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Traffic 'calming' brings storm of protest in Palms

August 14, 2013|Matt Stevens

The corner of Motor Avenue and National Boulevard is one of those Los Angeles intersections with a lot of rules -- a Los Angeles Police Department cruiser often parked nearby ready to enforce them.

When local merchants see the LAPD in waiting these days, though, they run out to the sidewalk holding up a four-foot sign that warns "NO TURN! WILL GET TICKET." The stores along the street also hand out postcards bearing the phone numbers and email addresses of city officials, tacitly encouraging drivers to complain about the restrictive traffic rules.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 20, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Palms intersection: An article in the Aug. 14 Section A about controversial traffic calming measures in Palms included a map that mislabeled Overland Avenue as Sepulveda Boulevard.

One computer-repair store even offers a free hour of labor -- calling it "justice credit" -- to any angry customer who arrives with a citation in hand. In the last five years, the store has given the credit to about 60 customers.

The intersection has become a bitter battleground over so-called traffic calming measures, which have been deployed all across the city in an attempt to reduce cut-through traffic in residential areas. Among other things, the city has restricted turns, installed traffic islands, and added stop signs and speed humps.

Traffic has fallen in some neighborhoods because of the measures, but the changes have also drawn complaints from nearby residents who believe the attempt to "calm" traffic has just moved the problem into their neighborhoods.

The turning restrictions at Motor and National were designed to reduce the number of cars cutting through Cheviot Hills, a community of million-dollar homes between the 10 Freeway and Century City

For three hours during morning rush, drivers going east or west on National are not allowed to turn north onto Motor, a main route into Century City. Merchants and some residents in less affluent Palms say they are paying the price -- in traffic tickets and lost business because the rules make it difficult for customers to come to their stores.

From Jan. 1 to April 12, police handed out about 200 tickets for illegal turns at the intersection, according to the LAPD data. Two mornings during that period saw about 40 drivers ticketed -- about 20 each day. Tickets for such violations run about $238, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman said.

Adam Collis is still fuming over a ticket he got last year when he turned onto Motor. Collis frequents the businesses there and said he's grateful the merchants are now trying to warn drivers with their signs.

"Oh, man, let me tell you," Collis said outside C&M Cafe. "I saw the guys with the signs, and if I didn't have three kids and have to make a living, I would go out there with them just to stick it to the really wrong-thinking individuals who have created this mess."

The warning campaign was hatched about two years ago by the local street-improvement association after complaints from irate customers who got tickets while trying to get to local stores and from the business owners who feared a loss of customers.

On a recent morning, community activist Lee Wallach stood at the intersection counting the drivers making illegal turns. As it happened, no police cars showed up.

"This guy's going -- he just made that right" turn, Wallach said, surveying the commuters. "There's another one. And there's another one. All these folks would be getting tickets right now."

Wallach is one of the "first responders" who get the word out when they see a police car lurking.

He and his associates believe they're saving drivers countless tickets.

As Wallach counted cars, another concerned business owner, P&C Auto Body owner Peter Neptune,looked on, his arms folded over his mechanic's vest. Just then, a customer made an illegal turn into the body shop's driveway.

"That's what I'm depending on," Neptune says, chuckling. "Human beings -- I don't care how many signs they put in, they're not going to obey this stuff."

The business owners say police come at random -- sometimes several times a week, sometimes less than once a month. Some customers who get tickets end up canceling appointments they had with the merchants. Others have stormed through the doors, ready to blame their ticket on the business and its location.

"They get caught by cops, and that's it," said Ali Ayati, a partner at Printex. "That's the end of their business with us."

Motor Avenue connects Fox Studios in Century City with Sony Studios in Culver City. It got its name decades ago because people could "motor" easily between the two (at the time, the Sony lot was owned by MGM). Between Palms and Century City, Motor is lined with stately homes in Cheviot Hills. As traffic worsened over time, Cheviot Hills residents demanded that L.A. take action.

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