Ticketing Speeders On Sunset Blvd. in Pacific Palisades Presents Problems

By Sue Pascoe

Los Angeles traffic officers cannot enforce speeding limits on streets that have not been surveyed recently. The speed survey on Sunset Boulevard from Pacific Coast Highway to the Beverly Hills city limit expired on Valentine’s Day this year.

This means that police can’t use radar to clock speeding by motorcycles or cars. About the only legal way the LAPD can monitor speeds is to pace a car or motorcycle to determine its speed, which is considered dangerous.

The California “speed trap” law (Vehicle Code section 40802), which prevents cities such as Los Angeles from setting arbitrarily low speed limits, requires that streets must be surveyed every seven to 10 years. This law requires cities to make the speed limit match the 85th percentile of prevailing traffic.

Three vehicle accident on April 14, 2017 on PCH just north of Coastline Drive. Credit: Palisades Patrol
Three vehicle accident on April 14, 2017 on PCH just north of Coastline Drive. Credit: Palisades Patrol

Some Palisadians, including Pacific Palisades Community Council board member Richard Cohen, have argued against doing speed surveys for fear that the current speed is much faster than the speed limits, and by doing a survey, the speed limit in many cases could be raised.

Two LAPD officers have disagreed.

Officers Basaker and O’Dea told the community council at its June 8 meeting that in May they conducted a speed-trailer survey on Sunset just east of Palisades Drive.

In a 24-hour period, 6,848 cars traveled that stretch of road. Most were traveling at just over 33 mph. The maximum speed was 54 m.p.h., and at the 85th percentile the speed was 38 mph.

The officers explained that mostly likely if a speed survey were done (and should be done) the speed limit would remain at 35 m.p.h., especially since a city engineer would factor in the high number of acc dents on Sunset and roadway conditions, such as the numerous curves.

Department of Public Works information states that a survey “determines an appropriate speed limit considering factors such as the type of adjacent development, pedestrian and bicycle activity, roadside conditions, reported collision history and the prevailing speed of traffic.”

“I can tell you that in years past, the lack of speed-enforcement on Sunset directly resulted in an increase of vehicular speeds, and consequently, resulted in an increase in serious injury and fatal traffic collisions,” O’Dea said. “In the 1990s, Sunset was the number-one street in West Bureau for fatal collisions. We increased our enforcement activity on Sunset, and the result was a decrease in serious injury and fatal collisions.”

Lou Kamer, the community council’s at-large representative, asked the officers what they would do if they lived here.

“Talk to your councilman,” they said.

According to a June 2016 StreetsblogLA story,  LAPD officer Troy Williams noted that as of 2015, “Seventy-five percent of L.A. streets had expired speed surveys.”

The figure is more than 80 percent on the city’s targeted Vision Zero High Injury Network: 6 percent of L.A. streets where 65 percent of all deaths and severe injuries take place. In short, L.A.’s deadliest streets are largely places where LAPD cannot effectively enforce speed laws.

“Williams stated that in 2010, LAPD issued 99,000 speeding tickets and, in 2015, that number had dropped to 16,000,” said the Streetsblog story.“According to Williams, a great deal of LAPD laser speed-enforcement equipment sits on LAPD shelves as officers have turned them in due to lack of use.”

The Palisades Drive survey expired in 2012, the Temescal Canyon Road survey will not expire until 2018 and Pacific Coast Highway between Chautauqua and Coastline has also expired.

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