Taming the intersection from hell

By Ralph Koerner

I attended the Ramona Community Planning Group meeting last Wednesday because the advertised subject of the meeting was a plan for revamping the intersection at SR-67 and Dye/Highland Valley.

That intersection is of interest to me at several levels. I must use it frequently and, even though I am retired, too often that use is during the morning and evening commute intervals, 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m. respectively. During those intervals, that intersection qualifies as the “intersection from hell.”

Delays there caused by traffic density regularly extend to six or eight minutes, and on occasion even go to 10 minutes. I can only sympathize with the working people who must tolerate that waste of their time every day.

The second reason I was interested is that the signal there is “fully actuated,” meaning it responds to the time needs of every traffic movement (left turn, through, etc.). It does so by means of inductive loop vehicle detectors buried in every lane of every approach that supply real-time traffic information to a smart computerized controller that manages the traffic signals.

My business prior to retirement was manufacturing and selling loop detectors. I hold several patents on the loop detectors. Because of my background, it has been particularly distressing to me to see this very nice modern implementation of traffic control do such a lousy job.

Pleased that the planning group was going to address the issue, I set about to gather data in case I could offer something at the meeting. I spend a fair number of hours measuring and recording signal intervals and counting traffic. My conclusion was that the detectors and controller were functioning correctly. I do suspect, though, that a careful timing and vehicle count analysis by Caltrans might provide some near term throughput improvement, but certainly the obvious and overarching problem is too few lanes for too many vehicles.

At the meeting I met Carl Hickman, a traffic engineer by profession, who gave a well-prepared and presented proposal for improving the intersection. Gratifyingly, he concluded, as I had, that the left-turn pockets at Dye/Highland should have two lanes and that two through lanes in each direction are required at SR-67.

In addition, though, he surprised me with the recommendation that there be an additional traffic signal at Mussey Grade that is intelligently synchronized with the one at Dye/Highland. His argument for the latter was the interference in flow caused by frequent left-turning traffic onto and off Mussey Grade. In addition, he pointed out that those turning vehicles should have a protected interval to safely execute their turn.

Nobody wants more traffic signals in Ramona, and of course signals are expensive, but Mr. Hickman’s logic rang a bell with me. When watching the eastbound traffic on SR-67, I had noted surprising random, and at that time unexplained, gaps in the otherwise regular traffic flow. Those gaps resulted in significant throughput reduction.

The day after the meeting, I spent time during evening commute at Mussey Grade to confirm the cause of the gaps. Indeed, there were many and frequent left turns onto and off Mussey Grade and they did stall the long platoon of eastbound traffic. Clearly, to derive full benefit from the improved intersection at Dye/Highland, a second intelligently coupled signal is required at Mussey Grade. That signal would communicate with the signal at Dye/Highland to permit Mussey Grade left turns at intervals that do not interfere with platoon flow at Dye/Highland.

At the planning group meeting, there was general agreement regarding the proposal to add lanes at SR-67 and at Dye/Highland, but there was doubt and much debate about the need for the second signal at Mussey Grade. Unfortunately that debate led to a delay of the decision to adopt Mr. Hickman’s plan.

I am firmly convinced that the second signal is required and that the full plan as presented should be adopted by the board. I hope Ramonans will coalesce in a strong movement supporting Mr. Hickman’s very well thought through proposal.

The fiasco of wasted time and frustration we see at that intersection every day is truly unacceptable.

Ralph Koerner is a 30-year Ramona resident.



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