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Crosswalk Crash Revives Call for Traffic Signal

January 19, 1989|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

The plate-glass window of the Century City Restaurant gives bar patrons a clear view of the crosswalk at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Warnall Avenue. It is the scene, they say, of frequent accidents, the latest of which happened just last Saturday.

"The guy just walked off the curb on the other side. He took one step off and that was it--boom," said L. Jerry McCormac, who was in the restaurant at the time and saw the victim just after the collision. "It flipped him over the top of the car."

The injured man was still hospitalized Wednesday.

The crosswalk, just below the crest of a small hill, is not protected by a traffic light or stop sign. It links a strip of office buildings and the residential blocks on the north side of the boulevard to a stairway leading down to the Century City Shopping Center on the south.

"We hear collisions almost on a daily basis," said Andrea Weiss, manager of the restaurant.

Traffic Whizzing By

"You can see for yourself," she said, pointing out the window to the traffic whizzing by on Santa Monica Boulevard. Warnall Avenue ends at a T-junction with the boulevard, which lowers the visibility of the crosswalk.

Motorists "don't see it 'til they're right on top of it," Weiss said. "Then someone tries to cross and (drivers) slam on their brakes and people slam into the backs of their cars." Police said a report on Saturday's accident was not available, and Harold Vellins, a city traffic engineer, also said he was not aware of it.

But word of Saturday's incident prompted residents and business operators in the area to talk of reviving their effort to make the crosswalk more visible.

Warren Pennington, a 25-year resident of the area, said he lives less than a block from Century City but goes there by car rather than walking for fear of being hit while crossing the boulevard on foot.

"I won't cross the street to get to Century City except early Sunday morning and early Saturday morning," he said.

It is "an absolute death trap," said Jan Hansen, who lives nearby.

Hansen, who sparked an unsuccessful petition drive in 1983 to install a traffic light, said authorities should reconsider and install "a flashing yellow light, anything" to warn drivers about the dangers of pedestrians crossing.

But city officials said that the intersection is too close to two existing traffic lights at Club View Drive and Beverly Glen Boulevard and that installing another one would slow traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard, which is also known as California 2 and needs Caltrans approval for any changes.

Pending Request

"There's a pending request to move the traffic light at Club View, but I don't think we're going authorize it," said Maria Chong-Castillo, field deputy for City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

She said moving the light to Warnall Avenue would attract traffic to the intersection, "and the residents on Warnall would go crazy."

Although the installation of a third traffic light on that stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard is unlikely, "that doesn't forestall further examination of the situation and trying to find some solution," said Michelle Krotinger Wolf, Yaroslavsky's spokeswoman.

Vellins, the city's traffic engineer for the Westside, said planners must try to balance safety with efficient use of city streets when they decide where to put traffic signals.

"The more signals you put in, the worse traffic gets, but the more people perceive you have safety," he said. "It's a thin line. At one extreme, traffic is at a crawl and there is absolute safety, and at the other end is free traffic and you can't cross the street."

Other Studies

Studies going back to 1968 show that the intersection averages less than one serious-injury or fatality accident a year, said Steve Tang, senior traffic engineer for Caltrans.

Although residents petition for a traffic light every few years, Tang said the lights at Club View Drive and Beverly Glen Boulevard provide adequate gaps in traffic for pedestrians to cross safely.

He also said that the number of pedestrians using the crosswalk has been found to be light, with no more than eight an hour logged during its hours of heaviest use, and that pedestrian warnings are painted on the roadway.

So-called "unprotected" crosswalks like the one at Santa Monica Boulevard and Warnall Avenue are a subject of controversy among traffic engineers and elected officials in Los Angeles.

The engineers generally argue that crosswalks are dangerous because they give pedestrians a false feeling of safety.

According to Tom Connor, assistant general manager of the city's Department of Transportation, the current policy is to remove such crosswalks whenever streets are resurfaced.

He also said that his office receives about 1,000 requests for new traffic lights every year, and that no more than 25 a year are approved.

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