There was a time when increasing traffic was just an annoying part of Santa Clarita life, but as the Valley’s population and housing density has increased, traffic congestion is becoming a health hazard as well as a safety issue. Two weeks ago, I wrote about how an absence of traffic congestion helped save my wife’s life. While no one wants to call 911 or take a red-lights-and-siren e-ticket ambulance ride to the hospital, it is a sad fact, the day of the week and time of the day your emergency takes place, may determine your survivability. Our situation occurred in the late evening, between 10 and 11 o’clock at night. The first responders had a traffic-free ride to our house and the time to get to the hospital was not lengthened by traffic getting in the way. Should the same situation have occurred on a weekday during morning rush hour, the extra time might have created a very different result.
We were reminded how lucky we were again this past Friday. I was driving my wife to her medical appointment at Henry Mayo for an important test. We had left early providing plenty of time to get there. Our vehicle was going west on Soledad and had traveled almost to Cinema Drive, when traffic just stopped. Looking ahead we could see a line of traffic as far as the eye could behold. Not knowing how long the traffic would remain stationary and not wanting to miss our appointment, we turned left on Cinema Drive, then right on Railroad Ave., right on Lyons Ave., and right on Old Orchard, finally entering the Henry Mayo Complex straight ahead. We still have no idea what caused the traffic bottleneck or how long it lasted, but without an alternate route, there is a good chance we would have missed the scheduled test time, and possibly had to schedule another appointment. Now, this was not an emergency and fortunately we knew of an alternate route, but if an ambulance on a Code 3 call would have gotten stuck in this mess, it may not have gone so well for the patient inside.
I remember in 2009 when the City of Santa Clarita decided to restripe Decoro Drive. In doing so, they took away a lane of traffic and made it a bicycle lane. This action was supposedly accomplished in response to a section of the Non-Motorized Master Plan, passed in June of 2008 by a 5-0 city council vote. Because this street is very well used in transporting children to and from school, subsequent council meetings were filled with angry parents, which resulted in the street being returned to its previous configuration in short order. Yet, I also remember some individuals saying this may be the start of “road- or traffic-dieting” in Santa Clarita. Believe it or not, there are some officials who think they can make the public safer by reducing the number of driving lanes on our streets to make room for bicycle lanes. Their plan is to slow traffic by increasing congestion.
In theory, I suppose this is true. But all you need to do is ask the parents of children who reside east of Sand Canyon on Soledad how fast traffic flows during their morning trip to school, and how much earlier they had to leave to account for traffic congestion. While road-dieting slows traffic to a crawl and supposedly reduces accidents, it raises drivers’ heart rates, blood pressure, and puts them in a very nasty mood. Plus, it may create a negative outcome if a first responder or ambulance team needs to get to the scene of a tragedy and transport the sick or injured to a trauma center across town. They must have a clear and open roadway to be effective.
In the real world, I call the city’s Non-Motorized Master Plan an immature, not well-thought-out effort. While bicycling represents a very good recreational activity, it is used by far less than one percent of our residents to take their children to school, shop, or go to, and from, work. Considering Santa Clarita’s master plan (One Valley One Vision) provides for almost doubling the SCV population, at the same time the California State Legislature is enacting new laws requiring an increase in housing density and reduced parking requirements; what is our City Council leadership thinking? The few remaining planned new roads are still waiting for developer funding to be built, and when developers fund new roads they never seem to relieve existing traffic loads, because the roads are built to handle the traffic created by the builder’s new project. So, if city staff does not start taking remedial action to account for all the new traffic to be created by planned new development, Santa Clarita will end up in gridlock.
Yet, this past week, right here in the Gazette, was an article titled “Scheduled Road Improvements to Include Enhanced Striping and added Bicycle Lanes.” The information provided revealed Plum Canyon Road and Smyth Drive will be reconfigured to include a bicycle lane in both directions, where an additional traffic lane could be, or was available. The article also indicates parking on the north side of Smyth Drive will not be impacted, but it fails to inform us about the south side. So, why are they doing it? It’s because “recent traffic studies indicate that the addition of bike lanes on these stretches of road will not impact traffic circulation.” What about the increase in Plum Canyon traffic as the remaining new homes and Skyline Ranch become fully occupied? Is there a trigger level where the traffic lanes will be restored? I’ll bet not. Plus, I was under the impression City Hall had committed not to implement road-dieting, but it seems like we are witnessing the plan quietly change unless, of course, the public rises up and puts a stop to it once again.
In the meantime, Santa Clarita continues to spend money on facilities such as bicycle lanes, which get very limited use and make excuses when automotive traffic congestion becomes a problem. I’d like to see some creative thinking instead. How about implementing a method which provides the best for both uses? We could set up a system where the space is used for recreational bicycle use on the weekend and as a lane to accommodate automotive traffic during the week.
Well, there was no byline on the Gazette article, but it was stated more information could be obtained by contacting Tom Reilly, the “Trails and Bikeways Planning Administrator” at City Hall. I think I’ll give Tom a call also and ask him what the projected bicycle traffic number is on those bicycle lanes. Maybe I can find out who the City of Santa Clarita “Automobile Roadway Planning Administrator” is.