Special Report

Speeding in Scripps Ranch

Top Community Concern

Speeding and traffic are the top issues brought to the attention of the Scripps Ranch Civic Association (SRCA), Scripps Ranch Planning Group (SRPG), and Miramar Ranch North Planning Committee (MRNPC). In this Special Report we will explore the most frequent complaint: excessive speed by drivers, particularly in residential areas. We all have observed people greatly exceeding speed limits on our streets. Official speed surveys show that many drivers often exceed posted limits, in some cases by as much as 50 mph.

How are Speed Limits Determined?

The city cannot set its own speed limits. Both the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) have extensive regulations concerning traffic engineering, including setting speed limits.

The California Vehicle Code (CVC) gives some specific speed limits. For example, there is a maximum speed of 55 mph on any two-lane undivided road. The prima facie speed limit is 25 mph near schools and senior centers, and in residential and business districts unless a different speed is determined by local authority.

The CVC (Section 637) and the California Manual for Setting Speed Limits —www.scrippsranch.org/speedlimits—require speed limits be set on the basis of an engineering and traffic survey (E&TS). According to the manual: “Speed limit determinations rely on the premise that a reasonable speed limit is one that conforms to the actual behavior of the majority of drivers; one will be able to select a speed limit that is both reasonable and effective by measuring drivers’ speeds. Speed limits set by E&TS are normally set near the 85th percentile speed...the speed at or below which 85% of the traffic is moving, and statistically represents one standard deviation above the average speed.”

Further, the legislature as far back as 1923 enacted laws against speed traps. In 1972 California amended the vehicle code to limit the use of radar and measured speed traps. Under Section 40802 of the CVC, a speed trap is: A particular section of a highway with a prima facie speed limit that is provided by this code or by local ordinance under subparagraph (A) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 22352, or established under Section 22354, 22357, 22358, or 22358.3, if that prima facie speed limit is not justified by an engineering and traffic survey conducted within five years prior to the date of the alleged violation, and enforcement of the speed limit involves the use of radar or any other electronic device that measures the speed of moving objects. This paragraph does not apply to a local street, road, or school zone.…

(b) (1) For purposes of this section, a local street or road is one that is functionally classified as “local” on the “California Road System Maps,” that are approved by the Federal Highway Administration and maintained by the Department of Transportation.

The CVC goes on to prohibit any enforcement of violations obtained by radar or electronic measurements, and the courts have repeatedly upheld this prohibition. A police officer still can issue a citation if the officer observes and “paces” a vehicle, but this rarely happens locally.

What About Scripps Ranch?

Note that “local” streets are exempt from the speed trap law. The California Road System Maps are available at http://dot.ca.gov/hq/tsip/hseb/crs_maps/index.php. Most streets in Scripps Ranch are classified as local, except:

Principal arterial

  • Scripps Poway Parkway

Minor arterials

  • Carroll Canyon Road
  • Pomerado Road
  • Scripps Ranch Boulevard

Major collectors

  • Appaloosa Road
  • Avenida Magnifica
  • Aviary Court
  • Birch Bluff Avenue
  • Blue Cypress Drive
  • Businesspark Avenue
  • Cypress Canyon Road
  • Fairbrook Road
  • Ironwood Road
  • Mesa Madera Drive
  • Red Cedar Drive
  • Rue Chamberry
  • Rue Chantemar
  • Scripps Creek Drive
  • Riesling Drive
  • Semillon Boulevard
  • Scripps Ranch Boulevard
  • Scripps Trail
  • Spring Canyon Road
  • Spruce Run Drive
  • Sunset Ridge Drive
  • Timberlake Drive
  • Willow Creek Road
  • Wills Creek Road

These streets are, therefore, subject to the speed trap laws. This means that the speed limit may go up whenever a traffic survey shows that people are driving faster.

Even on “local” streets, under CVC Section 22357 and the San Diego Municipal Code Section 85.06(a), the city may raise speed limits if it performs an engineering and traffic survey.

What Can Be Done?

Residents ask if speed control measures, such as rumble strips or speed bumps, can be installed on their streets. Most often, the answer is “no.” Neighbors usually oppose rumble strips because of noise. Speed bumps and humps cannot be installed on collector or artery streets, hills or curves, in areas where they are hard to see, or where they would impede emergency vehicles. Many drivers oppose them because of mechanical damage to cars.

Stop signs, by law, are not to be used for speed control. They are used only for safety control for cross traffic.

Some communities, notably La Jolla along La Jolla Boulevard, have installed traffic circles. “Mini” circles, or dividers in roads at intersections, also are used. These require sufficient room for circles that are wide enough for emergency vehicles, and, therefore, are not appropriate on many Scripps Ranch streets. Also, they are expensive, so the city is reluctant to provide them and funding takes years.

Speed feedback signs such as “VCalm” use radar to measure an approaching vehicle’s speed, then display it to the driver. However, according to city traffic engineers, studies have shown they are only effective in the general vicinity of their placement. They can be placed only in areas where there is sufficient distance to measure speed and provide a visible display, so they are not used on curves, hills, or tree-lined streets. They require suitable supports such as a street lamp or utility pole. Also, they are used only when nearby residents approve.

Restrictive striping can be used to make the road appear narrower. Studies show that drivers slow down on narrower roads.

What Does This Mean to You?

If you request a speed survey on your street, the posted speed limit is likely to go up. If we drive faster the posted speed limits will, over time, go up. When higher limits are posted, people tend to exceed those too. This vicious cycle of increasing speeds continues until enough accidents occur to affect an engineering survey.

The police will not enforce, and the courts will not uphold, other speed limits. In California both the legislature and the courts favor traffic laws that minimally restrict personal freedom. The courts have held that reduced speed zones not justified by the conditions bring disrespect to law enforcement and the courts [13 Cal.App.4th Supp. 15]. In San Diego our police department is understaffed and resources are often not available for routine traffic enforcement.

What Should You Do?

If you have a speed issue on your street, please bring it to the attention of the SRPG and SRCA first, rather than requesting a speed survey from the city. When a speed survey is conducted, the city returns the issue to the planning group anyway—it’s a city-sanctioned committee—and by then, the results of the survey usually show the speed limit must be raised. The SRPG has adopted a policy and procedure for assessing traffic situations and recommending solutions to the city.

Most importantly, SLOW DOWN. Most of our speed problems are the result of residents driving too fast on familiar roads. Unfortunately, WE are a big part of the problem—we drive too fast because it seems safe to do so. Usually, nothing bad happens and our behavior continues. Our traffic regulations require the exercise of sound judgment and reasonable care on the part of individual drivers.

Looking Ahead

There are development projects in our community and neighboring areas that will impact traffic in Scripps Ranch. In a future issue we’ll discuss freeway access and local congestion. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please email me at [email protected].

Wally Wulfeck, SRPG Chair