New York Times Writes on Traffic Nightmare Surrounding L.A. Schools

4_13_09_Palms.jpgOverhead shot of Palms Elementary School. Note the five lane streets and lack of crosswalks. Photo via Vaughn’s One Pager

A story in yesterday’s New York Times took a look at the safety conditions surrounding Los Angeles’ public schools and painted a horrific picture of a traffic nightmare.  Focusing on the condition’s surrounding Florence Nightengale Middle School, the NY Times found that narrow sidewalks and a glut of parents racing to pick up their children create a dangerous, chaotic mess for children.  Sadly, the problem isn’t limited to just to one school:

Traffic patterns around schools in Los Angeles have become clogged
and often dangerous because of a large growth in student enrollment and
an increase in the number of parents who ferry their children to and
from school out of fear for their safety, Mr. Hopwood said. Especially
in high-crime areas, parents are reluctant to let their children walk.

“It’s getting worse and worse each year,” said Brad Smith, an
environmental health and safety officer at the school district,
“because so many parents feel that they need to drop their kids at the
front entrance of the school because they are concerned about harm.”

The Times’ story doesn’t just detail the problems, but does give credit to the Los Angeles’ City Attorney’s office for creating a program that would turn parents into mini-traffic cops.  After a group of parents tried the vigilante approach to traffic policing, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo created a program where police "professionalize" new traffic safety volunteers to and provide them with cones and vests to help them control traffic.

And does the traffic ever need to be controlled!  The Times talks to bus drivers, school officials, and parents all of whom complain about the glut of cars on the street; yet the article doesn’t go into what can be done to solve the congestion issues.  The words "Department of Transportation" or "LADOT" don’t appear in the article, and given the department’s mediocre track record in securing state Safe Routes to Schools grants, it may not be the worst thing in the world that they aren’t quoted.  Also absent was any discussion of what, if any, impact the decision to cut back on school buses to save budget dollars has had on the dangerous traffic disaster surrounding our public schools.

Incidently, I can’t help but notice that when you click on the story, the article appears from the "Los Angeles Journal" and at the bottom of the article there is an advertisement that refers to the NY Times as "L.A.’s top source for daily news."  Are our own daily papers about to find themselves a new competitor in the market?

  • This seems like an urban design problem, yet the only solutions talked about in the article is stronger enforcement and “deputizing” parents. How about wider sidewalks around schools so students have room to walk safely and parents feel less need to drop their kids off by car? How about traffic calming devices near schools to slow down through-traffic? Are these kinds of solutions even talked about in LA, or is it just a foregone conclusion that the automobiles should be given as much road as possible so they can drive as fast as possible?

    I just arrived home from my first trip to LA, and couldn’t believe how fast cars drive through residential neighborhoods. I feel like LA has not yet reached the tipping point that other cities have, where city officials realize that moving cars is not the priority. Moving PEOPLE, in a safe way through multi-modal means is.

  • KateNonymous

    There are crosswalks at the intersection of Palms and Motor, where Palms Elementary is located, but not mid-block. Given the insane way people drive on that section of Motor (they seem to go REALLY crazy slightly south of there, at Motor and Venice), I’m not sure I’d trust a mid-block crosswalk in that location–certainly not without a stoplight.

    Although it would have to be better than the nearby crosswalk-sans-light on Overland between National and Palms, which is brilliantly placed at the bottom of a hill.

  • It doesn’t look like there are crosswalks at each of the intersections surrounding the school, which seems to be unnecessarily dangerous to me. I know the LADOT doesn’t like unsignalized crosswalks, but I would bet dollars to donuts that kids cross at all those intersections.

  • KateNonymous

    There are also crosswalks at Motor and Tabor (the street at the bottom edge of the photo; there is at least one building between Tabor and the school), but not at Palms and Vinton (northeast corner of school). Tabor and Vinton is a less-busy intersection, although based on my own experience nearby, I have no doubt that cars still race through there.

  • I agree that the crosswalks should be marked and made as visible as possible (and enforced)

    But I think it’s also important to remember that, paint or no paint, there are crosswalks there. According to the CVC a crosswalk is either:

    (a) That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersection where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.

    (b) Any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.

