The race to unravel gridlock

Traffic congestion -- everybody dislikes being stuck in gridlock and in recent weeks Street Smarts has been fielding a good share of letters from readers complaining about it. They've been requesting that local public works departments make changes, whether it be tweaking the timing of signal lights or installing new traffic or turn lanes. As much as funding can be found, local governments are attempting to unravel the gridlock. From the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission installing auxiliary lanes on Highway 1 to the city of Santa Cruz widening Soquel Avenue at Park Way to the tune of $1 million to add left turn pockets in each direction. The latter project is to wrap up in May. Such a projects takes lots of work, including talking with property owners about buying a portion of their land to allow the widening to occur then negotiating a price. Left turn pockets and traffic light synchronization have been called for by Street Smarts readers for Mission Street for as long as I can remember. Caltrans is studying the turn pocket idea but has said that the signal lights are timed properly, noting that traffic volume is to blame. There are simply too many vehicles on Mission Street, officials have said time and time again. How many vehicles? Street Smarts asked Caltrans for stats. Let's look at the intersection of Mission and Bay streets. Present day, roughly 32,000 vehicles travel that intersection daily. Compare that to 26,000 daily in 1980 and 10,800 each day in 1961. Traffic has tripled on Mission Street during the last 53 years. Drivers in other parts of the county tell me traffic is bad in their neck of the woods, too. Maybe transportation officials are right, there may be too many cars on the road. Take a look at this: In 2010, census data reported Santa Cruz County's population was 262,382 and is projected to add nearly 4,400 more residents to reach 266,776 in 2020, according to Karena Pushnik, spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission. With 1,135 miles of road in the county, arterial roads -- including major state highways -- make up 15 percent of the roadway miles in urban areas and carry more than 70 percent of the vehicle miles traveled. What's more, about 100,000 vehicles travel the most traveled sections of Highway 1 each day, she said. Meanwhile, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that of the 30.3 million vehicles registered in the state, 234,596 reside right here in Santa Cruz County. Of those, 159,451 are automobiles; 9,528 are motorcycles; 46,518 are commercial; 16,148 are trailers; and 2,951 are trailer coaches. Armed with those numbers, what should we do about it? Can we design our way out of traffic backups? Should we build more roads, add more lanes, widen more roads, improve infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, add more buses, create more telecommuting jobs, or work closer to home? One more statistic for you: 3/4 of the traffic are commuters going to local jobs, while 1/4 of drivers go outside the county for work, reported Pushnik. You tell me, Street Smarts readers. How do we thin out traffic congestion? Your suggestions may appear in a future column or be read during my radio interview on Bruce Bratton's Universal Grapevine show, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21 on KZSC 88.1 FM. The show is broadcast live online at
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2 Responses to The race to unravel gridlock

  1. Steve Piercy says:

    The problem is not traffic congestion. It’s merely a symptom of many underlying problems, including:

    * decades of building infrastructure for the movement of automobiles instead of people and goods
    * poor decisions about land use and development resulting in suburban sprawl

    * inadequate mixed use that increases the distances people must travel between locations
    * disregard of safety, quality of life, and health
    * social and economic inequity

    If we work on, and prioritize funding toward solving those underlying problems, then there will be a gradual cessation of traffic congestion. In general it is much more cost effective to spend money on prevention of congestion than trying to build your way out of it.

  2. Paul McGrath says:

    Posted a comment this morning, but it has not appeared. Is there a limit on comment length?
    Also sent comment via email directly to:

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