RWNA Annual Meeting Addresses Crime, Traffic Signal and Street Lights

LAPD Senior Lead Officer Joe Pelayo (right) talks to RWNA members about neighborhood crime at Sunday’s annual meeting.

At the Ridgewood-Wilton Neighborhood Association’s annual meeting on Sunday, April 22, three topics took center stage:  crime, the status of a traffic signal at the intersection of S. Wilton Pl. and W. Second Street, and the possible installation of new street lights on Wilton, between Second Street and Beverly Blvd.

Crime and Crime Prevention

LAPD Senior Lead Officers Joseph Pelayo and Eric Mollinedo led off the discussions at the event, with Pelayo reporting that while crime in the city is down – in fact, “way down,” overall – property crimes (such as burglaries and car break-ins) “come and go,” and have been on the upswing in recent months in surrounding neighborhoods, as well as in Ridgewood-Wilton.  Pelayo said the recent arrest of one set of suspects has quieted things down a bit, but the activity could also increase again.

As Pelayo and other SLOs have urged to several other local groups recently, he reiterated on Sunday that it’s particularly important for residents to report crimes and suspicious activity directly to LAPD and not just post about it on social media.  Pelayo said he has spent time looking up many incidents mentioned on NextDoor.com, only to find they do not appear anywhere in official police records… which means that, officially, “they don’t exist.”  Aside from giving police a more accurate picture of actual crime activity, Pelayo said, reporting crimes can also help improve police responses. If a number of break-ins have been reported in an area, he said, the speed and intensity of police response will be greater when a new incident is reported.

Also, Pelayo said, burglars become bolder when their activities go ignored.  For example, he cited a recent case in which burglars carried a safe out of a neighborhood house in broad daylight, with people walking their dogs on the street nearby, and no one on the street at the time reported anything suspicious.  Some local homes have been hit by burglars multiple times, he said, because the suspects have become so confident that they can come and go with ease.

Pelayo told the neighbors that the current pattern is for teams of three burglars to work together – one knocking at a home’s door, and then – if no one answers – going around to the back to break in…while a second person stays outside on the sidewalk as a lookout, and a third waits nearby in a luxury vehicle, usually without license plates.  Also, he said, burglars will often case the neighborhood before breaking into a home, with one person walking to look at houses and driveways, while another follows closely in a car.  So if neighbors see either kind of activity on their block, Pelayo said, they should report it immediately.  Pelayo cautioned, however, that residents should also get to know their neighbors, as there have been several reports recently (both officially and unofficially on social media) of residents calling out “suspicious” people who turned out to be neighbors they just weren’t acquainted with, including local children.  Also, he acknowledged, not every non-resident sitting in a car or walking on the street is a potential criminal.

Traffic Signal at Second and Wilton

While the crime discussion took up a significant portion of Sunday’s meeting, the lion’s share of the event was actually devoted to a subject that generated even more passion among the residents – the status of a traffic signal at the intersection of Second and Wilton.

Background

The problem, as RWNA traffic committee member and outgoing treasurer Mary Rajswing explained to the Buzz, is that northbound traffic on Wilton tends to come up from nearby Third Street at high speeds, especially at night when traffic volumes are lower.  And then, when speeding cars hit the sharp curve in the road just north of Second Street, they sometimes lose control.  The result is a history, almost as old as the neighborhood itself, of serious accidents.  Many of those incidents have damaged neighbors’ property, and some have included fatalities.

According to Rajswing, about 26 years ago, neighbors who wanted to increase safety on Wilton successfully lobbied the city for a traffic signal at Second Street, which cycled through the normal green-yellow-red pattern during the day, and from the hours of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. switched to a constant blinking red, forcing all cars to stop briefly before proceeding.  Rajswing said the signal worked, and the street, while still busy during the day, “turned back into a quiet neighborhood at night.”

About five years ago, however, Rajswing said, the Department of Transportation upgraded the nighttime flashing signal with a brighter light, and a neighbor complained about it.  So the city replaced the always-flashing red at night with a “rest on red” signal from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.  Since then, the signal is a solid red during the nighttime hours, with no flashing…until a car comes to rest at the intersection, and then it will cycle to green, to let the car pass, and then to yellow and back to a resting red.

According to Rajswing, however, the green and yellow phases of the light have once again allowed too many cars to speed through the intersection, and accidents have increased there since the light pattern changed.  So many neighbors have been working since the change to have the nighttime blinking red light restored.

Signs advocating better traffic safety at Second and Wilton

Despite two separate petition efforts, however, and promises from the city at various times that the flashing red signal would be restored at night, Rajswing said that has not happened.  And then, last year, neighbors were notified that the city will no longer use flashing red light signals because of the new Vision Zero safety effort, which seeks to increase safety for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  (As it turns out, Rajswing said, traffic signals are built with the flashing red pattern as a default status for outages and other emergencies, so the flashing red state suspends other signal elements, such as the “walk” cycle for pedestrians…which means they’re incompatible with Vision Zero’s pedestrian safety goals.)

Earlier this year, Rajswing said, neighbors met with City Council Member David Ryu (who had supported their earlier petition efforts to restore the flashing red signal) and other city officials, to discuss possible options for increasing the safety of the intersection.  Ryu suggested changing the signal during nighttime hours to a constant flashing yellow, to encourage all northbound cars to slow down as they approach the dangerous section of the road.  Neighbors were skeptical, Rajswing said, but Ryu and DoT representatives said that pattern is currently being used successfully in three different locations.

