Siding with neighbors against the recommendation of a traffic engineer, the La Cañada Flintridge Public Works and Traffic Commission voted last week to remove 36 wheel stops from a Gould Avenue median installed to ease traffic congestion around Paradise Canyon Elementary School.
The immediate removal of the structures followed an Oct. 16 meeting during which residents aired concerns about student safety amid increasingly dangerous traffic during the school’s pickup and drop-off times. Congestion only worsened, they claimed, after the Sept. 19 installation of bumper-like structures in the Gould Avenue median north of Knight Way.
“It’s tragic what’s happening here,” said Gould Avenue homeowner Edward Newquist. “None of you would do this in front of your homes.”
Public Works Director Pat DeChellis said the city’s traffic engineer conducted an observational study of vehicle interaction with the wheel stops and found while they prevented multiple cars making simultaneous U-turns on Gould, kids and parents were still jaywalking.
Further, curb parking near the north end of the median also made for a very tight turnaround radius north of the wheel stops. Still, the traffic engineer recommended keeping the structures intact.
“Although it is congested, it’s an orderly congestion,” DeChellis told commissioners, presenting four possible solutions.
Two involved keeping the wheel stops and installing a red curb on the west side of Gould at the north end of the median to accommodate U-turns for southbound access (with one option adding a one-hour parking restriction on Gould’s east side from Knight Way to Paulette Place from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
A third option involved installing the same red curb but replacing the wheel stops with 15 perpendicular parking stalls in the middle of the median that would offer school staff an alternative to crowding Gould’s curbs all day. The fourth suggested replacing the structures with a left-hand turn pocket in the median for U-turns only and painting the curb red.
Unimpressed with those choices, neighbors asked Public Works officials to work with them on a more comprehensive solution. Gould Avenue homeowner Nicole Pantazis-Pitsos has garnered some 60 resident signatures on a petition seeking more sidewalks and speed-limit protections for walkers against distracted drivers.
“If you want to alleviate the problems, give us a pedestrian walking lane,” she said, suggesting traffic lanes be narrowed for more walking space. “Let me feel safe sending my kids to school.”
The wheel stops were the latest among some $708,555 in improvements undertaken by the city in recent years to ease traffic around the Paradise Canyon campus.
Most commissioners urged the structures’ removal. Public Works and Traffic Commission Vice Chair Edward Yu said a broader solution might be drafted alongside neighbors that includes engineering, education and enforcement.
Commissioner Kati Rubinyi requested a complete streets master plan be created to address similar issues around all La Cañada school sites. She opposed removing the wheel stops without replacing them with another impediment to parking on or driving through the median, casting the lone vote against a motion to remove them. The motion passed 3-1 (Commissioner Eldon Horst was absent).
“These [educational] institutions have to take reduced car trips more seriously,” Rubinyi said. “We have to disincentivize driving and not encourage it.”