• Sending Mixed Signals: Malibu Traffic •
It’s a Sunday in July. The temperatures in areas within driving distance of Malibu flirt with the triple-digit mark, and people spell relief B-E-A-C-H. Add the beachgoers to the Malibuites who refuse to be held hostage in their own homes on summer weekends, and you have a lot in people in vehicles that would move slowly under the best of conditions.
Then, lo and behold, just before noon, the traffic signal at the corner of Kanan Dume and PCH undergoes meltdown and this becomes a four-way intersection, which means that every vehicle has to come to a complete stop and check out cross traffic before proceeding. Even devotees of the the state Department of Motor Vehicles manual begin muttering three-, four-, five- and more-letter words.
To say that the traffic jam snaked as far north as the 101 Freeway and as far east as the Malibu Pier was only a slight exaggeration. To say that the problem was resolved quickly would be outright fabrication. Calls and emails to public agencies brought torpid responses to queries about what had gone wrong.
A state Department of Transportation, aka Caltrans, crew claims it was at the scene within an hour but “could find no malfunction.” Let’s try that again. The lights weren’t working, but there was nothing wrong? Another questionable assertion proffered was that law enforcement personnel might have adjusted the timing, then left the area.
But why would law enforcement create a jam when its goal supposedly is to keep traffic flowing? And, if someone had altered the timing, couldn’t that have been corrected on the spot by the Caltrans crew? No, instead hapless traffic news reporters kept announcing that the Kanan area was gridlocked.
Instead of training crews capable of responding to traffic snafus and quickly correcting them, transportation agencies conduct more studies and prepare more reports to tell us what we already knew.
It isn’t that we begrudge hardworking public servants their Sundays off, but when this many people are not only inconvenienced, but also put in possible harm’s way—as no ambulance or fire equipment could get around some of the delay pockets except by becoming airborne—the gloves come off.
We become prisoners of our own technology, if equipment is allowed to grind things to a halt when it malfunctions for whatever reason. When traffic lights fail, human power has to be out in the intersection as soon as possible to try to approximate normal vehicle flow by hand. Any other response sends the wrong signal about transportation safety.