PALMDALE — Palmdale’s Public Works Department is adopting a new focus on lowering speeds on local roads to help reduce the number and severity of traffic collisions.

“We want to see what we can do to enhance safety throughout the community,” City Traffic Engineer Jay Nelson said, Nov. 17, in a presentation to the City Council about speed management and traffic safety.

Traffic collisions are up in Palmdale in terms of frequency and severity, reflecting nationwide trends, according to the presentation.

In the past year, collisions locally have risen 21%, with fatal and injury collisions up 32%, Palmdale Associate Engineer Ruben Hovanesian said.

Nationally, fatal collisions have increased by 18% from 2020 to 2021.

The pandemic, which saw people driving less, did not have a corresponding decrease in fatalities, Hovanesian said, with the national rate of fatal collisions per mile driven increasing by 5% over the past year.

These increases are not for a lack of enforcement activity, as traffic citations locally increased 31% in the past year, he said.

“We are also seeing some erratic behavior, unsafe behavior in drivers increase, as well,” Hovanesian said.

Ejections, which indicate lack of seat belt use, have increased, most significantly in men ages 18 to 34. Conversely, there is a significant decrease in this statistic for women in the same age bracket, he said.

Speed, on the nation’s roads, has also increased over the past two years.

From January 2019 to February 2020, the lowest 1% speeds nationally averaged 50 mph, while the highest 1% were 63 mph.

Those averages increased, during the height of the pandemic from April 2020 to January 2021, Hovanesian said.

From February 2021 to the present, the lowest averages were 54 mph and the highest were 66 mph.

“What we’re seeing is that this difference between those two speeds is causing a higher potential for higher-injury crashes on the road,” he said. When people are driving at the same speed or similar speeds, the severity of injuries in a collision is less than if one is traveling faster, he said.

Palmdale is engaging in several day-to-day efforts to reduce speed and make the roads safer to travel. Among these are working with the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station and California Highway Patrol for targeted enforcement; using radar speed feedback trailers to show motorists how fast they are traveling (the department has purchased six additional that will be deployed in the coming months); pursuing grants for safety projects; and public education and outreach.

The city is also adding safety enhancements wherever possible in regular maintenance projects, such as adding bike lanes when repaving a street. The Public Works Department monitors these enhancements to see if they are having the desired effect, Hovanesian said.

One example of this type of project is on 25th Street West near Highland High School, where a repaving project narrowed the lanes and added buffered bike lanes, he said.

Hovanesian also tried to clarify some common misconceptions regarding road design and safety.

The biggest public misconception is in regards to signage, such as effecting change by changing the speed limit signs or adding a stop sign, he said.

“If people aren’t listening to the sign that’s out there in the current day, it’s not likely that they’ll change their behavior when there’s a new number out there,” he said. “For a lot of people, it just seems to be artwork on the side of the road.”

Speed bumps are another request for traffic control that, unfortunately, are very difficult to implement under current city policy, Hovanesian said. However, the city is working on a citywide traffic calming policy that will help make this an easier process, as well as add other tools for traffic safety, he said.

City traffic engineers also have to balance concerns for safety with traffic congestion. Less traffic means faster travel, which may also be less safe for other users.

“When people are driving faster, it’s less safe for people to walk on the street,” he said.

Hovanesian listed some recent successes in terms of traffic safety measures, including the project near Highland High School, safer access management on Avenue S by 47th Street East and medians on Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P). New crosswalks near Courson Park have also been shown to increase safety in that area, he said.

Staff has received training in state-of-the-art practices for engineering traffic safety measures, some of which will be reflected in the citywide traffic calming policy under development and will affect how projects and development is designed.

The new focus is on what is known as “safe systems,” Hovanesian said, and a draft transportation safety plan is under development.

Among the features of this plan will be consideration of lowering speed limits on high-injury roads and special areas.

The speed surveys to set speed limits will come before the Council in the coming months, he said.

In response to the presentation, Councilmember Juan Carrillo suggested if the city could take over Palmdale Boulevard/State Route 138, it could do more to address traffic and safety issues on that well-traveled artery.

Mayor Pro Tem Laura Bettencourt suggested, before any major policy changes are instituted, the city should look to where these steps have been established elsewhere and what the outcomes were.

(1) comment

Jimzan 2.0

Sounds more like a revenue generator than a safety issue. Cars are way more safer than when most speed limit standards were set..How many of the accidents are DUI's didn't Gascon the idiot say we would not pursue DUI's enforcement...See the Democrats create a cesspool then they say "you need us to clean up the mess" that the Idiots made. That's called being played, and it works even better when you have "useful idiots" leading the Woke charge. Now Mask Up and Kneel ...Useful Idiots.

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