Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Traffic light on Topanga Canyon Boulevard reflects well on Caltrans and the local community.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 04/2007

The past is future in designing unique traffic light

A new traffic signal on Topanga Canyon Boulevard (SR 27) has received a green light from Topanga Canyon residents, overcoming objections that a second traffic signal on the boulevard would compromise the rural nature of their community. 

Located at 135 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the driveways of Pine Tree Circle and the Old Topanga Center, the signal has been described variously as “vintage” and “rustic” (it actually IS your father’s signal, if you grew up in the 1950s). Regardless of the way it’s characterized, however, it’s the first of its kind on a State highway. 

The unusual light is hardly an overnight success; rather, it is the product of a five-year collaboration among members of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Traffic Committee, which includes Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Public Works, among other agencies, and the Topanga Canyon business and residential communities. The committee was formed in 2001 by State Senator Sheila Kuehl and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in response to neighborhood concerns about speeding through downtown Topanga.

When it was determined that a signal at the above location was the best solution, many in the community argued against it. After all, wasn’t a traffic light the ultimate symbol of an urban highway? And didn’t it indicate the triumph of commuters over locals? The committee decided that the community might be more receptive if the signal’s design was more in keeping with the environment. The problem was that nothing like that existed in the Caltrans storehouse. 

To find a design that would blend in with the surroundings, Senior Traffic Engineer  Sheik Moinuddin said he literally poured through designs from other states and counties to see what could be done. Finally, with the help of Dean De Leon from Traffic Design,  a model was found that met with the committee’s approval. But since no standards existed in the State highway system for the new design, more work was needed to make the project a go.  

Caltrans engineers consulted with rural transportation authorities across the country to come up with the new standards for a rustic light, learning in the process that there are only one or two vendors that still manufacture them. The final product features video detectors that identify when a car is waiting to turn out of the driveway onto the boulevard and, after a brief time delay to allow several cars to accumulate, trigger the light to stop boulevard traffic. Push buttons are also being installed to allow pedestrians to trigger the light. Unless triggered, the light will remain green full-time on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The custom design increased the cost of the project from the typical signal price but “the Department considers the money well spent,” Moinnudin said. “The Topanga area is a unique community that’s worth preserving and we were happy to go the extra mile to accommodate this.” 

He credited several people in the District for helping bring the project to fruition: Operations Deputy Frank Quon and Headquarters Traffic liaison Jerry Champa, who worked to secure Headquarters’ approval; Tetsuo Kohama, Rosie San Juan and Wayne Liu with Traffic Investigations, who assisted Moinuddin directly; Roy Fukumoto, who worked on civil design; and Hassan Mannaa, Resident Engineer, and Roger Banos, Construction Senior, who oversaw the project.

Signal installation took place on March 3. Based on the community’s initial reaction, the vintage/rustic signal is winning friends and influencing traffic throughout downtown Topanga.


Todd Johnson (left), a patrolman with the Westwood Electrical crew, and Jeremy Ernst with subcontractor Iteris, operate the signal control box. Senior Traffic Engineer Sheik Moinuddin is flanked by Laurie Newman (left), Senior Field Deputy for Senator Sheila Kuehl, and Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as they celebrate installation of the signal. The new signal will make it safer for vehicles and pedestrians navigating downtown Topanga. Construction Senior Roger Banos is pleased that the signal is working well.