Opinion: Public Safety and Transportation Commissions Need to Work Together Over Pedestrian Safety

Meetings of the city’s various boards and commissions are open to the public and fun to attend. These boards and commissions are a liaison between the public and the West Hollywood City Council. At a grass roots level your voice can be heard at any of 15 different boards and commissions, which are as varied as the Human Services Commission and the Russian Advisory Board.

But I’ve learned that those boards and commissions don’t always work the way they are supposed to. For example, I’ve gone to the Public Safety Commission to express concerns over pedestrian safety for years and years dating back to 2009. (More people have been killed on one stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson and La Cienega than all other streets in the city combined.)

Larry Block, The Block Party, West Hollywood City Council candidate
Larry Block

In 2012 after two more deaths along Santa Monica Boulevard, I went to the commission again with my concerns. Chairwoman Ruth Williams told me that crosswalks are “not our purview” and bounced me to the Transportation Commission. Williams wasn’t happy about having to do that. “I am angry about this particular issue,” she said. “For years this commission has raised this as a public safety issue…. We continually beg for response from the transportation commission.” Marcy Norton, another public safety commissioner, agreed. “We have been hitting a roadblock with the Transportation Commission,” she said.

The two commissions finally met together in the Fall of 2014. But rather than letting them interact and discuss crosswalks and pedestrian safety priorities, the city staff loaded the agenda with staff presentations and there was almost no discussion between the two commissions about going forward.

In 2013 the city council approved funding for pedestrian safety programs, including installation of synchronized stop lights at four pedestrian crosswalks on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was supposed to have been rolled out two years ago. But to date, only one such crosswalk has been completed. It looks like we can build a $20 million robo garage and a $100 million-plus park faster than we can upgrade four crosswalks.

I cried out for something to be done. I got called into City Hall to address the Cross Safe WeHo signs I hung all around town. There I learned the crosswalk upgrade item was “stuck in a city staffer’s folder” and “had not been sent out to bid.” Eight months after the upgrades were approved by the city council in 2013, I was told the city staff was waiting for new information to start the upgrade. and then a year later the formal approval of the upgrade finally went before the city council

Fast forward to 2017 and last week’s Public Safety Commission meeting. The commission had asked that the city council put on its agenda a proposal for a joint meeting of the Transportation and Public Safety commissions to create a pedestrian safety task force. But we learned that that item had never made it to the council agenda. Was it rejected by Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember John Heilman, who as mayor pro tem works with Meister to create the agenda? Or did it just get stuck in the city clerk’s office because City Hall staffers opposed it?

I asked Public Safety commissioners whether city staffers keep them from getting things on the city council agenda. They told me that getting city staffers to pass along suggestions from commissions to the city council is a problem. That is unacceptable. There is a problem when City Hall employees put the brakes on the implementation and progress of crosswalk initiatives.

Stunned, I immediately spoke out. ‘This is absolutely unacceptable,” I said to the commission. “This program was designed to be the beginning of the test rollout. Its not the end of crosswalk updates”

I have discussed this with four current and former Public Safety commissioners. I was surprised to learn that the Public Safety and Transportation commissions used to have regular meetings together to discuss items of mutual concern. There used to be a “regular meeting” with representatives of both groups. But the city staffer who was the liaison to the Transportation Commission left and a new staffer took over. The Public Safety Commission was told the joint meetings would be postponed.

The Public Safety commission is now asking for a joint ad hoc committee with Transportation. (A “standing committee” holds official public meetings while “ad hoc” committees hold closed meetings between commission members.) That proposal is on the Transportation Commission agenda Wednesday night (the night of the city council election debate).

I’m not a lawyer, so my opinion is just one of a citizen. But if someone was killed tomorrow on Santa Monica Boulevard at Palm among others, to pick one crosswalk location, and the City of West Hollywood was sued for negligence, it would appear the plaintiffs would have a very good case.

Yes, the city has made improvements. After Clinton Bounds was killed crossing Santa Monica Boulevard, the city rushed to place pedestrian safety zone signs on the street after I screamed to get something done in the interim. That and other short -term measures over 24 months led to zero deaths. But conversations about next steps seem to have stopped after this “test rollout” on Santa Monica Boulevard. In our last meeting on crosswalks, local residents brought up the need for crosswalks on Fountain Avenue. We have not completed the crosswalk updates, we are just getting started.

