After 20 years of wrangling with Hermosa Beach officials, the state Department of Transportation says it intends to finally institute an afternoon parking ban along the west side of busy Pacific Coast Highway in March.
The move, designed to stem an ever-increasing number of rush-hour collisions on Pacific Coast Highway's southbound lanes, will be re-evaluated by Caltrans one year after it begins.
"It's not a question of if, it's when" the 3 to 7 p.m. parking ban will start, Karl Berger, an associate engineer for Caltrans said.
Caltrans, he added, hopes to begin the ban as early as March 1, though the date will depend on the availability and installation of parking signs. There has been a parking ban during the morning rush hour on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway since the 1970s.
Though similar restrictions have been agreed to by other coastal cities, including Manhattan Beach, the rush-hour parking ban in Hermosa Beach has been fiercely opposed by its officials, merchants and some residents. Opening the westbound parking lane to rush-hour traffic, they say, would devastate businesses and transform the roadway into a raceway, with cars speeding along curbs through the city.
Now, with Caltrans ready to move ahead, city officials in February hope to help the state agency decide how the ban's effectiveness will be determined.
"It's their jurisdiction. It's a state highway," said Public Works Director Anthony Antich. Before the ban takes effect, Antich will meet with Caltrans officials "to see if we can establish some benchmarks that are reasonable in determining how well it works," he said.
Caltrans officials, armed with one traffic study after another, have for years argued the parking restrictions are vital to reducing an accident rate that is nearly twice as high as its experts would expect. The rate of 5.33 reported accidents per million vehicle miles--one measurement of average daily traffic safety--compares with the expected rate of 3.3 reported accidents per million vehicle miles along such a road, according to Caltrans. The statewide average is 1.5 accidents.
"If you had to drive a road that had twice the reported number of accidents as expected, wouldn't you consider it more hazardous than it should be?" Berger said.
Caltrans officials contend that rush-hour parking restrictions have already proved effective along the east side of Pacific Coast Highway, where a morning ban, from 6:30 to 9 a.m., has been in place for years and the accident rate is 64% lower than the afternoon accident rate on the west side of the highway.