Transportation

Speeders use this winding Sacramento road as a commute cut-through. Residents are furious.

Garden Highway fights speeding traffic

Garden Highway residents have put out signs warning Amazon employees, Waze users and other drivers: Slow down, this isn’t Interstate 5
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Garden Highway residents have put out signs warning Amazon employees, Waze users and other drivers: Slow down, this isn’t Interstate 5

Residents on the picturesque Garden Highway will all pretty much tell you they moved out here to escape the hassles of the city. Now, they say, city aggravation has come racing their way.

Drivers are avoiding Interstate 5 and instead using this narrow, two-lane levee-top road as a commute cut-through. More than a few of them are treating the drive "like it's the Daytona 500," one longtime area farmer says.

Locals, who fiercely defend their idyllic setting, have put up bright orange signs along the road, declaring: "Garden Highway is not I-5. Speed 45 mph."

Dennis Bastiao, whose family has farmed the area for generations, says commuters in a hurry aren't respecting the ribbon-like road's innate dangers.

"They come off I-5, they race down here, they race that way, down the levee all the way!" he said. "I mean, it's dangerous. This levee, anybody that's lived out here for a length of time has been off the Garden Highway. I've been off the Garden Highway. My mom went off the Garden Highway."

The road sits atop a massive two-story berm that separates the Sacramento River from low-lying farmlands and the airport. In most places, it doesn't have a shoulder. It does have blind curves and steep drop offs.

The end result of a missed turn: A dented car in a ditch, with a bruised driver wondering what happened.

Some residents put up convex mirrors at the edge of their driveway so they can get a view of what's coming around the bend before they dare pull out onto the road.

Most drivers on the levee respect the road and the residents. But bad driving isn't new here.

"We've always dealt with speeders out here," said Sherri Leng, who nevertheless put up an orange sign at her driveway. "They think it's a highway. It's nothing new."

Nor is drunken driving, CHP Officer Michael Zerfas said. The scenic riverside is dotted with fishing holes and watering holes. "It is not a normal commute roadway," Zerfas warned.

It hosts a diverse assortment of travelers. Big groups of cyclists come through, at times blocking cars. Motorcyclists as well love the road's curvaceous beauty. Farmers, like Bastiao, may be trundling around the next bend, hauling wide farm equipment loads.

Local resident retiree Roland Bain walks daily across the road to his mailbox on the other side and takes his dog for strolls on the road edge.

Standing in front of his house last week, he pointed east. "There is at least a mile (straight) stretch around the corner there and cars gain speed and they hit this curve way over the speed limit. I walk my dog and I'm just holding my breath a lot of the time."

So, who are the fast drivers?

Some say it may be workers heading to and from the big new Amazon "fulfillment center" near the freeway, which opened in October and is directly connected to the Garden Highway by Power Line Road.

Brian Shaad, whose parents live on the Garden Highway, said he went to the Amazon center to ask them to tell their employees to slow down. He said he was told by a representative to contact law enforcement. He considers that a refusal to be a good neighbor. "You put your building in our community, you need to take responsibility."

Amazon did not respond to a Bee request for comment.

Gibson Howell, president of the Garden Highway Community Association, isn't so sure it's Amazon employees, though.

He's said the smart phone app Waze, which shows drivers the quickest routes in real-time, may be directing drivers off I-5 and onto the levee when the freeway is congested.

"I have lived on Garden Highway for 24 years and have noticed a huge increase in commuter traffic since apps like Waze became popular ... and more reckless driving, especially during freeway rush hour," he said.

The Waze app and other real-time traffic routing devices have prompted similar complaints nationally.

Waze declined comment. But a representative guided us to a recent public explanation of the company's philosophy and goals, by Waze CEO Noam Bardin, self-described as "Chief Wazer."

In a nutshell, Bardin says, Waze helps unclog traffic, and that means spreading traffic onto roads that didn't have as much before. It's up to local officials and law to deal with that.

What to do? Garden Highway resident Leng has an idea. Stop calling it the Garden Highway.

"It's not a highway," she said. "It should be Garden Drive."

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