City seeks more input before increasing speed limit

The Laguna Beach City Council determined that more public input is needed before it makes any recommendations to Caltrans about possibly increasing speed limits along six sections of state-owned Coast Highway.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night for the city's Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee to discuss the topic and then bring the matter back to the council.

City staff sought the council's input on whether to boost speed limits by 5 mph along six sections of Coast Highway, primarily in north Laguna, although one stretch calls for boosting the speed limit from 40 mph to 45 mph from Hinkle Place to Catalina Avenue in South Laguna, a city staff report said.

Caltrans, which establishes speed limits on state highways, proposes raising limits in both southbound and northbound directions based on a recent speed survey taken from Via Mentone in Dana Point north to Newport Coast Drive, which includes Laguna Beach.

Caltrans also seeks to boost the southbound speed limit to 50 mph from the city's northern limits to Emerald Bay and southbound from Aster Street to Boat Canyon Drive to 40 mph.

"In general, speed limits are based on measurements of speeds that drivers actually travel during ideal conditions," the staff report said. "The speed limit for a particular road segment is then set at the nearest 5 mph increments from the speed equal to or below that which 85% of drivers travel."

The survey, included with the staff report on the city's website, indicates that drivers speed in certain sections and average about 5 miles above the current limit.

A majority of the few speakers present voiced concern with raising the speed limit. Some residents cited provisions in the state vehicle code that require cities to consider highway, traffic and roadside conditions not readily apparent to the driver, along with pedestrian and bicycle safety.

"Retaining lower speed limits improves safety for all pedestrians, cyclists and drivers traveling in and through our communities," Emerald Bay Community Assn. community manager John Fox wrote in a letter to the city.

Liz Avalon, the association's planning director, presented the letter to the council during Tuesday's meeting.

"The number and severity of accidents on this roadway is of serious concern, with very real dangers. This was demonstrated just recently on Jan. 26, 2014, with an accident that left one dead and four injured on this same section of roadway where the speed limit increase is currently proposed."

An Irvine man died when the car he was in collided head-on with another vehicle in the 3000 block of North Coast Highway near Irvine Cove.

The number of gated entrances into Emerald Bay from Coast Highway present added challenges for drivers that a speed limit hike would not help, the letter says.

"Drivers on [Coast Highway] who are unaware of the community do not realize that drivers turning into the community from [Coast Highway] must slow abruptly to enter the gates and that vehicles exiting the community may suddenly pull onto the highway at much lower speeds than the posted limit or current flow of traffic," the letter said.

"Increasing speed limits will reduce the reaction time available for drivers to respond to these atypical conditions."

Councilman Kelly Boyd said that at this point he does not favor raising the speed limit.

"If you add another 5 mph, [drivers] will go 5 mph faster than that," Boyd said.

The proposed speed limit hikes are based on engineering studies, which need to comply with vehicle code standards, Caltrans spokesman David Richardson said. Caltrans officials selected the specific streets based on proximity to the closest speed limit signs, he said.

But not all are opposed to the speed hikes.

Resident Bruce Hopping brought up traffic flow along Coast Highway.

"Dana Point and San Clemente never have the backups that we see in Laguna Beach," Hopping said.

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