Among the most notable factors universally acknowledged to have “gone wrong” in the Woolsey Fire was the evacuation—Malibu residents won’t soon forget the trauma of crawling along Pacific Coast Highway for hour after tedious hour as the fire grew ever-nearer.
In response to that single, mass evacuation order, the city is working to draw up its first-ever citywide evacuation plan, the draft of which was just released for public comment. The draft plan was drawn up by traffic engineers Kimley-Horn, which the city contracted to aid in its design.
Rather than dumping all 13,000-or-so Malibu residents onto Pacific Coast Highway at once, the plan was designed with the goal of creating the maximum traffic flow possible to move evacuees out of harm’s way as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In the draft plan, the city was broken into four potential evacuation zones; from west to east, they are “Zone 14,” from the Ventura County line to Busch Drive, with the ideal evacuation route being westbound (northbound) PCH toward Oxnard; “Zone 13,” from Busch Drive to Latigo Canyon Road, with the ideal evacuation route being north on Kanan Dume Road; “Zone 12,” from Latigo Canyon Road to the Malibu Pier, with the ideal evacuation route being north on Malibu Canyon Road; and “Zone 11,” from Malibu Pier to Sunset Boulevard, with the ideal evacuation route being eastbound (southbound) on PCH toward Santa Monica.
The draft plan also includes “various types of traffic controls to be used when an evacuation order has been issued for residents within the City of Malibu and the surrounding community.” These controls are lettered A through E in the plan (though these are not “Plan A” and “Plan B” in the traditional sense). Rather, each plan consists of a different step taken by a different agency or group of agencies, depending on various factors at play.
For example, Plan A is for the City of Malibu and Caltrans to deploy emergency generators to power traffic signals throughout the city to aid in efficient traffic flow.
Plan B is to connect the generators to signal controllers. Plan B also instructs the City of Malibu and Caltrans to modify the portable electronic message signs placed along PCH to provide the community with instructions.
Plan C instructs various agencies to modify the timing of traffic signals to aid in traffic flow; it also directs officers to attend to each intersection to override signal settings to operate signals manually to manage traffic as it moves. This plan will be implemented in case of a traffic backup.
Plan D would direct drivers evacuating from canyon roads onto PCH to merge into traffic using center turn lanes, rather than stopping traffic as a normal intersection would require. Vehicles would turn into the turn lane and merge into the evacuating lanes of Pacific Coast Highway.
Finally, Plan E would involve increasing the number of evacuation lanes, as was eventually done during Woolsey evacuations.
The evacuation plan was discussed at the Wednesday, Nov. 6 Malibu Public Safety Commission hearing. It will then go before City Council for an additional public hearing after which, if approved, it will be implemented citywide.