    Lack of paint is no excuse for lack of enforcement, although I’m sure you hear no shortage of excuses for the lack of enforcement :-/

  • alex

    Part of the problem is incompetent architectural design. I teach at a brand new LAUSD middle school. The plan calls for 1,800 students and their teachers to enter through the same driveway in the twenty minutes before school begins. This is literally impossible to accomplish despite several administrators outside directing traffic. So, many parents drop their kids along the surrounding blocks and the kids walk in amongst the cars. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

  • KateNonymous

    A look at Google Maps indicates that there are painted crosswalks at Tabor and Vinton, which indicates that the only school-adjacent intersection without painted crosswalks is Palms and Vinton.

    Which, of course, has no bearing on any other school in greater Los Angeles.

  • The LADOT has actively opposed safer and slower roads around Los Angeles’ schools. I am familiar with a project in the Valley to add speed humps, stop signs, and other traffic calming devices around schools. The valley LADOT office fought it/is fighting it tooth and nail.

    If anyone has seen the Jaques Tati film “Mon Oncle”? A school in the film is designed specifically as a drive-through drop-off point for children. Kind of sad that this is a reality in L.A.

    All of the “safety” talk, with no improvements in our street designs, leads to the paranoid behavior of parents who know that it is, in fact, very unsafe for their kids on the streets around schools.

  • Glendale, California faces the same problem in and around its schools. The city and school district have just launched three separate but coordinating initiatives: Safe Streets Initiative, an LA County Dept. of Health grant for a Glendale Safe and Healthy Streets Plan, and Safe Routes to School.

    The Safe and Healthy Streets Plan coordinator is focusing on – yes – making streets safer for pedestrians (and bicyclists). Parents won’t allow their children to walk to school as long as vehicular traffic is known to be too dangerous, and vehicular traffic becomes more dangerous as the roads become more congested.

  • Almost all of the school in LA are death traps during drop-off and pick up times.

    There are several problems:

    1. Parents that don’t like the quality of the school near their house so they drive their kid across the town or the next town over to the “better” school.

    2. Unsafe neighborhoods or the perception of unsafe neighborhoods or just the general neurotic nature of LA parents. When I first moved to LA as a kid in the 80s the big thing was kidnapping. Not that anyone got kidnapped, but everyone thought their kid was going to be snatched away and then with the 90s and the gang thing…well many LA kids don’t even know that there is a thing called a sidewalk and that you can walk on it. They think it’s decoration for cars to look at.

    3. Schools that aren’t pro alt transit ways to get to school. Bike riding kids, skate boarding kids, roller blading kids are pretty much painted as menaces to society in LA schools (in LA in general notice the no skateboarding signs all over the place, still!!!) so even if you wanted to ride your bike if you’re not a “bad” kid well do you want that label or your kid to be that kid, so alt transit kids need some help in the PR department. (By the way I’m so happy people are skateboarding again!! Have you seen the daredevil skaters filming themselves doing suicidal tricks in downtown, very fun!!)

    4. Class bias. Old fashioned ways of thinking. Teachers think the “good” parents drop their kids off promptly and pick them up promptly (IN A CAR!) If your mom makes you walk then she must be a bad mom and if your mom isn’t driving and walking you to school she must be poor, she must be on welfare, and maybe you’re the kind of student that would lower test scores. Maybe we should test you so that you can be in a less challenging environment an environment that will not drop the school’s test scores.

    I’ve brought this up before, but the situation of driving and kids is horrible. They have parking lots for kids in high school. Parents are encouraged to pick their kids up in cars. The busses if you do take them in junior high and high school are a nightmare.

    We need a just so no to driving campaign, focused at the kids.

    There needs to be a whole revamping of the culture of Los Angeles. A do-over. A make over. A just say no to being a consumer junkie. They could make kids in LA walk, but they would also have to make sure that the neighborhoods were safe and that the intersections worked, and discourage the parents from picking up their kids immediately after school. They would also have to make sure that the schools all over the city were decent, so people wouldn’t all try to get their kid into the same three magnet schools.


  • Instead of driving the kids to school, parents could organize and create a Walking school bus. There is safety in numbers, and with many children living within walking distance of their school, it’s a win/win situation for everyone.


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