23 August 2012

Carbon Canyon Road and Its "Scenic Dangers"

Here's a quote to peruse for a moment:

Winding Carbon Canyon Road, which takes a Sunday motorist on a leisurely tour of pleasant, rural country in northern Orange County, is beginning to relect the pressures of urban devlopment.

Scenic State Highway 142 through the canyon connects Brea with Chino.  The problem is that the route is carrying more and faster traffic than it was designed to handle.

This isn't from last week's Orange County Register or last month's Chino Hills Champion.  It's a Los Angeles Times article titled "Old Road Offers Scenic Dangers" from reporter Howard Seelye, dated 12 December 1971.  A mere 40 years ago.

As much as some people (YHB included) might like to complain about modern dangers and serious accidents or near accidents that might (or might not) warrant, say, a blog post or something, this article reported that, in the preceding 17 months, there were 44 serious accidents, including in five deaths, "four of them young people."  One of the accompanying photos showed two of seven crosses at the side of the highway where two accidents took place.

Consequently, the piece continued, "now residents who moved into Carbon Canyon to escape the urban life, find themselves pushing for highway design changes to cut down dangers to those who travel through the area."  Amplifying the main theme, Seelye noted that, "it seems that some improvements are badly needed," while at the same time there was the contradiction in the fact that "those who live in the area and many who enjoy touring the canyon hope the changes won't spoil its beauty."

In describing the area traversed by the highway, Seelye provided some interesting facts and some errors, as well; an example of the latter being the statement that "Carbon Canyon once served as a portion of the route for the Butterfield Stage Line."  Actually, the line followed roughly the path of the 71 Freeway up into Pomona before turning west into Walnut, Rowland Heights and other areas of the San Gabriel Valley.

It is amusing to hear him describe the 100 hours of Olinda Village with prices ranging "from $40,000 to $100,000."  He also notes "the aptly named community of Sleepy Hollow, a cluster of 200 dwellings, nestling under a canopy of giant oak trees" as well as "a community church, a service station, a small grocery store, and a little restaurant," all of which have been changed in one way or another.

Seelye also spent a fair amount of column space and ink on "an abandoned ski resort, where skiers once coursed down the hill on a carpet of plastic."  This was Ski Villa, only closed a few years by the time the article came out, and the journalist followed with the statement that "the resort, which showed so much early promise, has fallen on hard times.  The small plastic interlocking squares, which provided the skiing surface, are scattered over the hill.  Weeds and brush have grown up in the middle of the run."

Moreover, he went on, "a group of buildings, which once housed the ski shop, warming hut and restaurant, have either been converted to dwellings or abandoned.  Windows in the restaurant are broken, a junked car with its wheels removed sits on blocks beside the building."

Another remnant of the canyon's history comes in his description of parts further east, including "the Carbon Canyon Winery and the 'Carbon Canyon Territorial Jail,' a small bastille built between a service station and restaurant, both closed."

Returning to the theme of danger, Seelye observed that "traffic accidents occur mostly in the western portion of the canyon, largely in the city of Brea."  Moreover, he noted that "this problem has been created, to a great degree, by the presence of Olinda Village, which attracts a steady stream of local traffic." 

Consequently, the movement to revamp the road emanated largely from that community, which carried some clout and leverage because "a city councilman, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and two school board members live in the community."  Indeed, it was the folks of Olinda Village who placed the seven crosses next to the highway and at a place that was then considered the most dangerous part of the roadway.

This was "a large, sweeping turn which takes the motorists off Valencia Ave. onto Catbon Canyon Road in county territory [emphasis added] at the western end of the road."  It was at this spot just the previous month that a 15-year old girl was killed and which was the latest spur for action by Olinda Village residents.

As a result of the teen's death, CalTrans officials met with city leaders and the president of the homeowners' association in the Village to discuss solutions, including "a promise that the curve at Valencia Ave. would be eliminated in favor of a controlled, right-angle turn."  Indeed, this was done, and an early post on this blog showed where the old route of Valencia still exists behind fencing as it started to make that dangerous curve.  The article stated that the work to realign the Valencia Avenue curve would cost $75,000 and be paid for with city, county and state funds with design work by Brea and construction by the county.  Meantime, there was also talk of "studies [that] will be made of other dangerous curves and possible installation of guard rails at other locations."

Another interesting revelation in this article was the fact that "speed lmits in the canyon have been redesignated from 65 to 45 and 50 miles per hour."  Anyone who drives the highway now knows that, aside from a few spots, like the sections in Brea from Carbon Canyon Road from Valencia to the hill leading up to Olinda Village, the hill descending from the latter to the curve near the old La Vida Mineral Springs and the portion in Chino Hills from Old Carbon Canyon to Chino Hills Parkway, traveling 65 miles per hour is about as reckless as could be.  No wonder there were 44 accidents in seventeen months!

Something that might be worth resurrecting is this reference from the article:  "a sign has been erected at the top of the canyon warning motorists entering from San Bernardino Canyon [County] that there is a 'Hazardous Driving Area Ahead'."  There could be a need for more than one of those, however.

A fitting conclusion came from Olinda Villa HOA president Gerald Shaffer, who observed, "this is one place in Orange County where people can live out in the country.  The problems we've had involve mostly people who are not familiar with the road.  Everyone who lives here has been run off the road at least once."  There is undoubtedly some exaggeration there, but the points are still largely valid.  40 years later.

Meantime, the road, still hardly designed for its current usage, is rated "F" in traffic levels during peak commuter hours and there are two approved housing developments on the Chino Hills side for well over 100 hours, another apparently about to be proposed for south of the intersection of the highway and Canyon Hills Road, and the spectre of the massive Canyon Crest development on the Brea side may loom once again.  The pressures of urban development, indeed, affecting the notion that "people can live out in the country."

The answer:  more traffic signals, these proposed for Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane and Canon Lane; which will only help the few on those streets trying to enter the highway, but hardly make the commute better for those already on Carbon Canyon Road!

And, even if we don't see 44 accidents in 17 months, cars are faster and people still love to test their vehicles or drive under chemical enhancement, so that, while not "everyone who lives here has been run off the road at least once," many of us have been or have come very near to that or an accident because of unsafe driving (speed, passing, etc.)

To borrow a brilliant, current saying in vogue, "it is what it is" or, maybe in this case, "it was what it was, so now it is what it is, and it will be what it will be."  Finally, to quote from that guy in the old "Hill Street Blues" television show who gave this advice to officers before they hit the mean streets of New York (though, here, we would say the "mean streets of Carbon Canyon"):  " . . . and, hey, let's be careful out there."

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