Members of the city’s Mobility, Transportation and Infrastructure Commission on Tuesday heard dozens of public comments attesting to the traffic carnage they have witnessed along Meridian Ave. in South Pasadena: speeding, parked cars demolished, bikers injured by cars, sideview mirrors regularly ripped off and more.
The comments, read by city staff during the teleconferenced meeting, also featured multiple accounts of near misses and scary moments at the T-intersection of Oak St., told by pedestrians and parents testifying to the fear they have about letting their children cross the intersection — a major crossing point for students on their way to and from the high school and middle school. Virtually all demanded installation of a three-way stop sign
But Public Works Director Shahid Abbas followed up with a report from W. G. Zimmerman Engineering of Huntington Beach concluding a three-way stop sign is not justified under the guidance supplied in the California Manual of Uniform Traffic Control and Devices. With some minor variation, these specs require five crashes within a 12-month period or minimum volumes of at least 300 vehicles per hour for 8 hours entering from major street approaches and at least 200 cars, pedestrians or bikes entering from minor street approaches. Smaller minimum approaches are allowed if most of the vehicles exceed 40 mph.
State accident records show that between Jan. 31, 2019 and Jan. 31, 2020, there was only one accident at Meridian and Oak St., when a car broadsided a bicycle. Zimmerman reported that while the average volume of vehicles on Meridian Ave. comes to 401 vehicles an hour, it did not take measurements at Oak, relying instead on extrapolations based on three “peak hours,” none of which exceeded 150 per hour.
Commission members complained the peak measurements were taken during a day around Christmas that was likely not representative of average volumes. They also expressed concern that the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) from which the crash data was derived is known to be suspect.
Moreover, the report does not appear to have taken the simple step of asking the city’s police or fire departments for their records. Earlier this year, the South Pasadenan News filed a public records request for collisions along several city streets during the five-year period ending Jan. 31, 2020. According to that data, 54 collisions took place along the 1.7 mile stretch of Meridian Ave., including eight in 2019 alone and four in January 2020. At least five of the collisions took place within a block of Oak, and three of those took place between February 9 and June 7 of 2017 (see chart). Notably, the city data does not appear to include the bike accident reported by SWITRS.
During the same five-year period, South Pasadena reported 192 collisions on Monterey Rd., 525 on Fair Oaks Ave., 417 on Fremont Ave. and 173 on Mission St.
The Oak Street intersection was one of only several reported on in the Zimmerman study, which concluded stop signs were also not justified at Meridian and Maple St. or at Meridian and Pine St., about which some of the public testimony on Tuesday expressed concerns.
Residents have asked for other improvements on Meridian such as speed feedback signs, red curbs at key intersection and others to make turning and backing out of driveways safer.
The commission also heard a lengthy presentation from public works director Abbas that focused mainly on long-term traffic enhancements compiled in 2011 by a firm long since acquired by Chicago-based AECOM. He also spoke of the city’s vision to convert Meridian to a “Livable Complete Street” with “green street” and “smart mobility and active transportation” elements such as raised intersections and crosswalk improvements, protected intersections, “refuge islands” and median treatments. He described other option such as roundabouts, channelizers, green bike pavement markings and concrete “pinpoints” to slow traffic. He made similar recommendations for Fremont Ave.
Abbas offered a few potential short-term measures for Meridian including replacing faded striping, adding speed signage and more red curb painting.
Ultimately, said MTIC chair Sam Zneimer, the commission elected to provide city staff with recommendations for number of traffic safety options that could be installed relatively quickly and inexpensively. “As much as we thought Complete Street or Neighborhood Greenway concepts were nice and pie-in-the-sky,” commissioners share the sense of urgency felt by residents who have been pressing for improvements, including a stop sign at Meridian and Oak for well over 20 years. They want measures to be taken while staff is developing plans for and finding funding for longer term solutions.
These near term options include installation of a rectangular flashing beacon that can be actuated by pedestrians, edge line striping to delineate space along the street, rumple strips in the center median to warn drivers from veering out of their lane, removal of parking spaces to improve site line visibility, and installation of non-concrete curb extensions to reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians.