Driving faster over Hwy 17 saves little to no time, CHP says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: A few years ago, the Sentinel published an article about the length of time it takes to cross Highway 17 to San Jose based upon various speeds, such as 50 mph, 55 mph, 60 mph, etc. It clearly showed that speeding on Highway 17 doesn't save that much time even at high speeds. I think you should publish those figures perhaps twice a year in your column (maybe just before rainy season, if that ever happens and perhaps before summer) just to remind folks that the risk that one takes and the risks to other drivers just doesn't pay. Thanks. I enjoy reading your column. Best wishes, Ken Koenig, Santa Cruz A: Using their math skills, the folks at the CHP office in Aptos came up with the following commute times at varying speeds. Using Google Maps' estimation that the drive from Highway 17 at the Fishhook to Highway 85 in San Jose is approximately 21 miles, traveling:
  • 50 mph would take approximately 25 minutes 12 seconds;
  • 55 mph would take approximately 22 minutes 54 seconds;
  • 60 mph would take approximately 21 minutes; and
  • 65 mph would take approximately 19 minutes 18 seconds.
"These, of course, do not account for changes in traffic conditions or speed limits, i.e. 65 mph in Scotts Valley," said officer Brad Sadek, CHP spokesman, while noting that the above times "don't account for the slower speeds required to safely navigate the twists and turns in the roadway, nor the recurrent slower traffic they cause. "Realistically, it is illegal, unsafe and almost impossible to maintain 60 mph all the way across SR-17," he continued. "The average driver will encounter pockets of slower traffic and will likely need to slow for some of the more challenging curves, like Laurel Curve, Valley Surprise and Big Moody Curve. When accounting for all these factors, it is very likely the amount of time saved by speeding over SR17 is almost nothing. It seems almost everyone can tell a story of an aggressive driver they saw fly by them in Scotts Valley, only to reencounter them at Lexington Reservoir still driving like its NASCAR." Solving gridlock Street Smarts has been running emails from readers who have suggestions on ways to ease traffic congestion in Santa Cruz County. Here are thoughts from reader Bruce Sawhill: Short term fixes: A central barrier on Mission Street like 19th Avenue in San Francisco, preventing any left turns without a stoplight intersection, plus light synchronization. Longer term fixes: Full use of the rail corridor for a bike/ped path and streetcar. Comments:
  1. The statistics on population growth are misleading. Santa Cruz is in the bottom fifth of county growth rates in California and 4,000 more people in the next six years is a much slower growth rate than most of the last 50 years.
  2. The Bay/Mission intersection is getting busier, but the majority of the growth mentioned in your article has occurred between 1960 and 1980, with a much slower growth rate in the 34 years since then.
  3. Santa Cruz is very geographically challenged by ocean, mountains, and rivers. All of this affects traffic. In addition, it was never designed to be a city, but rather grew haphazardly without much central planning as a resort and part-time residence town. As a result, certain traffic features continue to cause problems, such as Bay Street not providing a direct connection to downtown, no vehicle bridge at the San Lorenzo trestle, the very existence of 'The Circles,' California Street making a jog at Bay Street and numerous other illogical and arbitrary features that artificially create congestion and frustration. Fixing almost any of these problems would require tearing down houses, so it looks like this will just be part of the quirkiness of Santa Cruz.
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