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Caltrans v. Philo

To Mark Suchanek, Deputy District Director, Maintenance Operations, Caltrans District 1

P.O. Box 3700, Eureka California 95 go to 3700

Re: Speed reduction in Philo, Engineering & Traffic Study

Dear Mr. Suchanek,

I have delayed my response to your letter of March 27, 2017 awaiting the Caltrans information report sent to our Community Services District. I appreciate your clarification regarding the responsibility of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors for notification of the public hearing. With all respect, I thought Caltrans was obligated by its own laws to hold such a hearing as close to the affected public as possible, so you can see my confusion.

I checked directly with the Anderson Valley Advertiser, our local newspaper, and they confirmed that they were not given any notice of such hearing and so they could not notify the local public. Perhaps you could pass this information to your public information office so there are no future errors of public notice.

The Community Services District did not discuss the issue as an agenda item, but only responded briefly to a public expression of concern and a request for more information. (Rumors were flying.)

Please clarify "factors not readily apparent to drivers." I apologize for somehow not being clear enough in my descriptive information to you.

Mr. Dutra tried to share the "impaired corkscrew" nature of the road through Philo: he was not trying to describe Highway 128 in front of Philo as a "scenic highway."

From both directions, north and south, heading into the Philo commercial center, visibility is highly curtailed. There is also much human activity in the area necessitating quick, competent moves by a driver.

Philo is a difficult stretch of road for the driver who encounters this buzz-saw of activity for the first time, especially those drivers perhaps impaired by visits to our primary tourist attractions, the many wine tasting rooms along Highway 128 from Yorkville to Navarro.

Caltrans information appears to list the area as residential. As detailed in the packet I sent you earlier, this area is a business and commercial center, complicated by nearby housing — and it should be evaluated as such.

If you are basing speed/safety control decisions on the basis of the "driver's determination of speed," you must look beyond three year accident records to the many near misses, property damage and unreported fender-benders. This area has been besieged by many "poorly determined driver decisions" for far longer than the reviewed three years. This kind of information is exactly what you need to include for a full and complete report.

At one home in the commercial area there have been seven accidents, one shearing off a utility pole. At the corkscrew dip, a local household has lost their front gate five times.

I am further confused when you write that "the speed limit is established on the majority of drivers’ perceptions. It is set for good driving and free flow conditions." Unfortunately, the major visibility obstructions in Philo can contaminate the wisdom of the driver’s perception. Free flow does not seem to be viable in such a congested space.

There appears to be no written comment from the Highway Patrol specific to the speed zone in Philo. Why not? The general statement about local drivers receiving the most tickets does not deal with the problems the impacted area.

I remind you of the constant public comment that we have only  sporadic Highway Patrol coverage and/or enforcement. To rely on such controls is neither realistic nor prudent. The Valley cannot afford to further tax our limited first responder services. There is concern about an increase in accidents in Philo of doing just that.

We still need a bit of clarification regarding the conversation around "death" issues at the January 24, 2017. The best recollections of those of us attending that meeting recalled that Darron Hill, Caltrans representative, was the first person to introduce the idea when he stated that "there has only been one death in ten years." I spoke soon after that expressing worry about the possibilities of more death due to the increased congestion, lack of clear visibility and speeding in the downtown area. I was soon followed by Barbara Scott, a neighbor who is highly impacted by speeding and reckless driving in Philo. She stated that the area was, "not a speed trap but a death trap." At that point Supervisor Dan Hamburg testified that he was aware of the many dangers at the Philo site, was highly supportive of citizen concern, and agreed that "death trap" was an apt description of what would happen with an increased speed limit. That is, in fact, the sequence of what happened.

I agree that you used public comment to adjust the speed limit to a lower proposed level. It is very difficult to make sense of your charts and to know when and where measurements were taken — was a full day and a full week reported?

Due to poor public noticing only a few intrepid local souls made it to the presentation in Ukiah. Those people living closest to the affected area did not have access to a proper hearing — that meant that you did not have access to relevant local data, experience and insights.

It was pleasing to read that you are working hard to be transparent and are guided by the Caltrans mission, values and goals statement. Out of that document I focus on safety because I believe it to be the whole point and cornerstone. I'm afraid that if you have a predisposition to allow greater speed, and if everyone is driving faster, then increasing the speed limit, especially in a congested and unsafe site, will not provide the best or most logical source of control.

Here is an opportunity to cooperate. Please place the proposed 40/45 mile-per-hour signs on the outskirts of Philo and consider placing them outside the entrances to the five wine tasting facilities. They are in very close proximity and their entrances converge into an almost four-corner situation. Allow a lapse of time for the traffic to calm. Then do another survey with broader parameters. Hold another hearing. Have a win in the situation.

Thank you very much for your continued review of this unusual site.

* * *

Brian Wood of Boonville comments: “The current 30mph speed limit through Philo acts as a set point, even if it is unenforcible. Raise the existing speed limit and you will raise the average speed of traffic.”

One Comment

  1. Just Sayin May 30, 2017

    Trying to reason with Caltrans is futile. You can delay their proposed change by wrapping them in red tape. Preferably their own! Tell them that their traffic study is flawed. They need to investigate whether proper procedures were followed. Request that the traffic study be investigated as to whether it should be done over. That should take a year or two.

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