Caltrans counters found little change in total vehicle trips between 1995 and 2005 in, out or through Laguna, but drivers may have a different perception.
The statistics were distilled from CalTrans data on the periodic sampling of traffic under normal conditions at peak hours in peak months at eight locations. Vehicles traveling in both direction were counted at the north and south city limits, Coast Highway north and south of Broadway, Laguna Canyon Road at Canyon Acres Drive and east and west of El Toro Road, and at Broadway and Main Beach.
“What’s interesting is that total trips have not changed, but the number of trips at peak hour has,” said Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman. “It is particularly noticeable at the north city limits where the peak hours traffic count jumped from 2,900 vehicles in 1995 to 3,900 vehicles in 2005.”
Grossman said he makes his daily commute in off hours to avoid congestion.
“There is not a lot of traffic at 6 a.m. on weekdays and I try to come home after 7 p.m.,” Grossman said.
City Manager Ken Frank said the huge influx of vehicles from the Inland Empire anticipated by the opening of the Eastern Toll Road in 1998 apparently has not occurred.
“In fact, it is not clear that there has been any traffic increase at all over the last 10 years on Laguna Canyon Road,” he said.
The Cal Trans data show drops in peak hour counts on Laguna Canyon Road, a dramatic drop east of El Toro Road from 3,150 trips in 1995 to 1,850 trips in 2005. West of the El Toro T, traffic counts dropped from 3,600 in 1995 to 3,300 in 2005. However, the count went up at Canyon Acres Drive from 2,550 to 3,050 over the decade.
Drops were also documented at the southern city limits.
The counts went up at Broadway at Coast Highway from 1,700 in 1995 to 2,150 in 2005 and at Coast Highway, north of Broadway, from 3,250 to 3,900.
Variations in the counts may not represent true trends, because a minor traffic incident can significantly influence the traffic flow and the results of traffic counts during a peak hours, according to Steve May, director of Public Works and city engineer.
Peak hour values in the report typically represent the average hourly traffic over the peak four-hour period, under normal conditions, he said. Sampling would not be done on Coast Highway on a day when Laguna Canyon Road was closed for what ever reason or vice versa.
“This is a car count, not a traffic study,” said Anne Johnson, a member of the Planning Commission, which wrestled with the downtown traffic study. “If the counts were taken at the same time of day and the same month for all three years, I suspect we could have a traffic management program.
“One day this summer, it took me 50 minutes to get from Oak Street to Dartmoor. If you are at the end of a line-up of cars at every intersection, you can be pretty aggravated by the time you get to the location where vehicles are being counted.
“It’s the time the drivers have to sit and wait that affects how they look at traffic.”