Some things are better left alone. That was the consensus Tuesday among La Cañada City Council members who agreed not to impose speed-limit increases on several city streets, against the recommendations of an engineering-and-traffic survey.
Farhad Iranitalab, the city’s traffic engineer, presented findings from a survey conducted in March, which analyzed prevailing speeds, collision rates and traffic volume counts for 46 street segments.
The study was mandated under the California Vehicle Code, which requires municipalities review speed limits every five, seven or 10 years.
Since the last survey was conducted in 2009 and was extended in 2015 to a full 10-year term, it was time for a new analysis, Iranitalab said.
Some thoroughfares have seen an increase in volume since 2009, such as Crown Avenue from Santa Inez Way to Foothill Boulevard, which accommodated 3,415 trips in a 24-hour period in 2009 and now sees 4,752 daily motorists.
Daily vehicle trips on Oak Grove Drive between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Berkshire Place went from 11,709 to 14,225.
Other segments saw decreases — Fairmount Avenue from Palm Drive to Alta Canyada Road declined from 1,787 trips measured in the last study to 1,152 this year.
Surveyors considered the prevailing speeds of drivers on city streets, using the 85th percentile speed — the speed at or below which 85% of all vehicles are observed traveling — rounded up or down to the nearest 5 mph as their benchmark to recommend a speed limit.
Increases of 5 mph were recommended for: Alta Canyada, from Foothill Boulevard to Verdugo Boulevard (to 35 mph); the Gould Avenue 210 Freeway northbound ramp to Foothill Boulevard (35 mph); Ocean View Boulevard from Foothill to Castle Road (35 mph); Highland Drive, from Berkshire Avenue to the 210 Freeway overpass (40 mph); and Berkshire Place, from Berkshire Avenue to Oak Grove Drive (30 mph).
In other cases, speed limits on residential streets presenting special conditions not readily apparent to drivers, such as crosswalks and blind corners, can be reduced an additional 5 mph below the prevailing speed.
The survey recommended 25-mph limits be imposed on 14 segments of several streets including Beulah Drive, Castle Road and Olive Lane.
Council members were loath to raise any speed limits.
City Manager Mark Alexander said that while city governments can set their own standards, police and sheriff’s deputies can only use radar enforcement where posted limits are within 5 mph of the prevailing speed.
Otherwise, speed-detection data won’t hold up in court.
“The city could set speed limits, but you would be subject to the argument that you’ve set a speed trap if you don’t follow the engineer’s recommendations,” Alexander said.
Council members said they were frustrated speeders could, in essence, raise limits higher and higher over time simply by driving faster.
They said they were also perturbed that local efforts to slow down drivers by setting lower speed limits would delegitimize speed-detector data.
“Without radar, you can’t enforce anything,” said Mayor Pro Tem Greg Brown. “Everything’s going up, and nothing’s going down — everyone’s going faster.”
“It’s like we’re rewarding them,” Councilman Mike Davitt said of speeders.
Pat DeChellis, the city’s public works director, said higher speed limits will not likely change behavior because people mostly ignore limits in favor of driving at whatever speed they deem comfortable and safe.
New Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Deeds assured council members his deputies don’t use much radar enforcement on residential roads, anyway.
Ultimately, council members agreed to accept the recommendations of the engineering-and-traffic survey, with the exception of the proposed increases, and may review the situation again at a later date.