Data suggests pandemic cured 1 issue: road congestion

Engineering Technician Noely Serrato monitors traffic on the screens in the Traffic Operations Center at Santa Clarita City Hall on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Largely due to COVID-19 limitations on travel and activities, Santa Clarita traffic volumes at the five busiest intersections dropped by 18% in the last half of 2020, according to city data.  

The bad news is that figure is likely to climb again with Los Angeles County’s move into the red tier over the weekend, but the much better news is that’s the surest sign businesses are slowly but surely starting to reopen, and signs of life are returning back to normal for SCV commuters and Southern California. 

“During the last year, due to restrictions and closures, we saw a decrease in the number of cars on the roads,” according to city Communications Manager Carrie Lujan, in a statement via email. “As the health orders begin to relax and kids go back to school, we are going to see more cars on the road and more pedestrians on the sidewalks. We encourage everyone to obey the rules of the road, keeping in mind that most accidents are caused by unsafe speeds and distracted drivers.” 

Overall, the July-to-December traffic data indicated that about 359,000 vehicles traveled the city’s busiest intersections by volume daily, compared to an approximately 438,000-car-per-day figure reported for 2019 data. 

While experts can almost certainly point to the pandemic as the No. 1 reason for what’s expected to be a temporary decline, city officials also announced a few traffic improvements made in 2020 along with the data.  

Busiest intersections 

The two intersections with the most collisions are really on either side of the SCV — Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road on the east side; Newhall Ranch Road and Bouquet Canyon roads to the west. Each averaged one crash a month for the second half of 2020. 

The other three busiest intersections for collisions: Lyons Avenue and Apple Street; Railroad and Newhall avenues; and Newhall Ranch Road and Rye Canyon Road, each of which saw five collisions over the same six-month period last year. 

The collisions weren’t just a result of volume, though. The five most trafficked intersections, in terms of cars per day, were: Newhall Ranch/Bouquet Canyon (98,700 cars per day); Soledad/Bouquet canyon roads (70,000); Soledad/Whites canyon roads (69,400); Newhall Ranch Road/McBean Parkway (62,600); and McBean Parkway/Valencia Boulevard (58,300). 

Less means more (safety) 

Fewer cars on the road also translated to significantly fewer crashes on SCV roadways, and fewer tickets, too, according to data provided by the city of Santa Clarita, with respect to crashes and enforcement. 

The total number of collisions in the last half of 2020 dropped by an eye-opening 30% compared to the same period in 2019: 670 crashes in the second half of 2019 compared to 469 for the same time in 2020. 

Citations were down, as well. There was a 9.8% decrease in traffic citations overall during the last six months of 2020 — a reduction from 9,465, or approximately 52 tickets per day in the second half of 2019, to 8,537, or about 47 per day, in 2020. 

The most ticketed stretch of road over that time period was on Soledad Canyon Road, from Whites to Sierra, which reported about 698 citations, or almost four per day, with Golden Valley Road, from Centre Pointe to Robert C. Lee parkways, close behind at 691 citations.  

Traffic monitoring  

During the last year, while much economic growth has been slowed due to pandemic-related restrictions on activity, the city has moved ahead with the installation of automated systems at a number of intersections.  

“The city of Santa Clarita is always looking to improve circulation and safety on city streets,” Lujan added.  

In fact, the city has invested more than $20 million in grants and local funding since the early 2000s to create its multi-stage, state-of-the-art, Intelligent Transportation System, which connects intersections to keep cars and trucks moving safely. 

In addition to coordinating intersections, the system provides information in real time to the traffic team at City Hall, which was aided by the installation of automated data systems at 75 intersections this past year. 

The improvements help the city collect and track traffic volume fluctuations more easily, officials said.  

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