Turn out at the Transportation commission this Wednesday at City Hall or register your voice via email to ask that the city council establish a standing committee that will meet regularly and let the public engage in discussion of pedestrian safety and crosswalk issues.

Here’s where to email your request: PArevalo@weho.org, Jheilman@weho.org, Jduran@weho.org, jdamico@weho.org, Lhorath@weho.org, LMeister@weho.org


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Chris Sanger
Guest
Chris Sanger

As always Larry deserves to be lauded for his efforts. Some context – Palm Springs, which has a smaller population than West Hollywood, and I suspect less total vehicle traffic though a larger area, had six pedestrian fatalities in 2016, with 48 pedestrians struck by autos. Different areas have different issues – Palm Springs by design limits street lights making for a darker nights, speeds on several main streets much higher than WeHo, other local issues. Again, improvements can be made and Larry has good ideas. But the truth is that for the volume of pedestrians in WeHo and the… Read more »

Not good
Guest
Not good

The glaring fault here is lack of responsibility. First on behalf of the pedestrian who risks his life and the lives of others by behaving in a stupid, juvenile manner. Few places found the country is this more evident than in Weho where the entitled behavior of perpetual party goers or folks rushing to the gym who just won’t walk to a proper intersection. Secondly, the city staff that fails to put an issue like this on a fast track. This problem should have been imminently clear tothe public safety and transportation heads. Worse than irresponsibility is immaturity. Time for… Read more »

Tony
Guest
Tony

Sadly there is no sense of urgency or accountability in government. One can hire or fire most employees based on merit but you can’t fire a city employee without a union petition.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Alison, maybe Clinton Bounds’ death could not have been prevented with better crosswalk safety measures, but Larry Block’s crusade is a noble one. Statements like “People are learning how to cross the street, which they should have learned when they were 5 I guess.” are very insensitive, when you consider the injuries and deaths that have occurred at crosswalks in this city. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: I won’t cast judgment on what happened in an accident, especially if I was not there to witness it. And what value is there in “blaming the… Read more »

fine7760
Guest

Pedestrians who do not have the common sense to look both ways and then not to step into the street until all the cars and trucks come to a complete stop are complete idiots. I have had baby strollers pushed into my path without warning and the person pushing it laugh because I had to lock up my brakes. And lastly, those who have their eyes and head wrapped around their cell phones while crossing the street should be cited via a city ordinance. Perhaps the answer is to either have crossing guards to hold the hands of those with… Read more »

tri west resident
Guest
tri west resident

the overpaid city manager is too cozy in his chair and the council has no sense of urgency.

carleton cronin
Guest
carleton cronin

Ah, process! I’m going to take a line from an OP-ED piece I have yet to finish. “In business school an adage used as a warning to prospective execs: ‘Be wary of the company which becomes so integrated that it eventually has no need of outside influences and ceases to be what it had intended to be.'” Sounds ridiculous, but it happens and not just to commercial entities. Governments (federal, state, county, city) can easily forget their mandate and become embroiled in process – that is, activity amongst the departments and divisions with little or no real outreach to the… Read more »

Shawn Thompson
Guest

Hey larry how much has the city spent on your cross walk signs? Do you know?

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

In the City’s defense, we have seen an improved, signalized cross walk just east of Orange Grove. This appears to be a huge improvement. Progress has been slow but some progress has been made. As a candidate for City Council it might be easy to be critical but we should not pretend that nothing has happened. We need to be fair to have legitimate debates. Unfortunately the cross walk near Shake Shake is delayed, awaiting the re-design of Santa Monica Blvd. to accommodate another mega development just east of the Ramada. We still need better lighting at every cross walk… Read more »

Not good!
Guest
Not good!

This level of bureaucratic log jam is unacceptable . The very size of our city and amount of presumably able staff should assure fast track attention to these issues. Otherwise folks are treading water watching moss grow. Not good.

Thank you!
Guest
Thank you!

Thank you again. I wish you were running for the city council.

Alison
Guest
Alison

Larry, using someone who was killed while under the influence and jaywalking isn’t the smartest move. Stop using Clinton Bounds’ death as an excuse for your crosswalk crusade.The measures the City has taken (the annoying things in the middle of the street) and the temporary light up signs that take up a parking spot have made an impact. People are learning how to cross the street, which they should have learned when they were 5 I guess.
Thank goodness we haven’t had any more deaths. We don’t need crossing guards as some have suggested.

fine7760
Guest

The issue should be brought up in the debate. At least then it will put some fire under those in charge to get something done.