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Gary Horton: Four feet and a curb from death

Posted: June 14, 2016 5:55 p.m.
Updated: June 15, 2016 2:00 a.m.
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Last week Tiana Savaikie wrote a column in The Signal urging city planners to reduce speed limits throughout our city. She told the story of how her own brother, Wyatt, was killed walking through a crosswalk at Bouquet and Seco canyon roads.

Tiana’s column was not only personally moving; she backed it with hard facts about pedestrian safety and traffic speeds. I somberly thank Tiana for her bravery in sharing her family’s tragic story.

I sadly add that The Signal has covered almost a dozen similar stories over the past year.

Ours is a city that’s grown beyond its optimal vehicular infrastructure capacity. It doesn’t take too much time on the roads for frustration to mount over the unbelievably bad traffic we can experience — on too many roads that are far too inadequate for too many cars traveling far too fast.

Toss in a large quantity of 16- to 25-year-olds far too quick on the accelerator pedal and ... well, you can hear the ambulance sirens fairly regularly day and night.

We may have been master-planned, but we weren’t masterfully planned for this many cars.

Tiana wrote of problems on Bouquet and Newhall Ranch roads. You’ll also read of far too many traffic deaths along Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road.

I remain extremely concerned about McBean Superhighway (formally Parkway) — especially from the mall south to Interstate 5.

Formerly, McBean south of Valencia Boulevard was two lanes of traffic per side. A few years back it was re-striped to three lanes each way.

On the west side, full-speed traffic now flies by a mere four feet from the sidewalk, separating life from death by only an 8-inch curb.

The posted speed on McBean in this area is 45 mph. Everyone driving it knows that’s a local joke, with speeds often in excess of 55 mph, and even 60. Just the other day I checked during evening traffic and clocked 57 mph.

How safe would you feel walking along the right shoulder of the I-5 with cars and trucks flying by at 55 and 60 mph? How safe would you feel as these three- and five- and 20-ton vehicles blew by you as you walked along the freeway, separated only by 3 or 3 or 4 or 5 feet from eminent sudden death?

Should any one driver swerve, text, doze or drive drunk, you’re likely heading to the Promised Land far sooner than you’d ever hoped.

Yet this imaginary insanity is exactly what city planners have forced upon SCV residents adjacent to McBean. As developments northward increased traffic volume, McBean Parkway was “repurposed” from a garden-like parkway to essentially a surface-level freeway funneling a bulging population to and from the interstate and points of interest between.

The sidewalk along the west side has zero separation from the oncoming traffic lanes. Cars and trucks fly by at 50 and 60 mph, with only 3 or 4 feet of room for driver error between steel killing machines and unprotected pedestrians.

This is insanity. Anyone walking, jogging, pushing a stroller or riding a bike truly takes life in hand walking along McBean.

And as for bicycles traveling on McBean — forget it! Bikers can’t survive with 2 or 3 feet between 50 mph traffic.

Our planners gambled when they expanded McBean to highway status without realigning the sidewalk. Today, McBean south of the mall remains a very tragic accident waiting to happen. It’s only a matter of time.

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions — some that Tiana Savaikie correctly suggests.

Easiest is to immediately lower the speed limit on McBean to 35 mph. It’s posted 45 but is usually exceeded by varying speeds. Lower the speed through this section to 35 and enforce it.

Lower speeds mean increased driver control and better car-to-car coordination. Lower speeds also mean safer crosswalks, and the crosswalks in this area are heavily used with Granary Square and the mall nearby.

The best solution is to eliminate the far right lanes on both sides. SCV lived with a four-lane McBean for many years with no problems. Eliminate the lane and let traffic flow to the wider nearby streets.

Not long ago our two-lane-each-side Rockwell Canyon Road was reduced to one lane with a bike lane each side — and still all the traffic eventually gets in and out of COC.

Finally, should lane elimination be ruled untenable, the city must bite the bullet and realign the western sidewalk away from the roadway with planters and balustrades.

Yes, deals must be cut with local property owners, and property lines and walls might require relocating to get the job done.

Had McBean been planned as a 55 mph highway from the start, these sidewalks would have been pushed far from traffic to protect our high pedestrian use.

As Tiana indicated, action must be taken citywide to protect our pedestrians. Speed limits must be reduced immediately in vulnerable areas.

And for the sake of the kid on a bike who accidently spins off the sidewalk into an oncoming car, or for the jogger who trips into a barreling truck — fix McBean’s frighteningly vulnerable sidewalks.

This must be a city planning priority, and I call the city out for action right now.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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