The Dec. 29 fatality of a pedestrian on Culver Boulevard seems to have resurrected long-standing points of contention between disparate groups of merchants and residents who live and work along Playa del Rey’s most traveled thoroughfare.
Brigitte Burdine was struck by a vehicle on Culver and Nicholson Street at approximately 1:45 a.m., according to investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department West Traffic division. Police believe that Burdine, 48, a well regarded Marina del Rey-based video game casting director, was walking eastbound on the boulevard when the vehicle, which was also traveling east in the number two lane, struck her.
The driver left the scene without rendering help or providing identifying information as required by law, police say.
Investigators are looking for a dark-colored sedan with possible front-end damage. There was no suspect description at the time of the hit-and-run collision.
Burdine was rushed to a local hospital, where she later died.
Though the casting director’s tragic accident occurred in the early morning hours, it has reopened a long running discussion regarding pedestrian safety along one of the seaside community’s busiest streets. Homeowners, visitors and members of the business community alike have complained over the years how congested Culver Boulevard is during rush hour, although some say it is not as bad as others depict it.
Susan Zolla, the owner of the Inn at Playa del Rey, does not share the opinion that motorists on the boulevard have turned Culver into the equivalent of an expressway.
“I don’t think they’re either too reckless or driving that fast,” said Zolla, whose inn is across from where Burdine was killed, as well as another pedestrian several years ago.
Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute in Playa del Rey, calls Nicholson and Culver “one of the worst intersections in the coastal United States” and says she has almost been hit several times getting in and out of her car on Culver.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa created a committee last January to compile feedback on what merchants and residents would like to see on Culver for the next several years, including what kinds of amenities and streetscapes could be possible. The group planned to eventually present its recommendations to Los Angeles city officials in the hopes that they will become the guidelines for new development along one of the town’s most important thoroughfares.
The appointment of the 10-member committee coincided with a planned mixed-use development by developer Edward Czuker at the corner of Culver and Vista del Mar, which is in its initial planning stages but has generated a small but vocal opposition after it was announced last year.
The committee held a public meeting in February with a number of traffic and planning experts, but has largely been dormant since its creation. Nora MacLellan, a member of the local council, is surprised that the committee has essentially been inactive after nearly a year.
“We need to reactivate the committee now, especially now that someone has been killed,” said MacLellan, who is a Playa del Rey homeowner.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who heads the council’s transportation committee, appointed another ad hoc committee to participate in soliciting ideas on traffic and parking solutions during the same time that the local council’s group was working. Led by Playa del Rey homeowner Julie Inouye, that committee has not met since early last year either.
“We have not been talking about traffic mitigation because we have been focused on development,” Inouye said.
Tensions between the neighborhood council and Playa del Rey residents led to Rosendahl naming another group to participate in generating community feedback on the future of the boulevard. Homeowners in “lower” Playa del Rey have often complained that the local council has consistently ignored their concerns and shut them out of important decisions.
Two plans that addressed traffic and parking in vastly distinct ways emerged during last year’s discussions on how the city could combat the traffic flows on Culver. Craig Fraulino, an architect who has been on the boulevard for 17 years, and Hanscom agree that traffic should be controlled, but they part ways on how city engineers should try to tackle traffic solutions.
Hanscom would like to convert Culver into a two-lane thoroughfare with diagonal parking and shift vehicles through “upper” Playa del Rey to streets like Pershing Drive and Manchester Avenue. She and her partner Robert “Roy” van de Hoek call their plan the “Green and Safe Boulevard Plan.” They say diverting traffic away from Culver would lessen congestion and allow more bicycle commuters on the boulevard.
But Fraulino claimed Hanscom’s plan would have the opposite effect.
“It will strangle traffic,” the architect countered. “There is a difference in calming traffic and forcing traffic into a residential neighborhood 30 feet above us or simply scaring people away.”
The architect, who initially proposed using nearby Titmouse Park as a parking lot, says there are other ways to slow traffic, including using traffic signals and other measures.
Hanscom believes that diagonal parking is the best solution for the boulevard’s traffic problems, as it has been successful in cities like Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Venice.
“It is not safe to have parallel parking on this street because (cars) are going too fast,” she claimed. “The only way that we’re going to make it safe is to slow it down with diagonal spaces.”
Van de Hoek said he witnessed a four-car accident on Nov. 11 near Titmouse.
“We need to have Culver Boulevard slowed down for cars by speed bumps and this may sound drastic to some, but the stoplight at Nicholson and Culver may need to change to a flashing red light at the intersection, which would slow down all traffic,” he wrote in an e-mail in November. “Perhaps this could be used particularly at night and early morning before the rush hour traffic.”
Fraulino acknowledged that in some beach cities, including at Windward Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Venice, diagonal parking has been successfully implemented. But he argued that those locations have wider streets where sanitation and delivery trucks can use alleys to service the businesses along Windward, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Avenue.
“Commercial vehicles have to double park so the merchants can get their deliveries, as does the mail truck,” Fraulino said in an interview last year. “You also have to subtract 12 feet on both sides for the sidewalks from the 80 feet of (Culver) boulevard.”
Diagonal parking on Washington Boulevard near the Venice Pier has a width of 85 feet and Windward Avenue is 100 feet, according to transportation officials.
Zolla said having the storm drain on the opposite side of Culver not only causes water to pool on the east side of her hotel during times of heavy rainfall that occurred in December, it also can play havoc with motorists heading south in the far right lane.
“I have complained for years about it to the city,” she said. “It’s a regular hydroplaning nightmare after a large rainfall like we had recently.”
Los Angeles’ financial crisis would likely prevent examination of installing diagonal parking for the boulevard in the immediate future, said Bruce Gillman, a spokesman at the Department of Transportation.
“Given the limited resources that we have, we would not be able to initiate a study to determine if (diagonal parking) is feasible,” Gillman told The Argonaut.
The street or boulevard’s width is one of the most important aspects of having angled parking, Gillman added.
“It must have the necessary street width and it must be able to accommodate a safe situation for motorists and pedestrians,” he said.
The intersection where Burdine was killed is also the site of a fatality approximately five years ago, and MacLellan said the Dec. 29 incident has now gone beyond either of the committees’ purview.
“Our councilman has to step in and be proactive on this,” she said.
Rosendahl could not be reached for comment.
Police have not identified any suspects to date in the hit-and-run collision. They are asking that anyone with information about this incident to call West Traffic Det. Section Investigator Martha Dominguez at (213) 473-0234.
During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to (877) LAPD-24-7.