28 July 2009

Traffic, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

This will be a much shorter discussion than recent posts about Stonefield for reasons of time, but of no less importance. As stated earlier, traffic has not been identified as an unavoidable, significant adverse impact in the Draft Environmental Impact Report for this proposed housing development.

The reason why is that, at only 28 units and, therefore, a projected 280 car trips per day, Stonefield is not deemed to be greatly contributory to the traffic problems that affect Carbon Canyon Road. At last week's Chino Hills Planning Commission public hearing, in fact, the developer's representative was sure to point out that the problem lay outside of the Canyon with commuters from elsewhere in Chino Hills and beyond into the Inland Empire. The implication here is: if someone is causing most of the problem, I shouldn't have to worry if I'm contributing a smaller share, even if the problem is getting worse and impacts everyone in the area. In other words, let's blame someone else and not take responsibility for our role in the problem.

Moreover, when city staff, even after acknowledging that there were no significant traffic impacts, still recommended mitigation in the form of widening and restriping the highway at Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane, the entrance point to the development and suggested the developer pay a "fair share" towards traffic signals that are slated to someday be built at Carbon Canyon Road and Canon Lane and at Canyon Hills Road, the developer agreed to this as a reasonable cost.

CalTrans, however, after initially signaling (pardon the pun) support for the city's plan, did a U-turn (sorry) and stated that it would only accept significant improvements in the form of more widening and a retaining wall, to which the developer emphatically replied its stern disapproval. The developer rep went so far as to suggest that such a plan would ruin the scenic character of the highway to no real benefit, to which one might turn that argument on its head and state that the development itself would ruin the scenic character of the Canyon to no real benefit (except, that is, to the developer and the twenty-eight homeowners.)

So, which is it: is there a significant unavoidable adverse impact or not? If not, why the recommended mitigation? If so, how does this mitigation make matters better for the most people, given that stoplights hardly benefit the drivers using Carbon Canyon Road because their commute times will lengthen while stopping to admit drivers from these side streets onto the highway and the widening of and creation of acceleration/deacceleration lanes on the road only serves to benefit the residents of Stonefield, at least theoretically.

It is worth stating once again that Carbon Canyon Road is rated E or F LOS (Level of Service) during peak traffic hours for four of the six intersections studied on the highwway. The city staff's response to comments on the DEIR claims that "the provision of traffic signals on Carbon Canyon Road at Canon Lane and at Canyon Hills Road will improve the intersection service level to LOS A or B conditions and permit minor street vehicular traffic to enter or cross continous traffic on Carbon Canyon Road." That is, the benefit will only accrue to those few people leaving the minor street for the far busier state highway not to the far greater number of people plying the Canyon on their way to jobs in Orange or Los Angeles counties.

In answering concerns about traffic safety, staff determined that there were 68 traffic accidents reported during the 6-year period on Carbon Canyon Road between Chino Hills Parkway and Red Apple Lane . . . the majority . . . were due to vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds." In setting up a formula based on 15,000 average daily cars on three miles of roadway over six years with 68 accidents, staff determines that there are 0.69 accidents per million vehicle miles. Then, it is stated, "According to information provided by CalTrans, the statewide average accident rate for similar type roadways is 1.90 accidents per MVM [million vehicle miles.]

But, we're not told which "similar type roadways" or whether these were analyzed in three-mile segments over a six year period and with similar average daily car usage. What is a similar roadway and where is it? What is the pattern of use? What three-mile segments were used for comparison? Of course, it also bears noting that the 68 accidents were reported and there are, obviously, far more that are not, not that staff can make a statistical analysis based on what's not reported!

Still, to suggest that Carbon Canyon Road is three times safer than "similar type roadways" begs for far more specificity and a scrutiny of the criteria and methods used for that statement.

The goal was, like with the water situation amply discussed in the last post on Stonefield, designed to combat community concerns, but on what grounds?

And, as with the water argument and the others that will be subsequently addressed here, namely aesthetics and pollution, the city is working diligently to accomodate the developer, but what about those who live in the Canyon or are concerned for its well being and uniqueness?

To suggest, as with the water issue, that there is no environmental impact of any significance with traffic; then to seek out mitigation and explain with questionable logic why there is no traffic danger; then to offer that stoplights and widening and restriping for new lanes are necessary is, like with the claim that there is plenty of water but that mitigation is still required, questionable public policy.

And, to ask once again: for whose benefit?

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