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Gary Horton: Vision big for California

Full Speed to Port

Posted: February 24, 2009 11:17 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2009 10:32 p.m.

Gary Horton

 
The fun part is when you’re so close to the windshield you can see the incredulous look on drivers’ faces just as they’re about to run you down.

It’s a look of astonishment, fear and embarrassment, propelled by a sudden realization they’ve just missed killing you — and narrowly missed manslaughter charges for themselves.

Three times I’ve nearly been struck by overeager, underattentive drivers while on pedestrian trips to Starbucks. That makes walking around McBean and Arroyo Park Drive at seven in the morning a risky trip.

The incident by the apartment building was the funniest. The offending driver turned left onto McBean while I traversed the crosswalk with the “WALK” light brightly shining.

Maybe it was the morning glare, or perhaps fog from a prior night’s party, but the morning’s almost-murderess gunned toward the crosswalk as though my Star Trek Invisibility Cloak were fully engaged.

Ten feet before impact, my invisibility powers failed and she finally made startled eye contact. Hitting the brakes, she threw her hands off the wheel and covered her face with an innocent “Oops, my bad!” gesture.

Not quite a serious enough reaction from my point of view, considering the dire ramifications had she traversed 12 more feet before pressing the brakes.

The good folks at Newhall Land weren’t bankrupt of inspiration when they master-planned all those pedestrian bridges for their vision of Valencia.

No one, to my reckoning, has ever been hit by a car while crossing a pedestrian bridge. Those bridges are smart infrastructure — and if anything, we need more of them, not less. (How about one at the busy intersection between the Hyatt and the mall?)

Once you’ve played dodge ball with moving autos, you’ll change your opinion of the illusion of security provided to pedestrians by traffic lights alone.

“The WALK light was on” means nothing when roaring V-8 meets flesh. Keep your young kids on the paseo bridges is all I can say.

Santa Clarita freeway commuters share similar asymmetrical threats to life and limb. Who has not been pinned inside caravans of mega-monster 18-wheeler trucks whilst attempting to enter or depart the Interstate 5 freeway?

Add to this daunting challenge the task of dodging giant potholes and asphalt canyons caused by the very same 18-wheeled VOMITs (Vehicles Of Mass Incidents of Traffic).

Just who thought that filling our freeways beyond capacity with passenger cars and long-haulers and shaking them into a bloody milkshake of jackknives and twisted steel and exploded guts would be genius? Who thought that pedestrians crossing a six-lane, 55 mph McBean Autobahn would be so smart?

The answer on both counts is: “no one,” things just turned out this way. Neither our interstates nor our large boulevards were visioned nor designed to carry such heavy traffic at such great speeds.

We grew more than we thought and now make due with what we have.

These infrastructural deficiencies weren’t pre-planned. Rather unforeseen demands evolved, and today we suffer undue risk and inconvenience for failure of sufficient vision.

McBean was a lonely country road when I first moved to town. You could cross the street blindfolded and remain unscathed. Now look at what it’s become.

Newhall Land had the right idea with its innovative bridges and paseos. There’s just much more to be done almost everywhere you look.

Happily for us, there’s a storm of infrastructure cash raining down from the stimulus bill. Californians have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to upgrade public systems, making up for years of underfunded neglect.

Yippee yi ay! But we don’t want to blow the chance with wasteful “bridges to nowhere” — or with subpar subways that always stop five miles short of where you’d like to go — like to LAX.

Still, infrastructure manna is falling from Washington heaven, and we get a golden second chance at building a better California. So let’s vision big and think smart.

How about separating truck lanes from passenger lanes in the busy commuter areas of our highway systems? That’s a no-brainer.

And how about that bullet train from L.A. to San Fran we read about in The Signal? Can you imagine asking the spousal unit: “Dear, let’s have dinner out at Fisherman’s Warf tonight” — and you hop the train and make it to San Francisco in 2.5 hours.

Why, it would almost be like living in ... France. Those who have taken the bullet train from London to Paris know firsthand the power and liberation in this particular vision of our future.

The secret to great infrastructure is accurate and audacious visioning. We have to look 40, 80 years ahead.

UC Berkeley was built 100 years ago and is still the nation’s finest public university. Let’s again dream of what can and should become.

Newhall Land’s paseos and bridges have certainly saved dozens of kids from accidents and death. Newhall Land successfully visioned for the future of their family-centered community, and the result is grand.

Let’s not get caught dead in the intersection between our worrisome present and our bright potential future, run down by distracted or inattentive planning.

Sure, we must be cautious, “looking both ways” against waste — but with bright eyes wide open to the wonderful opportunities we can embrace for a more golden California.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. “Full Speed to Port” appears Wednesdays in The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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