Increased Dangers on Angeles Crest Highway

A cyclist with cars behind him on a turnaround

All these vehicles, coming south, are hidden round a blind curve to anyone crossing the Angeles Crest Highway after hiking or biking on the Mt. Lukens fire road. The yellow sign on the right says “Watch For Wildlife.” It might just as accurately say “Watch For Human Life.” (Photo – Reg Green)

The traffic on Angeles Crest Highway from Palmdale to the 210 has increased as California gradually opens up.

By Reg Green

It is still only a fraction of the thousands of cars that come this way every normal weekday. Even now, however, hiking or biking on the Mt. Lukens fire road, which necessitates crossing the highway, comes with a risk that has to be taken very seriously.

That’s because the parking lot on the west side of the highway at the Angeles Crest Fire station, where the hike starts, is still closed even though the fire road was officially reopened two weeks ago. The closure forces everyone to park in a turnout on the east side and walk across the highway, even though it has blind curves on it in both directions..

One exit from the regular parking lot is so dangerous, in fact, that drivers pulling out have always been forbidden to use it.

Instead they are required to join the main road another exit twenty yards further down. Even that exit is none too secure: many times I’ve turned on to it and seen in my rearview mirror a speeding car closing fast that had been hidden behind the curve. Some drivers blast their horns at suddenly coming upon my car trying to gain speed from a standing start.

No wonder: that’s the first time in the nearly forty miles from Palmdale that they have had to think about anyone entering the road in front of them. Sure, they shouldn’t be speeding but what consolation is that?

For people who want to hike or bike, however, the danger is one more turn of the screw: they are on foot and are not just joining the road, they are crossing it from the east side turnout. On the way in they have a view up and down the road far enough that if they hurry they can make it safely, though families with small children or dogs could get a bad scare. Dropping your water bottle and stopping to pick it up could be suicidal.

Sement barricades blocking aparking lot

Angeles Crest fire station parking lot (Photo – Reg Green)

That’s going to the hike. The way back from it is heart-stopping. Some people will be tempted to cross at the point where they came in. To do this without running undue risks, the traffic has to be light and you have to move fast: you decide when to go by listening for the sound of a car engine or the swish of the tires, then dart across.

In heavier traffic when you can’t hear well, your chances of survival against a car coming round the bend depend on pure luck. You might even find yourself stepping in front of a cyclist traveling at 40 mph.

But even if you walk down to the second exit, you are at risk from drivers of sports cars or high-powered motorbikes coming downhill who want one last high-speed thrill before they join the freeway — and you are only forty yards or so from another blind curve, this one hiding traffic coming up the hill. In short, it’s a very dangerous place.

I’ve asked forest rangers, firefighters and the contractors who service the antennae at the top of Mt. Lukens when the regular parking lot will be open.

None of them knows. Three days ago I sent emails to the public relations staff of the National Forest: from one I got an automated reply saying he was on leave and giving the names of two other staff members. Neither has replied.

I urge whoever is responsible to reopen the parking lot as a matter of urgency. An accident could happen at any time —and it would likely be a bad one.

Reg Green

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