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Signaling for Slower Speed Limits

As expected, city officials formally opposed a Caltrans proposal to hike speeds on portions of Laguna Beach’s primary artery, Coast Highway.

In addition, Laguna’s City Council last week requested that the state agency evaluate the need for a painted crosswalk on the highway between Beverly Street and Cliff Drive in North Laguna.

In March, the city’s Parking Traffic and Circulation Committee was asked to investigate Caltrans’ suggested 5 mile-per-hour increases along six stretches, mostly in North Laguna: southbound from the northern city limits to Emerald Bay (to 50 from 45), from Emerald Bay to Wave Street (to 45 from 40), from Boat Canyon Drive to Aster Street (to 40 from 35), and from Hinkle Place to Catalina Avenue (to 45 from 40); and northbound from McKnight Drive to Irvine Cove (to 50 from 45), and from Irvine Cove to the northern city limits (to 55 from 50).

The proposal was based on a field survey and Coast Highway accident history. Caltrans sets speed limits at the nearest 5 mph to the speed traveled by 85 percent of drivers during ideal conditions. The agency fears legal liability if speed limits fall outside the prescribed formula, according to the city staff report.

The investigating committee, which heard from a dozen residents all opposed to any speed increases, recommended that the City Council contest Caltrans’ plan. Committee members pointed out that the speed limit formula allows exceptions for “conditions not readily apparent” to drivers, which include safety considerations such as business and pedestrian traffic as well as egress from gated communities and small side streets.

“We would like to go on record with strong opposition to any speed limit increases,” said Bob Van Gorder, a spokesman for the Emerald Bay Community Association, which for several years has pushed for a signal at the entrance to the gated community for various reasons, including safety.

Higher speed limits would decrease the response time of drivers on Coast Highway when confronted with just such “not readily apparent” conditions, such as the community’s six gated entrances, cyclists, public bus stops and the routine line-up of idling construction vehicles prior to 7:30 a.m.

Van Gorder, a retired former collision investigator for Laguna’s police force, said he could attest to the numerous speed-related injuries on Coast Highway near Emerald Bay, the area most affected by the proposed hikes.

While Caltrans must consider public hearings and feedback, the agency has the final say on the issue.

Separately, the City Council considered the Parking Traffic and Circulation Committee’s request that Caltrans install a crosswalk with warning lights on North Coast Highway at Chiquita Street.

Loraine Fiore, owner of Once & Again, a furniture boutique at 1200 N. Coast Highway at the corner of Chiquita, submitted the original request. At last week’s council meeting, Fiore said that since moving in last June she’s observed pedestrians taking risks dashing inland across the highway towards her store.

Thirty-six people supported the Chiquita crosswalk, while three opposed it, for fear it might encourage day-trippers to park for free on the inland side of the highway in their neighborhood.

Though a signal halts traffic less than two blocks away, “people don’t use it, and it really concerns me,” said Fiore, who’s been keeping track of the pedestrian traffic at her corner, which boasts three home stores.

Public Works Director Steve May attested to the fact that no crosswalks exist along the 1500-foot stretch of Coast Highway between Boat Canyon and Cliff Drive. But rather than asking Caltrans to install a crosswalk at a specific location, he suggested that the city can avoid liability for any future accidents by instead requesting that Caltrans evaluate the potential need for a crosswalk between Beverly Street and Cliff Drive along North Coast Highway. He said Caltrans is responsible for determining safety measures on the highway and they should make their own determination. The Council agreed.

 

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