Like many other cities across Los Angeles County, Santa Clarita is a commuting community. From driving in and out of the valley for work to picking up the kids from school and dropping them off at little league, hundreds of thousands of vehicles use the roads on a daily basis.
Simply put, “we drive a lot,” said Cesar Romo, a city of Santa Clarita traffic signal system administrator.
Altogether, the Santa Clarita Valley is home to nearly 300,000 residents and is growing significantly faster than other regions in California, with the city as the third-largest in the county, according to the SCV Economic Development Corporation.
A quick dive into Santa Clarita’s top five busiest intersections shows an average of about 438,000 vehicles passes through those roads every day, based on 2019 data from the city’s traffic operations center. That’s more than having every single resident drive through every day, one person per car.
“Over the course of four years, the average volume for these intersections have increased 6% or 1.5% per year,” said Mark Hunter, a city transportation planning analyst.
Newhall Ranch and Bouquet Canyon Road
Challenging freeway totals in other parts of the nation is the Newhall Ranch Road and Bouquet Canyon Road intersection as the busiest in Santa Clarita. This area of the city sees about 105,000 cars travel daily.
Two of the top five intersections cross Newhall Ranch Road, marking it one of the busiest city roads and access to freeways has a lot to do with its high volumes.
“(These are) all major arterials in the city,” said Hunter. “For example, Newhall Ranch Road connects between Interstate 5 and State Route 14. It’s a road that transverses the whole valley.”
This intersection is home to a couple of shopping centers with businesses that receive heavy foot-traffic, such as Best Buy, Vons, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, In-N-Out Burger and a Chevron gas station.
In February, Chick-fil-A withdrew its application to build Santa Clarita’s second fast-food drive-thru location at the intersection where the former Boston Market eatery once operated. The withdrawal came after the city’s temporary halt on new restaurant drive-thrus to help prevent traffic hazards and congestion caused by lone queuing lines.
Soledad Canyon Road and Bouquet Canyon Road
The second busiest intersection is Soledad Canyon Road and Bouquet Canyon Road, with 96,000 vehicle trips per day. As with all streets, the highest volumes are seen during rush hours.
Much like the previous intersection, this area has daily visits to several eateries, including Chi Chi’s Pizza and McDonald’s, gas stations and other businesses.
The city has already implemented some changes to this intersection under its Circulation Improvement Program, which aims to “enhance roadway safety by analyzing collision patterns and implementing projects, improve the traffic signal system with adjustment of timing, secure transportation funding and plan for the future,” according to a city budget report.
In 2016, with a budget of $180,000, the intersection was enhanced with median modifications that extended the westbound left-turn pocket on Soledad Canyon Road.
Tied in third place
The remaining three intersections each average around 79,000 trips per day: Soledad Canyon Road and Whites Canyon Road, Newhall Ranch Road and McBean Parkway, and Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway.
These three areas also connect drivers to several shopping stops, such as the Bridgeport Marketplace and the Canyon Country Shopping Center, and provide easy access to nearby freeways.
Traffic collision concerns
With high volumes of traffic comes a higher risk of traffic accidents at these five intersections but city officials said the creation of a team specific to addressing traffic safety has helped reduce collision rates across Santa Clarita.
“As commuting and traffic in the community remain a top concern for residents, the city’s Traffic Safety Team, comprised of the city’s Traffic and Communications staff and local Sheriff’s Station personnel, concentrate daily on the three E’s: Education, Engineering and Enforcement to combat traffic and promote safety in the community,” said Traffic Safety Team lead, Rebecca Widdison, in a statement.
“Since implementation of the Traffic Safety Team in 2016, there has been a 28.4% decrease in the collision rate, leading to the lowest collision rate on record. Our local deputies also have been busy with the highest citation numbers in 2019, a 58% increase since 2016. There has also been a 24% decrease in the injury rate since 2016.”
Efforts to address traffic congestion
The city’s traffic operations center has a central focus: make residents’ commutes run safe and smooth. But with a growing city, the task becomes a little challenging. To address the issue quicker and more effectively, the traffic team has turned to the latest, sophisticated technology, as well as set new project goals.
Besides the use of its state-of-the-art intelligent transportation system, which uses dozens of monitors, camera controls and fiber optic cables to manage traffic circulation, the team is also working on checking off a list of 25 projects under its circulation improvement program, which uses $130,000 to modify medians, striping and asphalt to improve the traffic flow across major streets, including Lyons Avenue, Bouquet Canyon road and Sierra Highway.
Romo said they are also working on deploying 118 new traffic controllers on city streets out of 201 signalized intersections to improve circulation management and the environment.
Another project which aims to reduce traffic congestion and enhance pedestrian safety is the “pedestrian scramble cycle,” which was implemented last year at Seco Canyon Road and Decoro Drive near Santa Clarita Elementary and Arroyo Seco Junior High schools. The traffic signal was modified to include a pedestrian scramble phase sequence that allows simultaneous foot traffic while all vehicular traffic is stopped.
The cycle, which is activated only during school’s morning drop-off and afternoon dismissal times, has received recognition from several agencies, including the League of California Cities and the American Public Works Association.
The city has also implemented the GiveMeGreen! app, which detects bicyclists that are approaching the stop bar, then alerts the traffic signal so that cyclists and pedestrians can cross the intersections quicker.