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Looks Are Deceiving, but Irvine Has Synchronized Lights

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart: Irvine city planners seem dedicated to erecting traffic lights at as many intersections as possible, although these same officials show no interest whatsoever in synchronizing their operation. Having to stop at nearly every traffic light and watching it complete its full cycle infuriates many motorists, particularly when waiting in a left-turn lane and there is no oncoming traffic. What gives?

Hugh W. Glenn

Irvine

What gives, according to Bonnie Burton, a senior transportation analyst for Irvine, is in part a problem of perception. The city does, in fact, have traffic lights that are synchronized, but only during peak hours of traffic when there is enough volume to warrant it, generally from 7 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. And even then, she said, the synchronization is never perfect, making it necessary for some cars to wait at some lights.

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The synchronization is triggered by high traffic volume as measured by sensors in the road that automatically count the number of cars passing every 15 minutes. When the volume reaches a certain level, Burton said, a computer triggers the synchronization. Later, when volume falls, the lights are operated on demand; that is, when a car runs over a sensor, the signal is tripped.

The fact is, though, drivers in Irvine generally do spend more time waiting at traffic lights than do those in some other cities, Burton said. That’s because Irvine has set its lights on longer cycles to handle the volume of traffic.

Dear Street Smart:

My question concerns the daylight headlight rules on the Ortega Highway. When you start from San Juan Capistrano heading east toward Lake Elsinore, you are instructed to turn on your headlights. This is a great idea! However, when you start from Lake Elsinore heading west, there are no signs instructing you to turn on your lights. It seems that the policy applies only in Orange County, not in the portion of the Ortega that is in Riverside County. Why is this? Isn’t the Ortega (California 74) controlled by Caltrans? Wouldn’t it be a good idea for everyone driving this tricky highway to turn on their headlights, regardless of whether they are traveling east or west?

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Stephen F. Selway

Lake Elsinore

The inconsistency is rooted in the history of how the lights-on policy came about, according to Rose Orem, a spokeswoman for Caltrans. The signs resulted from a Caltrans district study conducted in 1985. Orange County wanted to find out whether requiring drivers to turn on their lights along Ortega Highway would result in fewer accidents. Because the Riverside County portion of Ortega was considerably less hilly, windy and steep than the Orange County portion, it had experienced considerably fewer accidents. So Riverside County, which was part of a different Caltrans district, had no desire to participate in the Caltrans study.

The study showed that drivers become especially cautious when asked to turn on their headlights during the day, Orem said. This, in turn, improves their awareness of oncoming traffic and reduces the number of accidents.

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The proof is in the statistics: in 1985 the daily traffic volume on Ortega Highway was about 3,200 cars. Back then, Orem said, the road was primarily scenic. Today the route is used largely by commuters, with 27,000 cars passing over it each day. Yet there has not been a corresponding increase in accidents, Orem said, mainly because of the turn-on-your-lights signs that have remained there since 1985.

Dear Street Smart:

When will Imperial Highway be opened up from Nohl Ranch Road to Loma Avenue in Orange? It appears to be complete with sidewalks and street lights except for one very short segment. I commute to work by bicycle from Anaheim Hills to Irvine and it would save me many miles per day to simply go over the hill. Also, I’m sure residents of Villa Park would be relieved to have fewer cars winding their way through the neighborhoods to get to south Orange County.

Jim Flanagan

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Anaheim Hills

Contrary to public perception, says Bob Knaak, assessment district engineer for the City of Orange, the so-called Loma extension isn’t finished. While the portion within view of pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists is indeed finished, he said, a smaller half-mile portion hidden from view by a hill still needs pavement, curbs and sidewalks. The reason for the delay, he said, is that the two portions have different owners: While Southern California Edison Co. owns the completed section, the rest is owned by a group called Pacific Ridge Partners, which is responsible for hiring its own contractor to do the work. The project is currently out to bid, Knaak said, with work expected to begin soon. If all goes well, he said, city officials hope to open the road by March or April.


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