The most common complaint I hear from Santa Clarita residents is about traffic. It has become more of an issue since the repavement project on the 5 freeway started, but it definitely was an issue prior to then. We must first identify the exact issues and the constraints we have to operate with in order to provide a solution.
Problems and constraints
First up, our freeways. The 5 and 14 freeways come to a complete standstill any time there is even a minor fender bender. This causes a cascading effect, with the overflow traffic taking to our streets in search of alternate routes, only to be stymied by the freeways yet again. It’s not uncommon to look at your favorite map app, and see gridlock through the entire Santa Clarita valley.
Second, our city traffic control center. On the third floor of city hall, we have a room with 4 monitors, three big screen TVs, and two computers. This impressive setup offers a city-wide view of our current traffic conditions. The system is able to handle unusual traffic flows autonomously, based on sensor data from the signals and traffic cameras. However, only a handful of the signals are tied into the system currently, with a few more being upgraded in the coming year. As it’s currently used, the signals follow a set schedule based on anticipated flow of traffic at different times of the day.
Third, our topography and city layout. A city our size is fairly uniquely situated among a diverse area of hills, bisected with an occasionally-flowing river. This makes roads a challenge; other cities that are similarly sized often end up as a grid. Whenever one road becomes congested, commuters can take the next road over to circumvent it. If it becomes a chronic problem, the road can be widened. One of the more congested stretches of road in Santa Clarita – Soledad between Camp Plenty and Sierra Highway – is in one of the worst positions in town. There are few alternatives to the stretch, without going too far out of your way. Additionally, it cannot be easily widened any further since there are buildings directly adjacent to the roads and sidewalks.
Unfortunately for us, the freeways are outside of local control. We barely have influence with Caltrans, which means resolving issues with the freeways a challenge. In a perfect world, the solution to a congestion problem would be to increase available bandwidth by adding lanes. Outside of that, our only hope is to improve throughput by increasing flow or decreasing the amount of vehicles. In short, mass transit is likely the only short-term solution for our freeway traffic woes. We should take this option seriously and explore options for increasing availability and easily accessed mass transit options. I believe we can take some lessons from Uber/Lyft, and apply them to our commuter bus system. Enter your starting location and destination, along with your schedule and the system could automatically route you and other passengers onto the most efficient route with the least amount of variability in time and closest pickup location.
Our traffic lights should all be connected to our traffic control system, it should have full automation to control flow dynamically. Ideally, we would also have the room staffed full time to deal with emergencies and abnormalities in traffic flow. For example, we have had several unfortunate instances of medical emergencies occur where every minute counts. In response, the Sheriffs escort the ambulance and paramedics through town: blocking intersections and clearing roads. If our system were utilized to its full potential, the traffic control manager on duty would be able to clear roads and stop traffic along a predetermined route. This change could be life saving; in a scenario where every minute and second counts, a resident of Canyon Country experiencing a stroke could get to Henry Mayo much sooner.
Finally, what makes Santa Clarita beautiful and unique – our hills and valley – offer a trade-off when it comes to infrastructure. We cannot easily build new roads to ease congestion, so we must make every road as efficient as possible. We’ve long planned additional access through the Whittaker-Bermite property in the center of town, but those roads are long-term solutions. In the meantime, we have some short-term options available to us. Hopefully, we can start exploring them and reducing the biggest complaint in Santa Clarita.
Brett Haddock is a Santa Clarita resident.