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John Steves Pleads for Safer Streets at Traffic Commission Meeting

Laguna Niguel traffic engineer says that the intersection is safe and that no changes are needed, but commissioners vote to recommend stepped-up enforcement.

At a meeting to address last month's fatal accident at Moulton Parkway and Nueva Vista Road, the city's Traffic Commission on Wednesday recommended stepping up enforcement in the area and examining possible safety measures.  

The recommendations, which will be forwarded to the City Council, came after pleas from victim Mara Steves' husband, John, and other residents who said they hope something good can come from the tragedy.

However, the city's traffic engineer said that the intersection was safe and that no changes were needed. 

, 48, was killed at the intersection Feb. 13 in a crash that is still being investigated by the O.C. Sheriff's Department. She was kneeling on the sidewalk after corralling a dog when two cars crashed and one hit her, according to Sheriff's Department officials.

"I don't want this to happen to any other family—the way it's torn our family apart," Steves' husband told the commission. "If you could make the streets safer to avoid this in the future, that would be an amazing thing.  I don't know what you can do—street signs, turn lanes, anything, something."

The meeting began with a report from Dave Rogers, director of  and a traffic engineer.

Although the collision is still under investigation, the preliminary finding was that one vehicle ran a red light, he said.

Rogers ruled out malfunctioning traffic lights. "All traffic signals are equipped with a conflict monitor that prevents traffic signals from giving simultaneous greens," he said. "This is why we can conclude with near certainty that no two conflicting drivers had a green at the same time."

He also noted that city traffic signals are set "with at least one full second of all red—where the light in all directions is red to allow people a little more time to get through the intersection. "It is really designed to allow for driver error."

A Safe Intersection?

According to city data, the intersection has historically been very safe, Rogers said.

Between 2004 and 2009, there were four reported collisions at that intersection. "The collision rate of 0.10 per million entering vehicles is low,  even by our own standards," he said. 

Based on the intersection's history, Rogers said, no changes should be made.

"We do believe that the collision ... was just that—a random collision—and that there are no unusual patterns that would suggest that we do a more in-depth review," Rogers said.

Some residents disagreed. Elizabeth Von Gremp, the Steveses' neighbor, told commissioners, "Mara and I would complain about how fast some of the drivers would drive through our streets.  Having lived above this intersection, we both knew how dangerous it could be."

Von Gremp said Mara Steves' was not the first fatality at the intersection. "In 2002, a student lost her life while crossing Moulton on Rancho Niguel Road," she said. "She was trying to catch a bus, and someone had run a red light. This is now the second death that has happened on this short stretch of road in front of my home. Can't we do something to stop this from happening? ... Please do something to make it safe for us—to not have to live in fear."

Resident Richard Swanson asked the commission to consider speed bumps for Nueva Vista Road.

"That road between these two Indy 500 speedways—between Moulton and Crown Valley—is Nueva Vista.  Cars are racing ... all the time." he said.

Resident Sam June said he was concerned about right turns in the area.

"I don't know of any place where you can make a right-hand turn on red into 50 mph traffic," June said. "This is an area between Crown Valley and Aliso Creek where we have had many accidents. 

The Traffic Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the City Council to increase traffic enforcement in the area and add radar trailers "as time, equipment and personnel permits." The commission also suggested a review of overall traffic conditions on Moulton Parkway, including visibility issues as motorists turn right onto the street from Nueva Vista when they have a red light. 

John Steves spoke at the end of the meeting, leaving many residents and the commissioners choked up.

"We moved our family here when our kids were babies because it was a safe neighborhood," he said. "They are 13 and 14 years old now, and they don't have a mother."

Susan Haines Lopez March 24, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Thanks for following up on this story
Debbie L. Sklar (Editor) March 25, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Susan: This is an important story that we will continue to follow.
Caprice Crebar March 25, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Thank you Debbie. I'm so sorry I couldn't be there last night, and am very appreciative that you wrote this important story and will follow it for us. Hopefully it too will help the changes be made so our neighborhood families can feel comfortable letting our kids cross that corner/street. Mara would be the first to stand up and fight for changes that protect and support her community.
Leonard Kinkade March 25, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Using the number of accidents at a certain location as a tool for measurement of an intersection as to if is going to be fixed, is like launching a particular type of ship to determine if it will float. How about a little commonsense, put a video camera out there for a week and you will have more than enough proof that people drive to fast at that location. We should change the name of Laguna a Niguel to Laguna Seca Raceway #2. People drive to darn fast, especially, when they are rushing to get home in Dana Point or Laguna Beach. If you just go to Crown Valley and Del Avion between 6:00 and 7:30 PM you will see all those people who use PCH instead of the toll road to race through our city. Where is the traffic manager during those hours, At home.
Debbie L. Sklar (Editor) March 25, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Leonard: I could not agree with you more. It is frightening the way people drive here, I often wonder where they are going in such a hurry? I can't tell you the number of times that I have been run off the road or tailgated on Crown Valley and Moulton Parkway. Golden Lantern is also a scary place. I remain amazed that we do not have cameras like other cities such as SJC and Laguna Woods. I'm sot sure what more it is going to take before the city stands up and does something.
Tom Berney March 25, 2011 at 06:31 AM
I have worked on the streets of Laguna Niguel for the past 24 years, I can honestly say it has improved in the last 2 years, I attribute that to the stepped up police enforcement and yes some consideration of other drivers. Speed on stonehill, del avion and niguel rd. and the radar gun is on the fist metal in line, that motorcycle cop is bad ass good.
Mary Oviedo March 25, 2011 at 03:03 PM
I would really like to know if this accident involved a car turning right on a red from Nueva Vista onto Moulton. I drive that way several times a day and turning right there can be a scary thing. I honestly don't know if the cars are speeding, or if the 50mph speed limit combined with the visibility limited by the hill is not compatible with turning into that traffic flow. Perhaps the Moulton car was speeding or ran a red, or perhaps the other car mistakenly pulled out into 50 mph traffic too slowly. Or maybe it's simply not safe to turn right on a red at that intersection.
Elizabeth von Gremp March 25, 2011 at 04:18 PM
I plan to attend EVERY Traffic Commission Meeting that involves Mara and the accident. She was my best friend and I owe it to her and her family. The city of Laguna Niguel needs to do something about the safety of the streets near our homes. We shouldn't be afraid to walk around our neighborhood. I can't drive past that corner without a little more of my heart broken. I loved Mara very much....
Lisa Poese March 25, 2011 at 04:51 PM
I think the city needs to look at right hand turn arrows. Especially when we are all turning out onto Moulton where cars are traveling at the high speed of 50 MPH. I think Sam June brought up an excellent point. I know there is a right hand turn signal recently installed at the corner of Moulton and Rancho Niguel, but I think Nueva Vista should definitely have one.
johnny Pollastro March 27, 2011 at 04:48 PM
I'm very sorry for the the loss and my prayers go out to the family. Time and time again while I'm driving I look over and what do I see, I see another driver texting while they drive. Maybe the Investigating should start with the drivers cell phones. They can check to see when the last call or text went out. Soon there will be TWI's Texting while driving. What really gets me is when I see a young person doing it , they barley know how to drive .

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