It Took a Village to Make This Overland Avenue Crosswalk Safer
For years, I’ve been concerned that someone crossing Overland Avenue is going to get hurt by a driver turning from the freeway off-ramp. For one thing, a recent study found that more than half of drivers don’t look for people in a crosswalk before turning right.
For another, the area has a lot of pedestrians who need to cross the streets. The Overland crosswalk connects to Palms Park/Rosalind Wyman Recreation Center, which hosts a daycare center. There is a public library next door, and Notre Dame Academy Elementary School is across the street. The crosswalk is a continuation of the Dunleer Footbridge that crosses over the Expo Line at the far side of the park; this invites more pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Palms Park is also the birthplace of BMX, but that’s a totally different story.
Crossing Overland heading west means dealing with car traffic exiting the westbound Rosa Parks (10) Freeway and turning right (to head north) on Overland Avenue. Drivers wait to dash right on Overland like racers awaiting a green light on a drag strip Christmas tree. Meanwhile, people entering the crosswalk may be corralling kids and/or tuned into their devices.
In 2015, there were signs warning drivers to watch for pedestrians, but they were out of sight, and the people waiting to cross west were hidden behind a fence and overgrown weeds. Near misses were common. So, I thought I’d do something about it.
I emailed L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT) management and cc’d the area homeowners’ association. I asked about installing a more visible “turning vehicles yield to pedestrians” sign.
Both groups were receptive, as was the local City Council office. In fact, the HOA was already trying to do something about the crossing.
But – so often there’s a but – the off-ramp and signals were in Caltrans’ (the state’s transportation department) jurisdiction.
LADOT emailed Caltrans asking that the graffiti-covered “Turning Traffic Must Yield to Pedestrians” sign be replaced with a symbol-type sign. LADOT also noted that “the existing fence and the power pole at the northeast corner partially obstruct the view of pedestrians.”
The overgrown weeds were promptly trimmed. And, over the next four years, new signs went in. Unfortunately, when the new signs were knocked over, the old style came back, and they were still invisible to drivers at the front of the line waiting to turn right.
I may have complicated matters by later asking for more than just the sign. I’d seen a flashing yellow right-turn arrow on Venice Boulevard–a state highway–near the Culver City Expo Line station. It is approved for use by the state, and appears in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD (2009) Section 4D.04 Standard 3, E.2.).
Week after week and month after month I’d shout at drivers dashing toward my family and me as we crossed Overland. That was enough to motivate me to keep trying.
Maybe a year ago, a leading pedestrian interval was installed. Then, this past June, a right turn signal with a flashing yellow arrow was added!
Now people crossing have a walk signal while cars wait at a red right turn signal. After the pedestrians get a head start and the signal turns green (for cars going straight or left), the right turn signal flashes yellow.
What did it take? Persistence and support from stakeholders and office holders. State Senator Holly Mitchell sent Caltrans at least two letters. L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ office always responded to my email missives with support. Koretz’ staff convened an LADOT/ Caltrans meeting. The park manager and HOA showed up when asked.
Will the signs, the flashing yellow arrow, and the leading pedestrian interval save someone from injury or worse? I’ll never know. I do know that the crosswalk is safer today than it was in 2015. And I’m glad I had something to do with that.
Today, I want to do one more thing: express my gratitude to L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz and his senior deputy Jay Greenstein, LADOT Assistant General Manager Daniel Mitchell and engineer Mo Blorfroshan (who retired the week the signal went in), Westwood Gardens Civic Association president Marilyn Tusher, Senator Holly J. Mitchell and her senior deputy Charles Stewart (also retired) and senior field representative Sonia Lopez (along with her other staffers), and Palms Park director Laura Campfield. Thank you all!
Jonathan Weiss practices law, lives in Cheviot Hills, and served as an appointed representative to the L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee between 2009 and 2016. He is also a boardmember of Streetsblog L.A.’s parent nonprofit, the California Streets Initiative.