28 September 2008

Still Another Carbon Canyon Road Closure

Last Thursday, the 25th, a car accident occurred on Carbon Canyon Road in Sleepy Hollow near the Rosemary Lane intersection closest to the Orange County line that caused a complete closure of the highway for a couple of hours. This was almost the same location of the early July collision in which power lines were knocked down and the road shut down for fifteen hours. In my 4 1/2 years living in the community, I would say this has been at least the sixth accident in or near this intersection that I know of.

My conclusion, held for about 4 1/4 of those years? There's a problem! Yet, as I've stated before, there seems to be little recognition among our city fathers that such a problem does exist. Otherwise, there would be more enforcement in this neighborhood and at other points along the road. In the time I've lived in the Canyon, the level of enforcement has remained, so far as I can tell, exactly the same. This fact alone means that Chino Hills and Sheriff's Department officials believe that there is nothing out of the ordinary.

So, it was with some interest that, while I was up at Idyllwild over the weekend, I saw an article in their local paper, the Idyllwild Town Crier, concerning a motorcycle collision on the 19th in which a 20-year old Army soldier, on leave from Iraq, was riding with three fellow soldiers on State Highway 243 at the entrance to Idyllwild city limits when he sped through a 180-degree turn and crashed into another vehicle, which then run him over. His cycle continued to travel into a third car. Amazingly, the drivers of the other two cars were not injured. Incredibly, after one lane of the two-lane highway was opened over an hour later, the first car to go through was passed by a pack of six cyclists, which is against the law, because there is no passing in that zone. The driver of the car was quoted as saying, "[How can they] see one of their own dead and still drive like that?"

Two days before, just a short distance south on Highway 243, a car drifted over to the opposing lane and caused a collision in which three persons were injured. A witness said, "she didn't take the cirve right and just went into the other lane."

Now, Highway 243 is a different road with tighter curves and steeper grades and is, therefore, a more appetizing lure for drivers wanting that thrill of roaring through the mountain road to get that testosterone (yes, it is almost always a male, isn't it?) roaring. The connection to our little Highway 142 is, however, fundamentally the same. Drivers of souped-up cars, tricked-out trucks and revved-up motorcycles, solo or in packs, are getting their kicks using a public highway as their private proving grounds.

In readers' letters to the Town Crier I was surprised to see the suggestions of local residents as to how to combat the obvious growth in traffic accidents on their highway. One man suggested that there was a need for "frequent signs warning motorcyclists of the dangers of mountain roads." Isn't that something like slapping more warning labels on products that inherently are dangerous to ingest or putting a sign on a railroad track that says, "Warning! Trains are known to use these railroad tracks and may injure or kill you if you ignore the signals and gates and try to cross anyway because they're a lot heavier than you are and usually are driving much faster at this point"?

Here was a suggestion I found really stunning, considering the terrain up there (and this would definitely apply to a locale like Sleepy Hollow): "Widen the road . . . and straighten out the road . . . put stop signs on both sides of the road at the curve/corner . . . put up a sign indicating a very dangerous curve . . . put up a sign noting how many collisions/fatalities have been on that curve . . . put up a sign indicating that motorists/motorcyclists must slow down to 25/30 mph at the curve." First of all, the cost of widening and straightening mountain or hill roads would be either impossible or prohibitive in most cases, even if property owners were willing to sell their land to do it, especially these days with eternally tight budgets. Second, putting stop signs (or signals) at curves is an engineering impossibility in most cases. Finally, four signs? This reminds me of a point going northbound on Peyton Drive approaching Chino Hills Parkway, where there are three (yes, three) signs in succession warning that the right turn has to turn right. Why three signs when one should do? Could be it be because a sign is cheaper than actually having to have a patrol officer out there enforcing the ordinance? The fact is that signs can be ignored, but patrols and speed traps cannot be. One night I sat for a full twenty minutes and watched three patrol cars (why three cars when one should do?!) sit with their lights on in the parking lot of the Sleepy Hollow Community Center one Sunday night. Guess what? People slowed down, all of them. Not a one roared through as so many drivers are wont to do when they know that there is almost never any police presence in the Canyon, except for regular times on weekday mornings at about 9:30 a.m. and afternoons about 4 p.m., or so I've been told.

There was another interesting suggestion: "I think there should be a ban on the crotch-rocket motorcycles, as it does seem that there can't be a weekend that passes without at least one crotch rocket cutting off my son and me . . . or an actual crash involving one of these idiots on one of these bikes. It does appear that it could be narrowed down to the crotch rockets, as I have never had any problems with the Harley cruisers. Does anyone plan to do something about these deathly hazards." Well, this sentiment is certainly understandable, but, obviously, impossible to consider. If this writer wants to ban a certain type of motorcycle, he'd have to also support a ban on certain types of cars that behave in the same way.

I do have to say, though, that, while it is probably very true that it's the "crotch rocket" that races more often through the Canyon, there are hogs and cruisers that drive fast and pass unsafely, too. And, I will repeat what I've said in my other similar posts on this general topic: MOST CYCLISTS AND DRIVERS TRAVEL THROUGH THE CANYON SAFELY. It's the minority who blatantly treat it as their own obstacle course, regardless of other drivers on the road, those waiting to turn onto it, and those who live next to or near it.

Finally, the editor of the Idyllwild paper, Becky Clark, offered her own letter, titled "Dear Motorcyclist . . ." and I'd like to quote fairly extensively from it, because I think it is a very insightful and well-written piece.

It's becoming harder to hear about your fellow riders using our highways as speedways and dying. . . . Please, for your sake and the sake of innocent victims forever changed by your sport, don't use our mountain roads as racetracks . . . We care about you, motorcyclist, but more so, we care about who your racing friends don't care about: our lives, or families and our friends . . . Treating our highways as a racetrack is a selfish sport. If you die, your family and friends suffer immensely, but they view this as an isolated event. We, on the other hand, are noticing increased motorcycle crashes, and growing more concerned about your threat to our community with your recklessness. My friend's teen-ager is learning to drive on these mountain highways. When a group of your Ninja motorcycle friends sped past her on a double-yellow line this summer, she was startled and drove her vehicle off the road, crashing into a guard rail. Your friends never looked back. Maybe you, motorcyclist, are not like that. Maybe you are a responsible rider. Then maybe you know how to stop the dangerous, increasingly popular belief that our mountain roads are speedways.

The reality is: we could take that statement, change the recipient to "thrill-seeking motorist" to account for drivers of cars and trucks, amend "mountain highways" to simply "highways," print it the Chino Hills Champion, and it would sound exactly as if it applies to our local highway, Carbon Canyon Road, State Highway 142. Ms. Clark captures the fundamentals of the issue perfectly.
Private misappropriation of public highways for thrill-seeking is dangerous for everyone. Unfortunately, private citizens (as we see in the latest economic disaster) are prone to engaging in selfish, reckless, illegal behavior for all kinds of reasons. The onus, then, falls squarely upon the shoulders of government which, exists, first and foremost, for the protection of life and property and, incidentally, to check the greed, selfishness, ignorance and stupidity of its constituents. There's a fundamental duty being ignored here and playing roulette with the lives and property of other drivers and canyon residents is not a game local government can afford to play.

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