Wilton Traffic Signal Trial Extended, Despite Neighbors’ Safety Concerns

Cars running a red light at the signal at Second and Wilton on July 1. Video recorded by neighbors shows frequent similar violations.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation recently announced that a three-month trial of a new flashing yellow nighttime traffic signal at W. 2nd St. and Wilton Pl. has been successful in reducing speeds at the location, so it will continue for another eight months…even though neighbors say their own observations show increases in other dangerous behaviors as a result of the new light pattern.

Back in April, the Buzz reported on neighbors’ efforts to have a traffic signal at Second and Wilton changed from a “rest on red” pattern from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. back to a flashing red pattern.  The signal had originally flashed red during nighttime hours when it was installed more than 25 years ago, but it had been switched to the resting red about five years ago, after a neighbor complained about the brightness of the flashing lights.  Since that change, however, many other neighbors have been fighting vigorously to have the light restored to flashing red, which they say did a better job of slowing each car on northbound Wilton, where speeding vehicles too frequently go out of control at the sharp curve about a block north, crashing into yards and homes.  The neighbors, many of whom spoke up loudly at the April 24 annual meeting of the Ridgewood-Wilton Neighborhood Association, said the “rest on red” light allowed too many cars to speed through the intersection, and accidents on Wilton had increased since it was put into place.

At the April meeting, many neighbors expressed dismay that while there had been several promises in the last few years to restore the flashing red light, from both City Council District Four and the Department of Transportation, it still hadn’t been done.  And then, shortly before the meeting, Council Member David Ryu announced that the flashing red pattern would not be restored after all, because it is now considered incompatible with the city’s new Vision Zero pedestrian safety goals, as it does not allow a pedestrian crossing phase during the hours it is in effect.

Ryu’s office said that instead of returning to the flashing red signal, LADOT would institute a three-month trial of a flashing yellow signal at Second and Wilton, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., which would also change to a steady yellow, followed by steady red, every now and then after a certain number of cars had passed.  The steady red portion of the pattern would allow time for a pedestrian “walk” signal across Wilton.

Neighbors at the April meeting, however, which came shortly after Ryu’s announcement, said they were skeptical that a flashing yellow light, which didn’t fully stop each car heading north on Wilton, would reduce speeds enough to prevent the frequent accidents a block north.  They also said they feared the unusual new light pattern (at that time in use in only three other places in the city, none of them residential) would cause confusion for drivers, who would not intuitively know what to do at the signal.

Despite the protests, however, the city began the flashing-yellow-to-occasional-red trial on April 30.  And since then, neighbors have been monitoring traffic at the location several nights a week.

The results, says Mary Rajswing, a neighbor who lives on the block and has been compiling video and other observations from the new signal since the trial began, have been “chaos.” Her observations include cars stopping when they shouldn’t, other cars not stopping when they should, lots of honking when some drivers disagree with others’ choices about what to do at the light, and “what to me is most dangerous of all…impatient drivers speeding around the center lane of traffic from both the LEFT-HAND ONLY turn and RIGHT-HAND ONLY turn lanes. ”

On May 9, a little more than a week into the trial, Rajswing told the Buzz, “What we’re seeing now is more cars going through the red light from a stopped position because of the confusion over flashing yellow/yellow…Traffic appears to be slower because so many cars hesitate (then lots of horn honking at all hours).”

Neighbor Debi King, who also has been monitoring activity at the new signal, concurred.  She said at the time that she was seeing, “Lots of cars zooming around cars that are confused and stopped. Lots of cars blowing thru the red light.”

Rajswing also said that, despite the city’s claims that the flashing yellow, and the restoration of the pedestrian “walk” phase to cross Wilton, would be safer for pedestrians and more in line with Vision Zero goals, “on the very first night, a couple walking east with a dog was nearly hit in the first 10 minutes by a northbound driver blowing through the red light.”

Rajswing said Council Member Ryu stopped by on the second night of the trial, and his field deputy, Rob Fisher, later responded to Rajswing, “It’s unfortunate that these drivers aren’t familiar with the California Vehicle Code, which makes clear that a flashing yellow light indicates “proceed with caution.” Hopefully honking will die down as folks become more familiar with the flashing yellow.”

But Rajswing said the situation did not improve.  A month into the trial, at the end of May, she wrote to the Buzz that, “We observe the same problems as at the start…there has been ZERO enforcement/ticketing of frequent moving violations, no further outreach, and no data matrix provided on which we can all agree.”

