Community seeks traffic safety

GLENDALE — It was just two weeks ago when a driver lost control of her car, skipped across the corner of David Piazza’s block, made a 360-degree turn and then ended up on his front lawn.

Piazza heard the crashes from inside his home.

First, there were loud thuds of trash bins and a traffic signal box. Then came the sound of a car ramming through a wall in his front yard.

Although Piazza was amazed by the crash, it wasn’t the first time he had seen one involving dangerous driving in his neighborhood.

His home is on Verdugo Road, less than a block from Wilson Middle School, and was the gathering point Monday night for a mix of about 20 neighbors, parents and police and school officials to discuss what community members described as a history of traffic safety problems that has not been adequately addressed.

“That was such a possible tragedy,” said Stephanie Piazza, David Piazza’s wife. “And it really, really worried a lot of us.”

Residents have been concerned about traffic around Wilson for years, with a series of recent accidents deepening fears about what they say is a tragedy waiting to happen.

A 12-year-old girl was hit by a driver while walking in a crosswalk in front of the school in January, although she was not seriously hurt. Weeks later, another out-of-control driver came to a halt in the Piazzas’ front lawn.

City officials have echoed community concerns about traffic in areas around specific schools, like Glenwood Road, where Keppel Elementary School, Toll Middle School and Hoover High School are within a two-block stretch.

More than 4,000 students attend classes there every day, which frequently causes congestion and frustration from parents trying to rush to work, officials say.

A high concentration of students and cars during morning school drop-offs can create dangerous situations, officials said, including an incident Oct. 29 when a distracted driver struck and killed an 11-year-old girl who was walking in a crosswalk in front of Toll.

But the driver in that incident was moving less than 10 mph, officials said Monday, explaining that even the series of traffic measures in place around the school, including speed limits and a crosswalk with flashing lights, did not prevent the death.

“This is truly a community problem,” Glendale Police Lt. Carl Povilaitis said. “There is no one entity that’s going to find the magic bullet and fix it.”

Better traffic education and personal responsibility on the part of drivers would help improve safety around schools and in the city, Povilaitis said.

Residents agreed that drivers need to be more aware and defensive, but argued that physical changes would likely alter the dynamics for drivers who may not care about stopping at red lights or slowing down in school zones.

“We have a young group of people who are driving, and they’re not paying attention and they’re not going to do it,” one resident said, referring to students who speed down Verdugo to get to Glendale Community College or Glendale High School.

Speed bumps on Monterey Road, or a photo-enforced traffic light at the intersection of Monterey and Verdugo, could help to reduce the danger for students walking to and from schools, residents said.

Drivers often roll through the red traffic light on Monterey when making a right turn onto Verdugo, they said, without paying attention to the children who might be crossing the street.

While a photo-enforced traffic light might be beneficial for the city and improve safety, Glendale Unified School District Assistant Supt. Dick Sheehan said officials are pushing for legislation that would pave the way for radar-enforced ticketing around schools.

“We are trying to work with legislation to get radar-enforced cameras to be allowed in school zones,” he said.

Educators are working with state lawmakers to make the change, he said.

Residents were full of other ideas to help address concerns immediately.

They suggested volunteers for traffic direction or integrating more traffic safety education of students during a special safety-themed week.

Yellow Ribbon Week focuses on safety, although it has not been altered to emphasize traffic safety, as has been suggested by school board member Greg Krikorian.

No city officials attended the event, although City Manager Jim Starbird has committed to investigating troubled areas in the city and to exploring solutions, including radar detection, cameras and possibly doubling traffic fines around schools.


 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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