After that meeting, however, Rajswing said she and other neighbors visited those locations (North Broadway between Ave. 18 and Mission Road, Adams Blvd. between Hauser Blvd. and Crenshaw Blvd., and Manchester Ave. between Western Ave. and Vermont Ave.), and found that all of them are commercial and/or industrial areas, with much wider streets…not anything like the strictly R-1 residential area on Wilton.

But then, on April 13, Ryu’s office sent a letter to neighbors, informing them that a three-month trial of the blinking yellow signal would begin on May 1.  Under the new pattern, the light’s default state for northbound Wilton would be blinking yellow at night, and after a sensor detected a certain number of cars passing in succession, it would change to solid yellow, then then red for a while.  After the red, the flashing yellow would return to allow cars to proceed until the next red cycle was triggered.

Discussion at Sunday’s meeting

At Sunday’s RWNA meeting, the majority of the neighbors in attendance expressed outrage that the flashing yellow trial had been approved without their input or agreement, and most in attendance expressed the opinion that a flashing yellow pattern would not provide the safety that had once been provided by the original flashing red signal which, as one resident put it, “worked brilliantly.”

CD4 Field Deputy Rob Fisher answers questions about the Second and Wilton traffic signal at the meeting

Rob Fisher, field deputy for City Council Member David Ryu’s office, fielded questions and often heated comments from the neighbors for nearly an hour, and explained again that the Department of Transportation no longer supports flashing red signals because of their incompatibility with Vision Zero pedestrian safety goals.  He promised, however, that the issues at Second and Wilton are receiving “top level attention” from Ryu’s office and staff, and that the flashing yellow is “a step the Council Member believes is in the right direction.” Fisher said Ryu “very firmly” wants to conduct the three-month trial to collect data from cameras and traffic counters at the site, to better judge its effectiveness, and so there is objective data on which to base further decisions.

At one point in the discussion, Fisher did say that restoring a flashing red signal is not entirely out of the question, but that it would require a traffic study and other significant analysis.  This prompted Wilton resident Susan O’Connell to ask why that change, back to something that had been used successfully in the location before, would require a study, while the change to the flashing yellow signal did not.

Other neighbors, some of whom have taken their own video at the intersection showing people running the current red-light signal (see below), said they don’t want to wait for studies and trial periods to be completed.  “When people die in front of your house…you don’t sit here quietly,” said Ricka Fisher, referring to a fatal crash in front of her property in December of 2016 (another crash, just last month, also damaged a wall on her property).

Many of the neighbors also asked about the specific metrics that would be used by the city to conduct and judge the success of the yellow light trial, and resident Debi King read a letter she sent to city officials asking:

  • Has this yellow flashing light program been implemented in a residential neighborhood?
  • What are the vehicle speeds and number of vehicle trips between 9PM – 6AM of the three examples you gave us.
  • How many intersections along each example have this yellow flashing light?
  • How are you going to educate the public about this major change – what will the public outreach look like before and after the implementation?
  • How will you review the accident data? Typically unless reported via 911; someone calling the police or paramedics there aren’t records of accidents. We’ve witnessed many accidents over the years with people colliding with cars, railings, walls, or other objects where insurance information is exchanged and the drivers move on.
  • Please disclose the metrics you’ve collected regarding our traffic – how it has increased, what are the speeds noted between 9PM until 6AM and how many “trips” exists currently.
  • Finally what are your thresholds for success or failure? What are your goals for change from what we are currently experiencing?

“It deeply troubles me to think one more accident will take place as a result of this change,” King’s letter concluded.

In response, Fisher said he is currently unable to provide specific threshholds, noting that while the data collected by the trial will be public, the flashing yellow signal is a new traffic control technique, just now being tested, so the city has not yet set specific standards for success.

Virginia Kazor, who lives just south of Second St. on Wilton, recounted tearfully how she was one of the neighbors who originally fought for the first traffic signal at the intersection 26 years ago…and her increasing frustration with the city’s responses to the current issues.  She said she recently purchased a large volume of traffic regulations, at her own expense, which indicates that flashing red signals are still legal choices for traffic control at intersections such as Second and Wilton, and begged Fisher to support the neighbors’ request.  “You’ve got to tell David (Ryu) that we need him or this neighborhood is going to go,” she said.  “And if we go, then Windsor Square is going to go, and then we all go.”

“You’ve got to tell David (Ryu) that we need him or this neighborhood is going to go…and if we go, then Windsor Square is going to go…and then we all go.”Wilton Pl. Resident Virginia Kazor

Fisher encouraged all the residents to submit reports of traffic incidents at the intersection to the DoT, as they occur, using the reporting page at http://myladot.lacity.org , to make sure the city receives accurate data during the trial (note: the website also shows a map of reported incidents and service requests, so neighbors can also monitor incoming reports).  Incoming RWNA president Evan Phoenix asked if an RWNA resident could be part of a review group to study the data at the end of the signal trial, and Fisher said he would be happy to organize a meeting after the trial to discuss the results.

New Street Lights…and New Board Members

After the traffic signal discussion, Phoenix reminded neighbors of the April 24 deadline for residents who live on Wilton Pl., between Second and Beverly, to request new ornamental, historically-styled streetlights.  The lights will cost $7,500 per property, but can be assessed to the taxes of each property owner.  Depending on the number of homeowners that opt in, Rajswing told the Buzz later, up to 55 new lights could be installed on the blocks in question, which have never before had street lights.

Finally, the Sunday’s meeting concluded with the election of new RWNA board members and officers.   The new officers are:

Evan Phoenix – President
Virginia Kazor – Vice President
Anna Lodder – Treasurer
Katlyn Skoien – Corresponding secretary

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