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Hawaiian Gardens Wins Crossing Fight : Traffic safety: Lakewood City Council agrees to put up stop signs, at least temporarily, at intersection on cities' border. It has been site of numerous accidents.


LAKEWOOD — They have won the battle of the crosswalk--for now.

A contingent of Hawaiian Gardens residents has persuaded a divided Lakewood City Council to install stop signs at a pedestrian crossing on the border between the cities.

The crosswalk, which is at Centralia Road and Elaine Avenue in Lakewood, has been the site of numerous accidents in recent years. Earlier this year, a motorist struck and killed an 18-year-old Hawaiian Gardens pedestrian there.

Since that accident, Hawaiian Gardens residents have pleaded their case before the Lakewood council three times. After being shuttled to the meeting Tuesday in a Hawaiian Gardens van, several residents angrily told the council that the city needed to address the problem.

The council then decided to disregard part of its own staff recommendation to oppose the stop signs. Instead, it voted 3 to 2 to install the signs for one year and to re-stripe the road from four lanes to two.

"A stop sign will change (motorists') behavior immediately," said Councilman Wayne Piercy. "We need to make that street safe now."

After the meeting, Vice Mayor Joseph Esquivel said he appreciated the residents' concerns. "A young lady was killed there," Esquivel said, referring to the Feb. 13 death of Stephanie Iniguez, who was struck by a motorist while in the crosswalk. "I have a daughter that age."

Mayor Larry Van Nostran voted with Esquivel and Piercy for the signs, which will be in place by the end of August. Lakewood will pay the estimated $600 installation cost.

Elated Hawaiian Gardens residents said they had expected the council to reject their pleas. Last month, the council deadlocked on a motion to direct the city's Community Safety Commission to consider the stop signs, and the plan was dropped.

Lakewood also has resisted Hawaiian Gardens' efforts to erect a traffic light at the intersection. Although Hawaiian Gardens offered to split the estimated $60,000 cost, the matter never came before the Lakewood council because the city said traffic was not heavy enough to warrant a light.

"We feel like victory is accomplished," said Pat Sampson, 34, who lives in a Hawaiian Gardens apartment complex that borders the intersection. "Hopefully, if the stop sign works, we can come back and get a stop light."

In April, the city put up extra signs to warn motorists of the crossing, repainted the crosswalk and stepped up police patrols. The speed limit on Centralia Road between Pioneer and Norwalk boulevards also has been reduced from 40 to 35 m.p.h. Average speeds on Centralia Road have dropped from 44 to 39 m.p.h. as a result, officials said.

Lakewood staff members had recommended that the council oppose the stop signs because traffic on Elaine Avenue did not warrant them. The staff said that re-striping Centralia Road--reducing it to one lane of traffic in each direction, creating a center turning lane and increasing the width of parking lanes--would help resolve the problem.

Council members Marc Titel and Robert G. Wagner objected to breaking the flow of traffic on one of the city's main streets. "I don't think it makes sense to take a main thoroughfare and put a stop sign in the middle," Wagner said. "Why don't we try what the staff has recommended for six months? It doesn't make sense (that) we'd do something like this for one intersection."

Titel was upset that the council decided to disregard its staff's opinion. "With this recommendation (to erect stop signs), we are exceeding our neighboring cities in dumbness," he said.

Although the stop signs will be installed on a trial basis for a year, they could remain indefinitely, said Carl G. Brooks, the city's director of public works. "Once it goes in, it'll be there for good," he said. "There's no such thing as trial stop signs, unless we have lots of accidents."

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