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Commander Gridlock : Task Force Paves the Way as City Gears Up to Unclog Intersections

December 23, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

LAPD Cmdr. Jerry Bova was talking about little things. Little things that can ruin your afternoon at the downtown mobile command post where officers of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation are trying to deal with downtown gridlock.

At 3:40: Bus hits a pedestrian at 6th and Broadway. Police and paramedics respond.

At 3:50: Car fire at Olive and 4th. Police unit calls fire department.

At 3:55: Assault and battery at Olive and 5th. LAPD car unit dispatched.

At 4:10: Gridlock stopping east-west and north-south traffic at 7th Street/Olive/Hope/Grand. Three LAPD motor officers dispatched to clear intersections.

At 4:15: Broken-down RTD bus at 1st and Hill blocking cross traffic. Call to RTD for towing.

At 4:30: Two drunks fighting in the street at 6th and Olive. Two motor officers respond.

At 4:50: Stalled car needs a tow from 7th Street between Broadway and Hill. Call to towing service.

"It's the little things that come up every day that mess up your whole plan," said Bova, LAPD's traffic coordinator and the man responsible for enforcing the new California gridlock law when it goes into effect Jan. 1. "And they come up every day. Tomorrow, there'll be something different that happens."

And Jan. 1, there'll be something different for Los Angeles motorists who violate the new gridlock law by pulling into an intersection through which they cannot proceed without interfering with the cross traffic. Tickets.

In anticipation of the law, the city Department of Transportation is posting "Do Not Block Intersection" signs at 125 designated critical intersections throughout the city, mostly in the downtown area, Hollywood, the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.

A $53 Ticket

A ticket for the first offense at the marked intersections will be $53, and will be considered a parking, not a moving violation. Fines at unmarked intersections will be less.

But fines can get steep under the new state law, authored by Assemblyman Richard Katz. Drivers having three offenses in a year can be fined from $250 to $500 for the third offense, and possibly have their driver's license suspended for up to 30 days.

On a recent afternoon, Bova, who has had his traffic coordinator job only since April, stood next to the dark blue police van that serves as the gridlock mobile command unit. It was nearing 5 p.m., peak time for the experimental Anti-Gridlock Task Force that Bova, his men and transportation officers have been overseeing before implementation of the new law. A 24-year LAPD veteran, the tall, soft-spoken Bova listened to the helicopter pilot flying overhead squawk locations of developing traffic snarls.

"It's pretty quiet right now," Bova said to motor officer Randy Wiggins, a member of the anti-gridlock task force since it began on Nov. 23. In the van, parked on the south side of Pershing Square at 6th and Olive, the two men checked locations on a large street map, then Wiggins got on the radio and ordered a motor unit to 7th and Olive where the intersection was beginning to clog.

The joint task force, which operates daily from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. has been working well, Bova said. "It's an experimental program that ends Christmas Eve. We've never done something like this before, so we'll be evaluating it to see how much impact we have had. Some of the things we've learned here we might use in the Valley or in Westwood.

"We have 28 extra officers, motor and foot patrol, assigned and DOT has about 40 traffic control officers," he added. "The DOT helicopter is watching where the problems break out and then we can send someone there. The whole idea of this was to relieve congestion downtown during the holidays. There is a 15% to 20% increase in traffic down here over Christmas."

100,000 Leaving Downtown

On any day, not counting the holiday increase, Department of Transportation's principal traffic engineer Tom Conner estimates that 40,000 cars an hour leave the downtown area during rush hour. That, Conner explained, translates to 100,000 people trying to get out of downtown.

"The biggest problem is downtown because there are a lot of closely spaced intersections and if one backs up, it starts to affect the others in the central business district, from 1st to Olympic and Los Angeles Street to Figueroa," Conner said.

"That is a little more than one square mile in area," Bova added. "And that's a whole lot of cars to move."

As Bova spoke, he watched one of his motor officers hand out a jaywalking ticket ($10) to a pedestrian on the corner of 5th and Hill. However, Bova said, "The new (gridlock) law doesn't apply to pedestrians. There are already existing pedestrian laws. You can't cross on a yellow light or against a 'Don't Walk' sign."

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