James Farley: Another look at reclaiming SCV street safety

In her recent commentary Diane Trautman declares it is time to “reclaim” safety on our streets (“Let’s reclaim safety on our streets,” Aug. 26 in The Signal). I could not agree more that we need safer streets.

But Trautman’s proposed solutions are doomed to failure because they don’t address the causes of fatal accidents occurring in Santa Clarita – especially pedestrian fatalities.

She starts the article with the tragic death of Wyatt Savaikie, killed while a pedestrian at the intersection of Bouquet and Seco canyon roads. My heart goes out to Wyatt’s family. I personally know the pain of losing a close relative to a traffic accident.

But Diane commits a logical fallacy in tying the youth’s death to the removal of the red light camera during the prior months. This collision was caused by an elderly man who was completely unaware of his surroundings or the presence of the red traffic signal. If he didn’t realize the light was red, the presence of enforcement cameras would certainly have made no difference.

Trautman is also misinformed as to why the cameras were removed, claiming it was due to financial concerns and public pressure. She also cites an erroneous claim that ticketing cameras resulted in “a 67 percent reduction in the average number of yearly collisions caused by red-light running.”

In fact, an independent study found that red-light-related collisions did decline slightly over the years with red-light cameras, but the change was not statistically significant at most red-light-camera intersections.

In addition, rear-end collisions increased by a similar amount, more than offsetting any potential safety benefit from decreased red-light-running collisions. Further, injury collisions increased as a percentage of all collisions at photo-enforced intersections.

The study also concluded that any reduction in red-light-running collisions could be accounted for by longer yellow signal times implemented in 2003 or decreased traffic volume during the Great Recession.

Contrary to Trautman’s claims, the available data does not support the conclusion that automated enforcement was “a successful safety program.”

Vision Zero

In her Aug. 25 column the former Santa Clarita planning commissioner then touts Vision Zero as the organization/strategy we should use to improve safety on our streets. It would be a travesty for our city to adopt this approach. Vision Zero’s stated aim is to eliminate all traffic deaths by some date in the future.

But the actual goal of its promoters is to force people from their personal automobiles into alternate transportation by making driving a car as unpleasant and inefficient as possible. The reality is that due to our region’s topography and land development patterns, for most trips driving a car is the only reasonable option.

In the city of Los Angeles is a perfect example of the Vision Zero policy gone awry. L.A. was compelled by its Vision Zero program to close two lanes of the four-lane roadway Vista Del Mar in Playa Del Ray.

The “road diet” was an attempt to punish car drivers by taking away travel lanes and replacing them with bike lanes. It was folly to expect those commuting to the West side of L.A., downtown or elsewhere to ride their bikes or spend hours taking the bus.

As a result of the policy decision to take away two lanes of Vista Del Mar, traffic backed up for miles, causing drivers to find alternate routes on previously quiet neighborhood streets. Traffic accidents increased, local residents rebelled and the two lanes that were removed are being been reinstated.

The councilman responsible for implementing the road diet is now facing a recall effort. Do we really want this kind of approach in the city of Santa Clarita? I think not.

Speed limits

Those promoting Vision Zero would also like to artificially lower speed limits in the interest of pedestrian safety. This approach is based on the false belief that drivers always go 10 mph faster than the speed limit.

But studies show changing speed limits has virtually no effect on the actual speeds of drivers. Rather, speeds are determined by the way the roadway is engineered, not some arbitrary number posted on a sign.

State law mandates that speed limits be set at or near the speed that 85 percent of drivers don’t exceed. Studies have shown that this is the speed that results in the fewest number of accidents, as it reduces the speed differential between vehicles.

Arbitrarily reducing the speed limit would simply make violators out of a greater number of otherwise law-abiding drivers and make our roadways less safe.

I reviewed the accident data for Santa Clarita for all years between 2001 and 2016. What I found was that of a total 30 pedestrian fatalities, 22 – nearly 75 percent – were caused by the pedestrian acting in an unsafe manner and violating the law.

Only two were the result of a driver running a red light, and both clearly occurred because the driver was distracted in some way and didn’t see the red light. Interestingly, not one pedestrian fatality was caused by speeding.

Trautman and I would likely agree that any death of a pedestrian or motorist is tragic, and we should use reasonable means to try to prevent them. That is best accomplished by improving the engineering of our streets and traffic control devices, educating the public about how to keep themselves and others safe on our roadways, and using our local law enforcement to uphold our traffic laws.

We don’t need to go to the craziness that Vision Zero would impose on us. And we certainly don’t need red light or speeding camera enforcement brought back to our valley.

We’ve tried that. Now it’s time to try solutions that will actually work. I trust our elected officials, city and county traffic departments and law enforcement to take this into account as our discussion of safer streets moves forward.

James Farley is a Valencia resident.

 

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