County Moves to Extend 55-mph Speed Limit to More of Kanan Road
• Increased Speeds Could Have Impact on Wildlife as Well as Motorists on Mountain Route
BY HANS LAETZ
BY HANS LAETZ
County road engineers have agreed that having two different speed limits in either direction for the same stretch of any road is confusing, and have raised the maximum speed to 55 miles per hour on all of Kanan Dume Road from Mulholland Highway down to Malibu.
But the National Park Service says it was not consulted about the move, which likely increases the danger to mountain lions and other animals of getting hit by vehicles on the high-speed route traversing the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
And, as if to inaugurate the new legal speeds, a motorcyclist was flown to a hospital in a helicopter Sunday afternoon after he pulled out from a stop sign and collided with a van in the new 55 zone. Investigators would not go so far, however, as to blame high speed for the wreck.
Last week, new 55 signs were posted on all segments of the 5.3 miles of Kanan-Dume from Mulholland Highway south to the Malibu city limits, a section of roadway that the county’s engineer says has a lower accident rate than similar twisting routes with steep grades.
Department of Public Works engineer Paul Barbe said statistics show Kanan-Dume to have a reported accident rate of .46 wrecks per million vehicle miles driven, much lower than a rate of 1.82 crashes that would be considered normal on a similar road.
“The 85th percentile speed is by state law the speed that is considered reasonable and prudent, and when we review speed limits we are required to survey the road and we determine what is reasonable and prudent,” Barbe said.
But what may be prudent for drivers can be deadly for animals, and the National Park Service says it wasn’t consulted about the change, even though the road bisects a federal park. “Given the choice from a wildlife standpoint, slower speeds are better because drivers can be more vigilant and have more reaction time,” said science chief Ray Sauvajot at the local National Park Service headquarters.
High-speed vehicles killed two mountain lions in recent years, both on Malibu Canyon-Las Virgenes Road. “And people should know there are mountain lions right now in Zuma and Trancas canyons, right next to this road.
“Our biggest concern is that carnivores like mountain lions, cougars and coyotes get hit in greatest propensity along roads that draw highway speeds and traffic volumes in wild areas, like Kanan-Dume,” he said.
But the parks ranger is not sure if any federal or state wildlife laws were broken, as he had just learned of the higher speed from a reporter.
“We are not really a regulatory agency, and if we had been consulted, we would have said it is not a good thing for the wildlife issue,” he said.
The 55 zones replace the old 50-mile-an-hour limits that had been in effect for decades on the route, which includes tunnels and an eight-percent downgrade as the route drops 1600 feet in elevation from Mulholland to Malibu. They also modify the situation that existed for a month where the road had 50 mph north/55 mph south limit on one section, and the reverse on another, a condition that Barbe said “was confusing and counter-intuitive.
“We shouldn’t have speed limits that are different northbound from southbound on any road,” the engineer noted.
Although some tight curves on the new 55-mph section have recommendation signs as low as 35 mph, Barbe said the yellow warnings are “comfort speeds” for people in standard sedans. The traffic engineer said he is “comfortable” with the existing sight lines at the several intersections in the curving road, including the Mulholland Highway crossing.
At that intersection Sunday, a westbound motorcyclist pulled out from the stop sign in front of a van going north in the new 55 zone that was driven by an off-duty firefighter. The cycle hit the side of the van, throwing the biker to the pavement.
“He had cuts, bruises and was in considerable pain” as he was loaded into a county fire helicopter for a trip to the hospital, said CHP officer Mike Joslin. No citations were issued, and Joslin said the speed of the van was known.
Kanan Road north of Mulholland, which still has a 50-mph limit, is being evaluated for higher legal speeds, said Barbe.
The road is under jurisdiction of the county Department of Public Works. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office had no comment on the speed limit.
The City of Malibu’s existing 50 mph at the bottom of the hill remains in effect, although the first 50 sign for downhill travelers is a quarter-mile into the city, past a curve.