Traffic deaths prompt reconfiguration of Playa del Rey streets to slow cut-through traffic

By Gary Walker

Naomi Larsen, 16, died after being struck by a taxi while trying to
cross Vista Del Mar from Dockweiler Beach to her parked car

Vista Del Mar is more than a scenic alternate route for South Bay commuters hoping to avoid congestion on Pacific Coast Highway and the 405. The busy coastal road connecting Playa del Rey to Manhattan Beach also has a long and deadly history of traffic collisions and pedestrians run down by speeding cars, with very few crosswalks and poor lighting after dark.

After paying out a $9.5-million settlement to the family of a teenage girl killed trying to cross Vista Del Mar to Dockweiler State Beach, Los Angeles city officials are implementing roadway improvements and new parking restrictions designed to calm traffic flow.

Last week the city began restriping Vista Del Mar to narrow traffic flow to one lane in each direction, install U-Turn pockets and eliminate parking on the east side of the roadway to keep beachgoers from crossing on foot.

“This will make the street safer, create more parking inventory, reduce speeding and curb the use of Playa del Rey streets as a shortcut from the South Bay to points north,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin wrote in a pre- Memorial Day message to constituents.

Beginning as early as Saturday, June 3, city workers will begin resurfacing Pershing Drive, then restripe Pershing as well as portions of Culver and Jefferson boulevards. Traffic flow on all three will be reduced to one travel lane in each direction, with the addition of
new center turn lanes and bike lanes — calming traffic once again being the main objective.

A 2015 city survey of 133 Playa del Rey residents found that safer street crossings, discouraging commuters from taking shortcuts through neighborhoods and reducing vehicle speeds along Culver, Pershing and Manchester Avenue were among their top traffic and safety-related priorities.

It was also in 2015 that 16-year-old Naomi Larsen was fatally struck by a taxi late one night February while trying to cross Vista Del Mar after a bonfire with friends on Dockweiler. Larsen’s family was represented by the firm Paoli & Purdy in reaching the mid-April settlement with the city.

Paoli & Purdy also represent the parents of 21-year-old Michael Lockridge, killed in April 2016 after he was struck by northbound and southbound vehicles while trying to cross Vista Del Mar. Lockridge’s girlfriend was also struck by a vehicle and hospitalized with serious injuries. The outcome of the Lockridge family’s lawsuit is still pending.

Attorney Court Purdy, the lead attorney for the Larsen family, said city officials should have been more proactive in moving parking spaces away from the east side of Vista Del Mar, where both Larsen and Lockridge had parked on the nights they were killed.

“I couldn’t be happier that the city is taking affirmative steps to make Vista Del Mar safer,” Purdy said. But doing so earlier, he said, “certainly would have prevented innumerable instances of family heartbreak and tragedy.”

The civil complaint in the Lockridge case cites historical evidence that a marked pedestrian crosswalk had once existed where Lockridge and his girlfriend were struck, almost 1,300 feet north of where Vista Del Mar crosses Imperial Highway.

Purdy said Larsen was struck a few hundred feet north of where Lockridge was killed.

There is only one crosswalk on Vista Del Mar between Imperial Highway and Napoleon Street, a distance of more than two miles.

While the city survey showed traffic and pedestrian safety to be a top concern for Playa del Rey residents, locals are also concerned in the interim that roadwork for this and other projects could result in severe traffic congestion for residents — especially when Culver drops to one lane of traffic in each direction.

Carol Kapp, a resident of the beachside neighborhood at the end of Culver (known locally as The Jungle) for nearly 40 years, worries that the upcoming Venice Dual Force Main sewer replacement project will all but shut down access to and from her home in late summer.

“My concern is the Dual Force Main sewer project that is scheduled to come from under the marina and south on Pacific [Avenue] and continue south on Vista del Mar. There is about a 20-foot-in-diameter pit that will impede residents of The Jungle from exiting from the parking lot [off South Trolley Place],” Kapp said. “Then there will be an open trench in the new single lane on Vista del Mar from approximately Sunridge [Street]. So then how does anyone go southerly?”

In his letter to constituents, Bonin noted that some of the changes — including the reduction of lanes on Culver and Jefferson — may not be welcome to everyone, and aren’t necessarily permanent.

“It is important to note that the new lane configurations are pilot programs, using low-cost and temporary materials. We are going to gather data and public input, analyze whether impacts are positive or not, and adjust accordingly,” Bonin wrote. “We can keep what we love, improve what we can, and remove what we dislike.”