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Downtown signal rouses ire

Mary A. Castillo

A new traffic signal at Broadway and Beach Street has painted the town

red -- red brake lights and red-hot tempers.

Ever since Cal Trans activated the signal on the easterly leg of Beach


Street, it has been blamed for massive traffic gridlock in both

directions on Coast Highway and throughout downtown.

“I couldn’t believe that it added half an hour to my drive from the

Sawdust to downtown,” said Lynne Powell, event coordinator with the


festival. “It was bumper to bumper on Ocean Avenue because of all the

cars stuck on Beach Street [headed toward Broadway].”

Powell is concerned that heavier traffic will discourage visitors to

the festivals as the summer continues.

It’s a worry shared by downtown business owners.

“It could affect business tremendously,” said Ali Javal, owner of

Super Color on Ocean Avenue.

After watching a shouting match between drivers and receiving calls


from clients who don’t want to come downtown, Javal is worried.

The city is working with Cal Trans to fix the problem.

“I met with Cal Trans last Friday and they are working on the timing

of the signal,” said Steve May, director of public works and city


The city budgeted $50,000 to install the light, with Cal Trans picking

up the other half of the tab. Final costs have not yet been determined.

“We are still trying to time the signal with the two at the either end


[of Broadway],” said Henry Pham, senior electrical engineer with Cal


The problem is that the four signals on Broadway are not physically

linked, making it necessary for Cal Trans engineers to manually adjust

the signal.

Pham added that because the city canceled the sewer refurbishing

project under Broadway, the opportunity to link the lights was lost.

“There are no plans at the moment to install an interconnecting

system,” he said.

The signal was installed after many years of lobbying from the

residents of North Laguna. Their hope had been to install a signal that

allowed drivers to safely turn onto Broadway from Lower Cliff Drive.

However, because both signals at the Beach Street intersection are out

of sync with Coast Highway and Forest Avenue, the traffic gridlock has

affected more than drivers trying to get in and around town. It also

threw a monkey wrench into a traffic study started last Saturday.

“The intersection at Broadway and Coast Highway coordinates the signal

patterns on Coast Highway between Legion and Aster Streets,” said Capt.

Paul Workman of the Laguna Beach Police Department.

When traffic transitions from low- to high-density throughout the day,

the signal patterns do not dynamically accommodate traffic flow. In fact,

the signals can sometimes impede traffic flow during heavy conditions.

To alleviate this problem, the city hired consulting firm, Hartzog and

Crabill to collect data and make recommendations to Cal Trans. As a test,

the signals were reset from a commuter signal pattern to a random pattern

last Saturday afternoon. It was done so experts could study and collect

data from the loops connected to the signals. Until the Beach Street

signal is synchronized with its neighboring intersections, the study,

which is scheduled throughout the rest of the summer, will be affected.

Some see the new Beach Street signal as part of a greater circulation

and parking problem that has yet to be successfully tackled by the city.

“We need experts to come in and perform a comprehensive, objective

traffic and parking study of the downtown area,” said City Councilwoman

Cheryl Kinsman.

Although the city council at its last meeting approved $120,000 to

fund a study, Kinsman expects that it will take at least six months to

complete it. But she did not know when the process would begin.

The finished product should be an improvement, agreed Katherine

Spalione, executive director of the Laguna Visitors Bureau.

“Once it’s synced it will be great,” she said.