Caltrans, what planet are you on?

Coronado residents don't buy rationale for raising speed limits

After coming off the Coronado bridge — speed limit 50 — most drivers don't slow to the posted 25 mph on Fourth Street.
  • After coming off the Coronado bridge — speed limit 50 — most drivers don't slow to the posted 25 mph on Fourth Street.

Coronado residents expressed shock and outrage at a city-council meeting on June 2 — Caltrans proposes raising the speed limits on two highways running through the island community.

Marcelo Peinado, Caltrans’ District 11 division chief of traffic operations, was in attendance to present the new proposal, which focused on State Routes 282 and 75 (more commonly known as Third and Fourth streets). Peinado was there to field questions from the audience as well.

Third Street is the thoroughfare from San Diego across the Coronado bridge and into North Island Naval Air Station. Third is usually congested with cars in the early hours of the morning as Navy personnel begin their day, while Fourth Street, which takes traffic out of Coronado, is crowded during the evening rush hour.

Peinado said that earlier this year, Caltrans conducted a traffic survey that showed that the 85th percentile of speed on the highways is 34 mph, 9 miles over the current 25 mph speed limit.

“State law requires that speed limits be set at or near the 85th percentile of traffic speed,” said Peinado. “Experience has shown that this speed most nearly conforms to a safe and reasonable limit, while also facilitating the orderly movement of traffic.”

Based on the results of the survey, Caltrans recommends that the speed limit on Third and Fourth streets be raised from 25 mph to 35 mph. A reduction of 5 mph will then be applied, bringing the final proposal to a 30-mph speed limit on both roads.

Nearly two dozen residents took the opportunity to voice their grievances to the city council.

Coronado families have been pushing for lower speed limits on the two highways after a 70-year-old man was hit by a car while crossing Fourth Street on May 11. Mona Calle, a resident of Third Street, said that accidents happen far too often.

“I have had my house run into and my trees broken by speeding cars,” she said. Calle said that she sees unused highway patrol cars parked at the foot of the Coronado bridge. “If it’s a state highway, why doesn’t the state just monitor it at a reasonable speed?”

Coronado resident Quelene Slattery is the mother of a teenaged boy who suffered a traumatic brain injury last year after being hit by a speeding car on Fourth Street.

“The whole notion of increasing the speed is absurd,” Slattery said. Slattery’s husband Thomas read Caltrans’ mission-safety-focused statement aloud and asked the Caltrans representative, “What planet are you on? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

On May 29, councilman Richard Bailey posted a survey on eCoronado.com that garnered nearly 400 responses in just a few days. He displayed the results at the city-council meeting: 77 percent of those surveyed did not believe Caltrans should raise the speed limits on the roads, and 80 percent disapproved of Caltrans’ handling of the situation.

Bailey said he’s “not holding his breath” to form a partnership between the city council and Caltrans. “At every opportunity that Caltrans has had to be a good partner, they’ve failed,” he said, citing years-long construction on Third and Fourth streets, potholes, and general disrepair on roads that are supposed to be maintained by the state.

Concerns were also raised about the the Coronado Police Department’s role in enforcing the speeding traffic. Data show that 1.6 million vehicles per month pack Coronado’s Third and Fourth streets, but in March, the police department wrote just three speeding tickets on Third Street and zero on Fourth, despite the fact that the majority of vehicles are speeding.

“I’d like to know why we’re not ticketing more,” said councilman Bill Sandke. “If in fact we do have a policy of no enforcement, that would concern me deeply. We are in a unique situation in that we have a state highway running through our town, and I didn’t get elected to this office in November to preside over a city where crossing a street could possibly kill you.”

Coronado mayor Casey Tanaka said he was “incredulous” as to why the police department wasn’t enforcing the speed limit.

“Our citizenry overwhelmingly expects those tickets to be written if people are speeding,” Tanaka said. “The simple reality is that if we had consistent enforcement, it would change driver behavior and might even change what that 85th percentile is.”

Throughout the meeting, Tanaka made clear that he was against the “counterintuitive” notion of increased speed limits on Third and Fourth streets but was aware of the reality that the council has no control over whether or not the proposal is accepted.

“I respect that Caltrans has to obey the law that may indicate that this increase is necessary, but it’s certainly not what I support and it’s not supported by the overwhelming majority of our citizenry,” Tanaka said. “I hope that Caltrans can factor that into its decision-making.”

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Most jurisdictions write for :10 over". When SDPD first got radar they were writing tickets for 1 mph over. The courts finally had enough of the "over enforcement" and through out a bunch of convictions. To keep from spending a lot of time in traffic court the cops started to writing for 10 mph over. When you are driving 10 plus miles over the speed limit there is no doubt that you know you were speeding. The problem with enforcement on 3rd and 4th is that there is no parking and to stop vehicles would require blocking a lane. If the speed limit is now 25 and people are averaging 34 and they raise it to 30 then the speeds will increase to 39. Targeted enforcement will slow people down but that only lasts a while so it has to be an ongoing program.

Any of our local military bases have tight speed limits, and if you exceed them, the MP's are ready to pounce. So, once on base, everyone is attuned to closely observing the speed limit and driving at or below that speed. Why is there a problem? Well, lack of enforcement is a good place to start. The City of Coronado could benefit from all the fat fines levied on speeders. You come off that bridge going 15 mph over the limit, and you know they gotcha. Fight it in court? I don' theek zo.

But there's a bigger issue here. That's the 85th percentile doctrine/assumption. In statistical theory, that level places anything inside the line outside the area of "deviance", because that is one standard deviation beyond the mean. As a result, if the average/typical driver drives too fast for conditions, that means that the cut-off for the 85th percentile keeps creeping upward. That's exactly what the CalTrans mouthpiece Peinado is advocating. And he has the law, plus a warped notion of statistical analysis, on his side. If we take the stance that the average or typical driver can and does often drive too fast for conditions, then all this analysis is irrelevant.

I'm on the side of Mayor Tanaka. He needs to have a big heart-to-heart talk with his chief of police, Jon Frooman. It sounds as if this is not anything that is normal in Coronado. That dude, wherever he came from and who wears four stars on his uniform, when he (rarely) wears it, needs to get with the program, and start busting speeders. And if CalTrans is going to do anything, it should be to calm the traffic into Coronado.

And, finally, yes, the CHP should also be enforcing speed limits because that route is a state highway.

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