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Residents Driven to Wits’ End on Busy Torrance Side Streets

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Times Staff Writer

Jerry Houske says he hates backing out of his driveway. Nearly every time he attempts to ease his car onto 235th Street, he says, drivers cutting through his neighborhood blow their horns and call him names.

What angers him, Houske says, is that his street, in southeast Torrance, is a narrow residential lane that shouldn’t have so much traffic.

On Madison Street, Shari Marquez feels the same way. She says she has twice seen her 8-year-old son nearly hit by cars cutting through her neighborhood. Walter Wiesbauer, Marquez’s neighbor, said he recently walked out of his house to find his cat dead, run over by one of the many cars using the residential street.

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Edward Wooley, who lives on Ocean Avenue, says he sees the same problems.

Cut-Through Streets

All three streets are what city traffic engineers and residents call cut-throughs.

As traffic increases in Torrance, more drivers are seeking relief from congested multiple lane boulevards by using two-lane residential streets as shortcuts. And even though all three streets have posted speed limits of 25 m.p.h., residents say many drivers go much faster.

The residents say the city appears indifferent to their complaints about traffic and has ignored suggestions for easing the problem.

Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert acknowledges the problem but says the city has “gone to unusual lengths to help some of this.”

But some officials say the city just has too many cars and their options are limited.

John Vance, Torrance’s traffic manager for the last four years, said Torrance has 140,000 residents, but during the day 500,000 people may be in the city to work or shop. Drivers look for ways to travel across the city as quickly as possible.

“What any agency that controls traffic needs to do is to try to make people use the arterial system for their trips,” Vance said. “In other words, if I’m going to go from south Torrance to north Torrance, I need a route that will get me from here to there in a reasonable amount of time so that I’m not tempted to go on an alternate route.”

But Hawthorne Boulevard, an eight-lane artery that is the city’s main north-south route, is often jammed with cars, prompting motorists to use side streets like Madison, Ocean and 235th.

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Madison, for example, offers a way for people to avoid the busy intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.

“It’s just a race track,” Wiesbauer said.

Barbara Hester, principal of Walteria Elementary School on Madison, said she has been telling the city Transportation Department about dangerous traffic for several years.

In early February, Wiesbauer sent a letter to Vance and the city’s transportation director, Arthur Horkay, detailing his complaints and offering 12 suggestions, ranging from installing watch-for-children signs to permanently closing one end of Madison.

A few days later he received a reply from Vance that shot down every one of his suggestions.

Because of his frustrations, Wiesbauer recently helped organize the Madison Street Traffic Control Committee as a focal point for residents’ complaints.

One of the committee members is Marquez, who has lived on Madison for eight years in a house across from the school. From her kitchen window, she said, she has witnessed drivers swerving to avoid crossing guards as they helped children in crosswalks. At other times, she has seen children blasted out of the crosswalk by the honking horns of impatient drivers. One of her neighbors was rear-ended by a motorist as she pulled into her driveway, Marquez said. One woman used to stand in the street, stopping traffic so her late husband could pull his car out of the driveway.

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“I just get really angry,” Marquez said.

Add 2nd Lane

Four years ago, she said, Horkay told her the city planned to add a second left-turn lane on Pacific Coast Highway at Hawthorne Boulevard, a measure aimed at encouraging more drivers to use the intersection rather than cut through Madison.

That lane has yet to be added. Horkay blames the California Department of Transportation for the delay. But Karl Berger, an associate traffic engineer with Caltrans, said the lane could have been installed four years ago except for delays caused by the city and a county drainage project that isn’t due to begin until June.

To Vance and Horkay, the solution to drivers speeding along Madison Street is police enforcement, but Sgt. Rollo Green said officers spent eight days in February on Madison and wrote 21 tickets, far more than one would expect on a residential street, Green said.

“The answer is not just a bunch of tickets,” Green said, adding that eliminating or reducing access to the streets also has to be part of the solution.

Reducing access has become a first step toward dealing with the traffic problem on Madison. The Madison Street Traffic Control Committee brought about 50 people to an April 4 meeting of the Torrance Traffic Commission, a seven-member body of volunteers appointed by the City Council to make recommendations.

The Transportation Department, represented by Vance, recommended that signs be posted on the northbound side of Hawthorne Boulevard at Newton and 244th streets prohibiting right turns between 6 and 9 a.m., which would prevent drivers from using those streets to get to Madison and Pacific Coast Highway. The Transportation Department also suggested installing more speed limit and school crossing signs.

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The commission went further, recommending that a stop sign be installed at Madison and 244th and watch-for-children signs be posted.

Against Stop Signs

Vance said he doesn’t believe that stop signs should be used to slow cars, and noted that the State Traffic Manual has no standard sign for warning drivers about children. Vance said that putting up non-standard signs might only confuse drivers and increase the chances of an accident.

Wiesbauer found the commission members “very nice,” he said. “We came out pretty happy that we might be getting somewhere.”

The recommendations by the Transportation Department and the traffic commission must go to the City Council for approval. No date has been set.

The residents’ group is still concerned about traffic from Pacific Coast Highway turning down Madison, and Wiesbauer said he will look into the possibility of blocking off Madison where it intersects Newton.

Others residents of cut-through streets haven’t been as successful.

Wooley, president of the Southwood Riviera Assn., said residents in his area have been complaining to the city for more than 10 years about the cut-through traffic on Ocean Avenue, a two-lane residential street that is an alternative to Hawthorne Boulevard between Torrance Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. All that the residents have achieved has been to prevent the city from erecting a stoplight at Ocean and Pacific Coast Highway, a move that they said would have attracted even more traffic.

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54% Are Not Residents

John Eubanks, president of the Southwood Homeowners Assn., cited a study commissioned by Little Company of Mary Hospital for a potential development in the area that showed that 54% of the cars traveling the segment of Ocean Avenue between Torrance Boulevard and Carson Street belonged to non-residents, and that the average speed was 36 m.p.h.

Similarly, 235th Street offers a way for non-resident drivers to avoid busy Sepulveda Boulevard.

“People are not very polite about letting you out of your driveway,” said Sue Herbers, who lives in the neighborhood and is president of the Southeast Torrance Homeowners Assn.

“Every time I go out I get mad,” said Houske, Herbers’ neighbor. “Why can’t I live on a decent street?”

Several years ago the residents’ group asked the city for a crossing guard to help protect the children at Wood Elementary School. Herbers said the city conducted a study and then told the group that the amount of traffic was too low to warrant the expense.

“They don’t think in people terms,” Herbers said.

Vance said the situation is just as frustrating to him. “If you could go back and start all over again,” he said, “you would design (the street system) entirely differently.”

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Since Torrance is already laid out, there is only so much the Transportation Department can do to deal with traffic problems. One option, Vance said, is timed signals to make traffic flow better, but that gives only a limited relief. Another is to condemn property to add extra lanes to the city’s main thoroughfares. But that is a last resort, Vance said.

Ultimately, Vance said, “the public needs to be more considerate, to drive safely at a safe speed.

“Voluntary compliance,” Vance said; “that’s how the system works. If people are not going to comply with the posted speed limit and the laws of the state it makes it a little more difficult. How do you control human behavior?”

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