Park Avenue sees uptick in crashes

Laguna Beach police say a recent string of automobile crashes on Park Avenue shows what can happen when intoxicated motorists drive on steep roads.

Records reveal 15 reported car crashes on the street between Jan. 1 and Sept. 11, four involving drivers who were believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Three of the four suspected DUI crashes occurred since Aug. 5, including two rollovers near a curved portion where Hidden Valley Canyon Road meets Park Avenue.

On Aug. 5, a black Volkswagen Passat rolled over, causing injuries to the driver and passenger, police said. Officers arrested an 18-year-old Huntington Beach man on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Eleven vehicle crashes were reported on Park Avenue during the same period in 2012, but police say drugs and alcohol did not play a role in any of them.

Laguna Beach police Chief Paul Workman said he sees no glaring reasons for the recent uptick in crashes on the road.

"It's coincidental they've occurred there [on Park Avenue]," Workman said. "There have been significant accidents on all major hills, such as Temple Hills Drive. People speed along the roadways and don't understand physics. A heavy object is a lot harder to stop [going downhill] than when going up the hill."

About seven years ago, a cement truck flipped on its side while coming down Nyes Place, and another truck hit a house at the base of the road, he said.

Police have looked at possible solutions, such as installing speed bumps and building a dirt ramp at the base of Nyes Place, but encountered challenges, Workman said.

"I think the ramp was an option that was discussed by the City Council about 10 years ago," he wrote in a follow-up email. "The terrain and homes limited the possibility of such an installation. Putting in such a ramp would have been difficult and very expensive."

Speed bumps are not desirable solutions either, Workman said.

"If you put a speed bump in, whoever lives next to it has a nightmare," he said. "Cars go fast [over the bump] and you hear, 'ka-boom.' Also, drivers hitting them too fast can lose control.  It is always better to consider other options for slowing traffic."

Several other streets in Laguna have speed bumps, including Hillcrest Drive, Wendt Terrace, Alta Laguna Boulevard and Glenneyre Street, said Steve May, the city's public works director.

Speed bumps on the steepest parts of Park Avenue would not be smart, May said.

"Cars would hit [bumps] and be thrown out of control," May said.

Cars regularly go faster than the posted 45 mph speed limit, according to one resident who lives on Park Avenue between Wendt Terrace and Hidden Valley Canyon Road. She declined to provide her name.

"These hills present driving challenges," Workman said. "People have to exercise care when they come down them."

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