EDITORIAL. Can’t You Read the Sign, Caltrans? by Dan Stegink
Last week’s tragic accident marked the sixth time in less than five years drivers died in wrong way driver accidents on Highway 1, in Pacifica (victim’s name not released yet). It’s time Caltrans took urgent action to stop these recurring fatalities.
We need an immediate Caltrans study focused on preventing wrong way Highway 1 accidents in Pacifica, but that’s not enough…in the year, or three, it takes to fund and complete any study, we’ll have more folks dying needlessly.
Many studies show factors like alcohol consumption and nighttime increase the likelihood of wrong way collisions. All six of these deaths involved at least one of those two factors. Caltrans, itself, says that the primary cause of fatal wrong way collisions remains drivers under the influence of drugs, or alcohol.
It’s not possible to keep every impaired driver, or those who might intentionally drive the wrong way off Highway 1, but reviewing these wrong way accidents reveal some quick, simple fixes, already approved by the California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC), that could save lives in the next ninety days.
All six of these wrong-way accidents happened on divided sections of Highway 1 where the center median is comprised of a long line of temporary concrete barriers, about two and half feet tall (Caltrans calls them “K Rails”).
One simple fix would be to place Caltrans yellow directional arrow signs on both sides of this concrete median every 100 yards for the entire length of the Pacifica divided highway. Drivers would only see these arrows for the side of the highway they were on.
A complementary solution would place backwards-facing red “Wrong Way” signs towards potential wrong way traffic along the highway 300 yards before every highway off ramp. Anyone on the highway in the wrong direction would see three “wrong way” signs every time they passed an exit.
A third quick fix, already approved in use elsewhere, would be replacing all existing exit ramp “wrong way” signs at the intersection of city streets with blinking LED-borders powered by a solar cell. Some like the Manor exit ramp, have many signs, but are poorly lit at night.
In five of these six deaths, a wrong way driver was headed south in the northbound lane. In the most recent (details of which have not yet been made public), a driver headed north in the southbound lanes.
It hasn’t always been clear where most deadly wrong way drivers entered Highway 1, or even how far they drove the wrong direction before their fatal accidents.
A February 9, 2019, wrong way motorist drove the wrong way along Highway 1 for four miles before the final accident at Sharp Park drive. A July 25, 2015 accident just south of Sea Bowl Lane involved an intoxicated wrong way driver who turned left and drove just 250 yards before striking and killing another driver.
A 2015 Caltrans study, in San Diego showed 13 fatal wrong way collisions but 338 total wrong way drivers! How many other law abiding motorists in Pacifica escape tragedy when wrong way drivers exit the highway before ramming them?
After the Sea Bowl Lane accident Caltrans placed seven yellow signs with black arrows pointing north on northbound side of the concrete K rail divider, and a right turn sign immediately in front of that T intersection.
It was a step in the right direction but not enough, and no directional arrows or “wrong way” signs were ever placed south or north of that immediate Seabowl Lane intersection.
Past the immediate point where city streets meet exit ramps, not a single “Wrong Way” sign faces Pacifica wrong way drivers along the entire length of Highway 1, and only a few yellow arrows are painted on the highway pavement, mostly near the southbound Mori Point intersection.
Studies show making exit and entrance ramps less perpendicular to the roadway and angling them shallowly towards potential wrong way drivers can reduce errors by making them more difficult to use in the wrong direction.
Raised medians with non-mountable curbs at least six inches tall called “channelizing islands” can corral errant vehicles into the correct direction and potentially push even unconscious drivers or runaway vehicles the way they need to go.
Caltrans controls the design and construction of Highway 1, including any improvements, and while beyond DUI efforts, the City of Pacifica is largely powerless by itself. Pacifica needs to aggressively advocate for efforts to reduce the number of fatal wrong way accidents in both the short and long term.
It could’ve been you.
Resolution 19-05.49: “Against Citizenship Questions on US Census,” one of just 14 approved of 200 that were submitted at the June 2019 CADEM Convention.
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