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Debate Over Stop Signal Continues as Toll Mounts

January 13, 1986|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

In December, 1982, dozens of parents went to the Villa Park City Council to demand a traffic signal in front of Villa Park High School to protect youngsters crossing busy Taft Avenue. They went back armed with petitions in May, 1984, after three students were struck by passing cars.

The council authorized some new striping and no-parking zones, but the problem never seemed to go away. Villa Park High School Principal Richard Kirwan said it was second on a list of pressing issues he drew up only a few weeks before Christmas.

That was, Kirwan recalls, about three days before 13-year-old Jeff Dagley became the 11th student in the past six years to be hit in or near the crosswalk--and the first to die of his injuries.

Bicyclist Injured

On Friday, less than a month after that incident, 12-year-old Mitch Soper was struck on his bicycle near the intersection. He remains in critical condition at Western Medical Center.

"The City of Villa Park has been very reluctant (to do anything). I think money is a factor. They're a small municipality with limited funds, and I don't know where they've been getting their advice," Kirwan said Sunday.

"Let me put it this way: They studied it for six years, and in that interim, there are now 12 injuries and one fatality," he said.

Policy 'Shortsighted'

Said Jeff Dagley's father, Dale Dagley: "I guess they don't feel like they want to spend the money for a signal. That seems to me to be pretty shortsighted. I don't know how many accidents it will take before they one day realize the danger that is present there."

City leaders in Villa Park, an affluent, rural community of about 7,000 residents, say they would probably have installed a traffic signal long ago if they believed it would cure the problem.

"Both the Sheriff's Department and very knowing and knowledgeable traffic engineers feel that may add to the problem, rather than solve it," said Mayor Wayne Silzel.

Because there are no other traffic signs for several blocks in each direction of the school, and because there is heavy pedestrian traffic only before and after school, engineers believe a traffic light there would "invite people to run it," and worsen the problem, Silzel said.

A painted stop sign would probably increase rear-end accidents near the school, Silzel said.

"We gotta do something more, there's no doubt about it," said the mayor. "There's no apathy here at all."

Villa Park officials say a combination of factors have led to the current hazard. First, students from four schools--Villa Park high, Cerro Villa junior high and Serrano and Villa Park elementaries--all may use the intersection at Taft and Nichols avenues to get to and from school.

Traffic From Freeway

Yet motorists frustrated with traffic on the nearby Costa Mesa Freeway often elect to use Taft as an alternate, and the 35-m.p.h. speed limit (posted at 25 m.p.h. when children are present) is often disobeyed, city officials said.

"A deputy personally told me he had given out 50 tickets since Dec. 12 in the vicinity of that accident. In most cases, the speeders were going more than 15 m.p.h. over the speed limit," Silzel said.

Another problem is created by students who do not use the crosswalk, or who walk out in front of traffic in the erroneous belief that all cars will stop, city and school officials said.

"A defensive posture is something we must teach. It's not necessarily right, but it's a fact of survival," Silzel said.

The mayor countered parents' and school officials' assertions that the city had been reluctant to act in the past, pointing out that the crosswalk had been moved, widened and repainted and a left-turn lane was installed in front of the high school. Bus traffic was also diverted and trees were planted in the median of Taft Avenue to hold traffic down to a single lane in each direction.

Rural Character

Silzel also scoffed at reports that the council had turned down the traffic signal in an attempt to maintain the city's rural character.

"We do have a philosophy to maintain a quiet, rural atmosphere. We have many areas without curbs and street lights . . . ," Silzel said. "But as far as traffic devices go, we have no opposition to signals. Many of the residents are opposed to them . . . but the lack of installation of a full-blown signal was not a political issue."

There are several signals along Villa Park's borders with nearby Orange, Silzel said.

Still, no one is agreed on how to proceed.

Silzel said he will propose at the Jan. 21 City Council meeting that the local Parent-Teacher Assn. appoint volunteers to monitor the intersection and report to the school the names of any students who fail to use the crosswalk properly.

"If the students know that somebody is watching them and will turn them in, that will help," he said.

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