Two weeks later, Rajswing told the Buzz that neighbors had contacted CD4 with their documented observations of the confusion at the signal, but had received no responses.  She also said city officials had not been back for further in-person observations of the signal, had not been issuing tickets for violations, and had not responded to neighbors’ inquiries about how the success of the trial would be evaluated.

“There has been zero enforcement, and no communication from our council office or DOT about this experiment since David Ryu and Daniel Park came out on May 1st at 9 pm,” Rajswing said on June 15.  “Last night, for example, I saw 20 vehicles go through a red light, 5 of which took off after stopping at the solid red! Twice pedestrians were nearly hit, as they had a walk signal at the north end of the intersection, but drivers don’t want to wait for another flashing yellow cycle.”

Also, she said, “More than ever before, vehicles are cutting in from both the left and right-hand turn only lanes. The crosswalk at the south end is almost always blocked by a vehicle which has either inched forward gradually, or decided at the last second NOT to go through the red light…Tailgating, honking are now commonplace during the first two hours…It is clear to me that pedestrians are in more danger with this protocol than before.”

As the trial continued, Rajswing says the situation did not improve.  On July 1, she provided a video clip (below) to the Buzz, saying it is just one of many they record several nights a week, showing the same kinds of activity.

On July 2, however, the neighbors did finally receive a letter from the Christopher Rider, a Transportation Engineering Association at the Department of Transportation, which said, in part:

“Dear Community:

In April, you were informed that LADOT would be operating a pilot program to operate a “Flashing Yellow” Signal Indication for northbound traffic at the intersection of 2nd Street and Wilton Place between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

This pilot began May 1st and we welcomed community feedback.  In the early stages, we received feedback that some drivers were confused and hesitant about what to do at the signal, including reports of vehicles stopped at the flashing yellow and other vehicles speeding around those vehicles.

LADOT noted these same behaviors at other locations where the flashing yellow was activated, those issues went away as drivers became familiar with the operation.

LADOT has cameras at the location of 2nd St. and Wilton Pl. and has checked in on the operation and has seen these issues dissipate, as it has at other locations.”

The letter went on to say that DOT had noted a “significant decrease in speeds” (from 33 to 21 mph) at the intersection, with no reports of collisions.  As a result, the letter concluded:

“The initial announcement for this program indicated the pilot would operate for a minimum of 3 months, we have decided to extend that to a minimum of 9 months and we will collect data at or around the 6 month mark (November) to see if the speed reduction has stayed at this level.

Thank you and please continue to send feedback.”

Rajswing and King say they were alarmed at the announcement of the trial’s continuation, but continued their nightly observations.  And they told the Buzz this week that they are still seeing the same kinds of “chaos” as when the trial began.  As an example, Rajswing provided this video, which was taken on July 8.

Rajswing says, “Basically, DOT has substituted one danger for another: average speeds may have slowed going northbound, but what drivers are “learning” is to cut in from the right (or left) to jump ahead of the hesitant drivers at the entry to the intersection. The other night I counted 5 in 30 minutes, including 1 going south!”

She said that while LADOT is using speed as its primary (or, perhaps, only) measure of the trial’s success, it is only one factor involved in overall safety. Driver confusion, red lights being run, and drivers cutting around others who are paused are just as dangerous as excess speed, she said, if not more so.  She asked, “Isn’t it common sense that confused drivers hesitating at the light will slow down speeds? We’re not even sure anyone is reviewing the video footage, which shows endless moving violations endangering every “Vision Zero” pedestrian that ever dared walk through our unique 5-way intersection.”

Rajswing also said that the problems are not just confined to the northbound lanes, as they usually were before the trial began.  “I can send you video clips EVERY NIGHT of what is dangerous about this protocol- and dozens of close calls! Southbound traffic is starting to blow through red lights as well – something we didn’t see much of before.”

Rajswing also noted that the city has not provided any other information about how the final evaluation of the trial will be done, and that neighbors’ requests to City Council Member Ryu’s office have also gone unanswered (except for an early statement about the trial, published (on page 8 of) the June issue of the Larchmont Chronicle). Ryu’s office has also not responded to Buzz inquiries about the trial.

“We still have no idea of what…variables [other than speed] are being considered (right now it looks like NONE), and what are the targeted safety thresholds,” Rajswing said.

In the meantime, however, Rajswing and King say they will continue their own observations and recordings at the intersection.

 

About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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