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Commentary: Instead of traffic light, perhaps tunnel should be enlarged

May 31, 2012

There is no question that the existing North Coast Highway traffic configuration at the Emerald Bay main gate is dangerous. The issue is whether it would be better or worse if a traffic signal were to be installed.

I have three comments that I did not hear raised at the City Council meeting at which the topic was discussed:

1. A traffic signal at the main entrance to Emerald Bay off Coast Highway may make conditions more dangerous than they are now.

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As is, cars turning left from the main gate onto southbound Coast Highway dart across the northbound lanes into the relative safety of the center "refuge" or merge lane generally one car at a time.

The car can then vary its pace, and when an opening in southbound traffic permits, merge to the right into southbound traffic.

If a signal were to be installed, cars would stack at the signal waiting for a chance to enter the highway. While the traffic emerging from the main gate would be able to cross the northbound lanes more safely than without a signal, with a signal groups of perhaps five or 10 cars at a time will be squirting out and there will be pressure on the cars in the front of the pack to force their way into southbound traffic.

If there doesn't happen to be a suitable gap in southbound traffic, the people in the front of the line of traffic exiting Emerald Bay will be unpopular with the people in the cars behind them if they come to a stop in the middle of the highway waiting for an opportune time to merge.

I expect the cars in front will feel pressure to keep moving and the traffic coming from the north will need to be extra alert to avoid collisions.

2. There was reference at the council meeting to the Monarch Bay/Coast Highway signal configuration and, in the Fehr & Peers report to a traffic signal on Coast Highway at the north end of Santa Monica.

The condition at Emerald Bay is not the same as either of those and is intrinsically far more dangerous than either due to the curves and topographical changes in the highway as it approaches the main gate from either direction.

Curves or grade changes approaching any traffic signal are important considerations; the two in combination make that location a special challenge.

The Monarch Bay condition, while still a tricky condition, at least has the advantage of a long stretch of wide highway with very good sightlines.

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