Five deaths have Playa del Rey calling for safer streets, but cures could mean more congestion

By Gary Walker

Dozens of car crashes over the past eight years — at least five of them fatal — have Playa del Rey residents calling for slower speed limits and safer pedestrian crossings, but officials warn that solutions may also increase traffic jams in the area.

A survey of 133 Playa del Rey residents by L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office found that safer crossings, discouraging commuters from taking shortcuts through the neighborhood and reducing vehicle speeds along Culver Boulevard, Pershing Drive and Manchester Avenue near Pershing are top local priorities.

There were 37 traffic collisions and seven crashes involving pedestrians on Culver Boulevard between 2007 and 2011, according to city transportation data. Three of those crashes were fatal, said David Somers of the city Planning Dept.

That figure does not include two recent fatalities on Culver, a pedestrian who was struck and killed on Feb. 13 and a motorcycle crash on July 13 — both of them near where Culver meets Jefferson Boulevard.

“These are scary statistics,” said Bonin, “and this is one of the reasons why I identified Playa del Rey as one of the neighborhoods where there was an absolute need to act and act quickly.”

More than 50 people came to the Westchester Community Room on Aug. 13 to learn about the results of the survey and potential solutions city officials can offer.

Jackie Hesley, who lives on Culver Boulevard, welcomes measures to reduce speeding motorists along Playa del Rey’s main thoroughfare. She even started a Facebook group, “Slow Down! Playa del Rey Neighbors for Safe Streets,” to dialogue with other residents about the problem.

Hesley recalled a conversation with her 73-year-old mother, who earlier this year was afraid to cross the boulevard to grab a smoothie at a local market.

“She told me, ‘Jackie, that’s the scariest street.’ And that’s when I really started noticing the speed of all those drivers rushing through every day, and I wanted some place to complain about it and see if others had experienced the same thing,” Hesley said.

Jessie Holzer, Bonin’s mobility deputy, said during last week’s meeting that additional crosswalks and enhancements to existing ones could improve pedestrian safety.

“We’ve heard that people don’t yield at the crossing of Pershing and Culver, so we could look into enhancing that with newer technology that has higher yielding rates, and we’re also looking at places for additional crossings,” Holzer said.

Other enhancements could include flashing warning beacons at heavily traveled intersections.

Hesley said she was not surprised to learn there have been so many traffic collisions on Culver.

“With the amount of people that go up and down Culver Boulevard, where there are no bicycle lanes and with the amount of people that I’ve seen walking on that road with no lighting, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more,” she said.

Holzer said the city is studying a roadway repurposing as a way to reduce cut-through traffic. Using Culver as an example, Holzer said the boulevard could hypothetically be reduced to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. “Then you could use that extra space for other high priority purposes,” she said.

But Holzer also cautioned the audience that there would be tradeoffs.

“We would be changing the way that the road works, and we would expect to see more congestion — especially at peak hours. The effects on cut-through traffic and speeding would be [around the clock]. It all depends on what your interests are and if you’re willing to potentially have more congestion during peak hours,” she said.

Bonin said there is a new mindset among lawmakers and transportation officials re-
garding the need for new traffic strategies.

“Folks want more walkable streets — safer streets for pedestrians and seniors — and that’s what we should be looking at,” Bonin said.

Michele Cooley-Strickland, who represents Playa del Rey on the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa, asked Holzer if there was anything more immediate that Bonin and transportation officials could put in place.

“We’re afraid that a severe tragedy could happen before [new traffic measures are enacted]. There are some critical hotspots in Playa del Rey,” she said.

Several of the potential improvements could take between six to 18 months to implement, Holzer said.