As they were being inundated with the plaintive pleas of citizens aggravated by the latest fatality on Fremont, the South Pasadena City Council on Wednesday committed to making safety improvements on both Fremont and Meridian Avenue a “future agenda item.” Mayor Robert Joe demanded a staff report on the situation “as soon as possible.” Councilwoman Diana Mahmud said putting in portable speed indicator signs along Fremont and Meridian was “the least we could do.”
“It’s a big issue and we’ve had this fatality, so I think it’s about time we did something,” said Councilman Richard D. Schneider.
Families on Fremont had spoken. The group sent eight of its members or supports to the Council chambers to make their case, articulate their ask and demand action.
The speakers also scored a symbolic victory when City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe acknowledged their frustration by agreeing the city has been discussing these issues for “probably a decade or more” with little action to show for it.
DeWolfe, who has been city manager for over two years, cited staff turnover. “Many of us are newer to these issues and doing our best to get our arms around it and find solutions.” DeWolfe also said the city is currently studying whether to put a stop sign at Meridian and Oak but was unsure if any other boulevard stops were being considered, such as the one recommended for Meridian and Maple by Denise Philley, a Meridian Ave. resident who said her husband is still recovering from an accident last September when a car hit his bike on Meridian.
“When I drive on Meridian, people honk at me when I pull into my driveway,” said Philley. When she tries to get into her car parked along the street, “it’s really scary. I’m sometimes pinned to the car while I wait for other cars to go by.” The two stop signs she’s suggested could be taken care of “fairly easily,” she added, “and I think it would help a lot.”
The South Pasadena Police Department did not immediately have a breakdown of traffic collision statistics for Fremont and Meridian. However, based on an analysis of data at City-data.com, and including last week’s accident, there have been 31 traffic fatalities in South Pasadena since 1982, and Fremont Ave is the city’s second-deadliest street. Nine of the 31 occurred on Huntington Dr., while 5 were on Fremont, though last week’s was the first since 2002. Other streets with multiple fatalities over this period were Monterey Rd. (3), Pasadena Ave. (3) and the 110 freeway (2).
Delaine Shane said that earlier in January, a speeding van totaled a parked pickup truck car near her home on Meridian, while the same day down the street there’d been a two-car collision. “It’s not uncommon for me to find pieces of auto parts near my front curb from accidents I did not know about,” she said. “My neighbor’s cars have been side-swiped or T-boned through the years. It’s far worse for our friends on Fremont.”
“This is the face shield of the guy that died last week,” said Brian Bright, holding the macabre object as he stood at speaker’s podium. It landed in the front yard of his home on Oaklawn Ave., having flown some 95 feet from the head of the motorcyclist who, speeding up Fremont Avenue, fatally slammed into the back of a truck.
Bright said the parking lanes on Fremont haven’t been painted while those on Fletcher Ave., a much calmer street, were restriped just recently. “Now a motorcycle who tries to pass on the right loses control, hits a curb and runs into a truck, a truck that’s not supposed to be on Fremont. So, there’s three things right there” he said, referring to speeding, unpainted lines and illegal trucks.
He said he’s spoken to Councilmembers about putting in a digital speed sign like on Arroyo Dr. and Monterey Rd. “They’re cheap. They can tell you how many cars drive by so you don’t have to pay for a traffic study every five years like it seems we do and then we never do anything with that data. Let’s move ahead.”
Long-time resident Mary Ferrero said she’d been coming to the Council for decades. “I always say the same thing. I feel like a broken record. You know what I’m going to say. So here it is, once again: Fremont traffic. It’s quite terrible. We’ve had lots of accidents on Fremont. It’s a two-lane road. We’ve got schools. We’ve got churches. And we have those 18-wheelers,” which she says are “getting bigger. We cannot accommodate trucks. It’s just the same old story. Please help us.”
Andrea Fox, also speaking on behalf of Families on Fremont, then stood up. “We as a group have done everything that anyone has asked us to do: by speaking several times at city council meetings; meeting with the city manager; the city attorney; public works director; planning director; and the police. We’ve circulated petitions. We’ve gone to Transportation Commission meetings and we’ve gone to Public Works Commission meetings. However, this week in the wake of the accident, we’re hearing that the city is saying that traffic is actually decreasing on Fremont. That was a shock to us. It seems the city is using a flawed study that was implemented the week before Christmas for one day. As you know, that is not a representative sample of the traffic on Fremont.”
Fox said the group has specific demands: an immediate plan and allocation of funds for short term solutions to solve the traffic problems on Fremont and Meridian. “We specifically are asking for a designation of money from Metro Measure R funds” or from the half million dollar return of attorneys’ fees from the 710 litigation.
“The city has not yet presented a concrete plan for Fremont. We would like to see specific ideas and a commitment to carve out money to improve safety, calm traffic and make Fremont a more livable street.” In the past the city has done studies, but no further steps were taken,” she said. “It’s time for action now.”
“Any time that we try to get into the car, or try to get into the driveway, we run the risk of getting hit,” added Raphael Lopez, a resident along Fremont. He said neighbors knew it was just “a matter of time before” something like last week’s fatality would occur.
“So we are bonding together as a committee. We are going to follow through” to make sure their asks are routed “to whoever’s attention, to whatever department. We are going to be pushing.”
“Fremont has been studied, recommendations presented, consultants hired and Council has been studying this for more than ten years,” said Alan Ehrlich, who serves on the city’s Public Safety Committee but said he was speaking on behalf of Families on Fremont. All but one of the current councilmembers have been in place for seven or more years, “and nothing has been done,” he said. That is not acceptable.” The city should create a Fremont Meridian ad hoc Commission. We have studied this to death. It’s time for action and solutions.”