Saturday, October 11, 2008

CityWatchLA - The Sound of Death on LA’s Streets…and No One is Listening

CityWatch, Oct 10, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 82

LA Traffic
By Stephen Box

Two weeks ago, in the early evening of a warm Friday night, Michael Duffin parked his car on Hazeltine Avenue, across the street from his home in Valley Glen, a quiet residential community in the south Valley of Los Angeles.

He pulled up behind two of his neighbors who had just parked on the street and who were standing next to their cars engaged in a conversation.

Hazeltine Avenue, in the half-mile stretch between Oxnard and Burbank, is a dimly lit street with parking on both sides, one lane of travel in each direction and a median strip to accommodate left turns. It has no crosswalks, no stop signs, no signals, no speed bumps, nothing to slow down the traffic that flows unimpeded through the neighborhood. Duffin exited his car holding a bag from Burger King and began to cross Hazeltine mid-block between Hatteras and Emelita.

He made it two-thirds of the way and was in the northbound lane when a car traveling in excess of 60 mph hit him, throwing him 80 yards up the street. He landed at the corner of Hazeltine and Emelita.

He never saw it coming. His neighbors across the street never saw it coming. They reported hearing the sound of an impact “like a car hitting another car. It was loud and it was solid. We looked and then we saw Michael lying in the street.”

The driver of the car never stopped. Michael Duffin was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Michael was not alone. Two hours later Jose Silva left a sporting event at Cathedral High School in Chinatown and began to cross the street when he was struck by a speeding car as it ran a red light, hitting him with such force that he was thrown forward and then hit again by the same car. The driver of the car never stopped. Jose was pronounced dead at the scene.

Unfortunately, these incidents aren’t unusual or even uncommon. In fact they’re barely news. In the days that followed, a motorist racing down La Cienega at 125 mph crashed head-on into a mini-van, killing himself and severely injuring the two occupants of the other vehicle.

On Victory Boulevard, a motorist traveling at 90 mph lost control and hit a tree so hard that a front wheel broke off and flew into the bedroom of a nearby home. The motorist was killed. The occupants of the home were unharmed.

Our streets are engineered to move traffic. They are filled with high-performance vehicles operated by low-performance motorists. In terms of lives lost, only cancer and heart disease have a higher toll than traffic.

Recent debates over speed limit increases in order to provide for radar enforcement fail to address the fact that our streets are engineered for speed and our neighborhoods are under siege.

A decade ago, a motion was introduced to the Los Angeles City Council, recognizing that with the continuing growth of the City “traffic problems such as excessive speed, commuter shortcuts and spillover from commercial developments are becoming increasing serious in residential neighborhoods and are adversely affecting the quality of life more than ever before.” The motion went so far as to call for traffic-calming measures including “speed hump installation, narrowing of paved roadways and the installation of speed-limit signs and other measures designed to discourage unnecessary traffic in residential neighborhoods and reduce the speed of vehicles traveling through them.”

It concluded by calling on the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to protect residents “from traffic flows that are excessive or inappropriate for their neighborhoods” and to create a Neighborhood Calming Section.

Since then, there have been many innovations in traffic calming techniques including roundabouts, ped scrambles, pelican crossings, bulb-outs, safety islands and shared streets.

Since then, community members are becoming more emphatic about reclaiming their streets, about creating neighborhoods where kids can walk to school, where streets are crossable and where the quality of life is more important than maintaining “alternate routes.”

Since then, community members have become more active and educated and committed to promoting innovations in transportation and not just those who have traveled to Europe. One only has to visit West Hollywood to see bicycle boxes and pelican crossings, roundabouts and safety islands that make one slow down just to watch, in envy, as environmental solutions provide equality for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and mass transit passengers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the LADOT is busy installing ped scrambles in ten different locations throughout the City. Ped Scrambles are all-walk phases of an intersection that provide pedestrians with the option of crossing the intersection diagonally.

While the LADOT is to be applauded for its implementation of the ped scramble, members of the community are left wondering how this all came about with no contact with the community. It’s not that the idea is bad, it’s just that the community might have some insight as to the best intersections, based on first hand experience.

All of which brings us to the real opportunity for innovation in transportation in Los Angeles and that is to engage the community in the process.

Its local community members that know which Franklin Avenue valets are racing through which side streets at midnight. They’ve got a proposed solution, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local community members that have Woonerf plans already drawn up, all in an effort to reduce the speed of the cut-through traffic on their residential street, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local cyclists who can tell you that there are 34 streetlights burned out or missing on the Cahuenga Pass, making dodging the uneven manhole covers and potholes difficult at night, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local bus passengers that can tell you which intersections are tough for bus connections and great for ped scrambles, if anyone is ready to listen.

It’s local pedestrians who can tell you which streets are simply not crossable on foot, if anyone is ready to listen.

The people of Los Angeles deserve more from the LADOT than an email address and the opportunity to submit questions, if properly formatted and vetted by committee, board and then chair.

The people of Los Angeles deserve the right to participate in the vision for their community … from the beginning, and that includes our plans for how we move, how we get about and how we share our public space.

It’s time for the LADOT and people of Los Angeles to partner in making our streets great places for walking, for riding, for living and for sharing, for all modes of travel. For making them safe for the Michael Duffins and Jose Silvas. And the hundreds of other who will follow to their sad ends if the LADOT doesn’t engage the community and take action now.

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

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