03 July 2008

Street Racing Video Game Mirrors Life in the Canyon?

In Fall 2006, EA, one of the world's largest creators of video games, released a new version of its "Need for Speed" series called "Need for Speed: Carbon." Not having really played many video games, I don't want to try and describe what the game is about, but there are some online reviews that say that the inspiration for the setting was "Carbon Canyon, California."
Now, it is possible the source could have been Carbon Canyon in Malibu, which has its own Carbon Canyon Road. But, that road is narrow, short, very steep and doesn't have an outlet, so it just doesn't seem like a street racing magnet.
Anyway, if our Carbon Canyon was the inspiration for this game, it would make sense given that people have used the road for street racing for decades. It's just that now, with more people using the highway, more full-time residents living next or near to it [unlike, say, before the 1960s], and with cars and motorcycles having more horsepower and speed--the racing can get a whole lot more dangerous.
Three fairly recent examples come to mind, although there are more:
A few years ago, two Chino Hills residents, students, I believe, at Servite High in Anaheim, roared in a Ferrari (that's right, a Ferrari) through the canyon, heading westbound through Chino Hills when they screamed through Sleepy Hollow (I sure heard them) before crashing and killing themselves in front of the Party House Liquor Store, if I remember correctly.

In the fall of 2006, coincidentally (or not?) when the "Need for Speed: Carbon" game came out, a young dude in a Cobra 427 made regular 10:00 p.m. runs through the canyon at high speed. One night, while heading east through Sleepy Hollow, he decided to pass a minivan (let me repeat: in Sleepy Hollow, at night, he passed someone), overcompensated, went up an embankment on the south side of the road, went airborne, and landed upside down in the middle of the highway. Now, leaving aside the possibility that someone else driving westbound could have been seriously injured or killed (which, thankfully, did not happen), this young man had a racing car roll cage and harness system (street legal?) which saved his own life. He emerged with only cuts and bruises.
Sometime in 2007, a man on a motorcycle racing at an excessive speed westbound toward the S-curve went under an express delivery truck and was killed. The cross for this person still sits at the southwest corner of the highway and Old Carbon Canyon Road.
In the case of the Cobra, instead of, oh I don't know, say outrage or concern, the local papers were content to express how interesting it was that the car was worth some $60,000 (as configured) and that the driver's father needed crash scene photos for making an insurance claim. Not one iota about the sheer recklessness of the incident or the potential for innocent people to be killed by such behavior. Actually, there was not one peep after the Servite students killed themselves or after the motorcycle fatality, either.
In fact, there have been at least a half-dozen fatalities and several more serious injuries that I know of in the canyon in the four years I've lived here, not to mention innumerable fences mowed down, landmark signs pulverized, street signs rended into various pretzel-like forms. Yet, there has not been one indication from city government or the local press that this constitutes any problem at all--at least, none that I know of.
CalTrans, to their credit, has installed more guard rails, been pretty good about righting downed signs, and made other improvements (incidentally, it's interesting that the Chino Hills side is better maintained than the Brea side, which is in a different CalTrans district--you would think the OC portion would be much better off!)
Maybe the idea that the canyon is just that "out of the way" place where kids "let out a little steam" and "experiment" and "have fun" is just so old and ingrained that it almost seems a part of "growing up."

Well, for any of us who live in the canyon and have to take a calculated risk turning onto the highway not knowing who might be racing along at excessive speeds, that is not the case. There is a problem on this road.
So far, to my knowledge, there hasn't been an innocent person killed by a reckless driver since I've lived here.
I do, however, distinctly remember a New Year's Eve about eight or ten years ago when I and my wife were heading down the hill eastbound from Olinda and came across a horrific multi-car accident. After I jumped out and saw a person sitting in a car staring blankly into the shattered windshield, the girl who was moaning that she couldn't feel her leg, and the guy who was stretched out on the asphalt, and after I made the 9-1-1 call and placed a blanket under the guy lying on the road and after the EMTs arrived, I wondered, "How often does this happen here?" Back then, I lived in another part of Chino Hills. It wasn't until I moved to Sleepy Hollow and was around for a fatal accident, which happened on 1 May 2004, the day of our housewarming party, that I realized that it happens far more often than ought to be acceptable to those charged with the duty and responsibility of at least making an effort at mitigation.
Having said this, I did read in the Chino Valley Champion last week that the City of Chino Hills did allot an additional $1 million or so for the Sheriff's Department's budget, including two new traffic officers. Maybe some of these resources will be put into the canyon where they are increasingly needed. After all, we're likely to have between 250-300 more houses (i.e. 500 or more cars) in the canyon if three proposed projects (one in Brea and two in Chino Hills) get built in the canyon and there's going to be more construction in the old Dairy Preserve, too.
The bottom line is: traffic will increase and if enforcement doesn't, road incidents surely will. Will local officials be reactive or proactive? Isn't the cost of enforcement much less than the cost of response and repair? How many lives are lost and people hurt before the issue moves to the fore?
Let's hope these aren't rhetorical questions in the blogosphere.

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