force their way into southbound traffic.
- Reference was made to signal configurations at Monarch Bay and Coast Highway and on Coast Highway at the north end of Santa Monica. The conditions at Emerald Bay are not the same and are intrinsically far more dangerous than either due to the curves and topographical changes in the highway from either direction. Curves or grade changes approaching any traffic signal are important considerations; the two in combination make that location a special challenge. Monarch Bay, while still a tricky condition, has the advantage of a wide highway with good sightlines. The condition in Santa Monica has a slight curve but there is no grade change. I lived for a number of years in Pacific Palisades and commuted over that route daily. Turning from Chautauqua onto southbound Coast Highway at that location is one of the more hair-raising driving maneuvers I have made in my life. I was constantly amazed that anyone in their right mind allowed that condition to exist. In an effort to prevent traffic merging onto the southbound highway from running head-on into oncoming northbound Coast Highway traffic or colliding with southbound traffic, engineers experimented over the years adding and subtracting concrete barriers. Driving between the barriers felt like careening down a concrete lined chute until you popped out at the end suddenly forced to merge right with speeding traffic. Before proceeding with further planning for the signal in question, I suggest it would be worth a trip to Santa Monica for staff and signal advocates to do a trial run to experience the thrill of running the chute. The survivors of that field trip might come away with the inspiration to come up with a better solution.
- One possible solution that I have not heard discussed is to enlarge and improve the existing Emerald Bay tunnel under Coast Highway and prohibit all left turns from Coast Highway into or out of Emerald Bay with or without a signal. Having all Emerald Bay traffic limited to right turns only would seem to result in far safer conditions than exist today, and Emerald Bay already has a tunnel under the highway that makes this possible. The tunnel is only about 100 feet long and readily accessible by the equipment that would be needed to make the required improvements. The technology exists to enlarge the tunnel so that traffic movements could be reasonably convenient, and surely far safer, for people in Emerald Bay as well as the people traveling on Coast Highway.
John Thomas, Laguna Beach.