Jerry Houske says he hates backing out of his driveway. Nearly every time he attempts to ease his car onto 235th Street, he says, drivers cutting through his neighborhood blow their horns and call him names.
What angers him, Houske says, is that his street, in southeast Torrance, is a narrow residential lane that shouldn't have so much traffic.
On Madison Street, Shari Marquez feels the same way. She says she has twice seen her 8-year-old son nearly hit by cars cutting through her neighborhood. Walter Wiesbauer, Marquez's neighbor, said he recently walked out of his house to find his cat dead, run over by one of the many cars using the residential street.
Edward Wooley, who lives on Ocean Avenue, says he sees the same problems.
All three streets are what city traffic engineers and residents call cut-throughs.
As traffic increases in Torrance, more drivers are seeking relief from congested multiple lane boulevards by using two-lane residential streets as shortcuts. And even though all three streets have posted speed limits of 25 m.p.h., residents say many drivers go much faster.
The residents say the city appears indifferent to their complaints about traffic and has ignored suggestions for easing the problem.
Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert acknowledges the problem but says the city has "gone to unusual lengths to help some of this."
But some officials say the city just has too many cars and their options are limited.
John Vance, Torrance's traffic manager for the last four years, said Torrance has 140,000 residents, but during the day 500,000 people may be in the city to work or shop. Drivers look for ways to travel across the city as quickly as possible.
"What any agency that controls traffic needs to do is to try to make people use the arterial system for their trips," Vance said. "In other words, if I'm going to go from south Torrance to north Torrance, I need a route that will get me from here to there in a reasonable amount of time so that I'm not tempted to go on an alternate route."
But Hawthorne Boulevard, an eight-lane artery that is the city's main north-south route, is often jammed with cars, prompting motorists to use side streets like Madison, Ocean and 235th.
Madison, for example, offers a way for people to avoid the busy intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.
"It's just a race track," Wiesbauer said.
Barbara Hester, principal of Walteria Elementary School on Madison, said she has been telling the city Transportation Department about dangerous traffic for several years.
In early February, Wiesbauer sent a letter to Vance and the city's transportation director, Arthur Horkay, detailing his complaints and offering 12 suggestions, ranging from installing watch-for-children signs to permanently closing one end of Madison.
A few days later he received a reply from Vance that shot down every one of his suggestions.
Because of his frustrations, Wiesbauer recently helped organize the Madison Street Traffic Control Committee as a focal point for residents' complaints.
One of the committee members is Marquez, who has lived on Madison for eight years in a house across from the school. From her kitchen window, she said, she has witnessed drivers swerving to avoid crossing guards as they helped children in crosswalks. At other times, she has seen children blasted out of the crosswalk by the honking horns of impatient drivers. One of her neighbors was rear-ended by a motorist as she pulled into her driveway, Marquez said. One woman used to stand in the street, stopping traffic so her late husband could pull his car out of the driveway.
"I just get really angry," Marquez said.
Add 2nd Lane
Four years ago, she said, Horkay told her the city planned to add a second left-turn lane on Pacific Coast Highway at Hawthorne Boulevard, a measure aimed at encouraging more drivers to use the intersection rather than cut through Madison.
That lane has yet to be added. Horkay blames the California Department of Transportation for the delay. But Karl Berger, an associate traffic engineer with Caltrans, said the lane could have been installed four years ago except for delays caused by the city and a county drainage project that isn't due to begin until June.
To Vance and Horkay, the solution to drivers speeding along Madison Street is police enforcement, but Sgt. Rollo Green said officers spent eight days in February on Madison and wrote 21 tickets, far more than one would expect on a residential street, Green said.
"The answer is not just a bunch of tickets," Green said, adding that eliminating or reducing access to the streets also has to be part of the solution.
Reducing access has become a first step toward dealing with the traffic problem on Madison. The Madison Street Traffic Control Committee brought about 50 people to an April 4 meeting of the Torrance Traffic Commission, a seven-member body of volunteers appointed by the City Council to make recommendations.