Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CityWatchLA - LADOT Dragging Their Feet on LA’s Crosswalk Death Traps

CityWatch, August 12, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 65

Who’s Listening to the Neighborhoods?
By Stephen Box

A little over six years ago, Jennifer Liu finished her school day at Granada Hills High School, walked off the campus and into the crosswalk at Zelzah Avenue and Kingsbury Street where she was hit by a car.

The impact of the collision was so great that the halves of her brain were separated. Her collarbones snapped, her ribs were broken and one of them speared her right lung. Blood trickled out of her ears and nose.

Jennifer spent five weeks in a coma. Against the odds, she awoke, relearned everything she knew and went on to graduate from High School and then from College. Looking back on the incident outside Granada High School, Jennifer wonders if the collision wasn’t God’s way of saying, “Slow down, stop racing.”

Jennifer’s father, David Liu, came out of the experience committed to improving the Zelzah Avenue and Kingsbury Street crosswalk. Community members, school staff and school supporters joined him in the fight, all in an effort to have the City of Los Angeles install a “smart” crosswalk, one that would alert motorists to the presence of a pedestrian.

The battle has not been easy.

Last year the City Council addressed the fact that 33 of the most dangerous street crossings for schoolchildren had not received safety improvements even though the city has had funding for the work for years.

LADOT Assistant General Manager John Fisher blamed the 2001 hiring freeze for putting them behind schedule and explained that the department had picked up the pace on special projects since hiring an additional 13 workers in 2006.

One councilman angrily responded, "Our Department of Transportation is one of the slowest, most bureaucratic departments in the city. I am constantly banging my head against the wall to get them to do what I want them to do."

As for Zelzah and Kingsbury, ground was broken months ago, equipment was installed and the “smart” signal remains wrapped up and inoperable.

Community advocates, parents and school staff are frustrated with the situation, one that is aggravated by the LADOT’s recent proposal to raise the speed limit on Zelzah Avenue, all as the community works to calm traffic and address the congestion in the area.

The LADOT pleads helpless in the speed limit raising proposal, pointing out that they merely conduct the engineering and traffic surveys that are required as a condition of certifying the speed limits, all in accordance with state law as a condition of using radar to enforce speed limits.

Which means, the LAPD can’t use radar on speeding motorists until the speed limit survey certifies the speed limit, but the large number of speeding motorists “vote with the gas pedal” and the new speed limit is set at the 85% mark so the speed limit is raised. Now the LAPD can use radar on the motorists who are now not speeding because the speed limit just got raised.

All of this on Zelzah Avenue, which still does not have a functioning “smart” crosswalk at Kingsbury.

Through it all, community members are asking the LADOT, the Transportation Committee and the Transportation Commission how all of this takes place without community involvement.

Two weeks ago, the Transportation Commission rejected three LADOT requests for speed limit increases in the West Valley simply because they had not gone to the Neighborhood Councils as part of the process.

Last week, the Transportation Committee had six LADOT requests for speed limit increases on the agenda. Members of the community spoke in opposition, arguing that the proposals had not gone to the Neighborhood Councils, that the proposals were in conflict with efforts to calm traffic and establish walkable, rideable, livable communities and that the criteria for evaluating appropriate speed limits was outdated and ineffective.

The Transportation Committee pulled the Zelzah Avenue proposal and then approved the other 5, including Reseda Avenue, which would increase the speed limit from 40 to 50 mph alongside a bike lane.

Community members continue to ask the hard questions:

Who sets the priorities for the Department of Transportation?

Why are the Neighborhood Councils not involved in evaluating and advising the city on transportation projects in their communities?

What is the LADOT’s record for delivery on Safe Routes to School projects and what happens to the funding on projects that the LADOT fails to deliver?

(Stephen Box is a long-time community issues advocate. Box writes for CityWatch.)

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