Intersections near campus dangerous, community says


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The following students from professor Linda Bowen’s Spring 2009 Journalism 410 class contributed to the story:

Danielle Directo, Alexis Lipnicki, Megan Blumenthal, Alex Viray, Sandra Parada, Mike Tersigni, Brittany Glover, Tade Williams

As a result of mounting concern over pedestrian traffic accidents, police conducted a sting operation April 2, 2009 at Reseda Boulevard and Dearborne Street, where 158 citations were issued within roughly three hours for failing to yield to pedestrians, said senior lead officer Daniel Del Valle of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Devonshire division in a phone interview.

Dressed in plainclothes, Del Valle crossed Reseda back and forth while motorcycle officers waited on the sidelines for drivers who failed to stop for him. Del Valle said this was a stressful experience because he was never too sure if motorists were going to stop. He “couldn’t believe” the number of drivers who were oblivious. At one point, a student headed to the university carrying a three-foot by four-foot piece of cardboard and was narrowly missed by a driver who almost didn’t see the seemingly sizeable object. Del Valle said that roughly six or seven times out of 10, a driver violated the law by not stopping for street crossers.

Students, residents and local business owners alike have complained about the rise in traffic accidents, Del Valle said.

Rebecca Benitez, a sociology major, works at Subway by Reseda Boulevard and Prairie Street in the shopping center west of the university.

Despite the painted crosswalk, that particular stretch of Reseda is unsafe, she told a student reporter as she prepared sandwiches at the fast-food restaurant.

“(Drivers) don’t really yield for pedestrians,” said Benitez, who considers the lighted, blinking crosswalks as the safest places to cross.

Shahzad Merchant, a local business owner, said he’s seen his share of accidents on Reseda.

“It’s not like Pasadena or Glendale where there are lighted crosswalks,” Merchant said. “Everyone seems to be busy or in a rush and even I am not aware of people in the crosswalks sometimes and I’ve missed it.”

Merchant, who owns the Baskin Robbins ice cream shop at the corner of Reseda Boulevard and Plummer Street, said the city should install a left-turn signal at the busy intersection, where he often sees students trying to avoid the signal light by entering the shopping complex parking lot.

“It’s not very safe around here,” Merchant said. “I have to be very careful when I drive.”

“A lot of people were cheering for us that we were doing the enforcement (like the April 2 sting),” Del Valle said. However, the roughly 160 people who were cited that day were not so thrilled, but those people aren’t seeing the bigger picture, he said.

“They’re angry that they’re getting a ticket, but they don’t realize we’re the same officers…that hold that victim’s hand that just got ran over,” he said.

When 60-year-old Victoria Santos was mowed down by a driver on the early morning of March 9, Del Valle was among the first to respond.

The man who hit Santos called 911 after he struck her and told authorities he didn’t see her crossing as he made a right onto Zelzah Avenue from Lassen Street after the light turned green.

Santos was a single mother, Del Valle said. “I felt horrible to contact the daughter,” who is just 15, and ask her to come to Northridge Hospital, where her mother was taken, he said. Though paramedics were able to revive Santos, the woman later died.

“Of course I didn’t want to tell (the daughter), ‘Your mom’s (gone),’” Del Valle said. “It’s heartbreaking … We really just want people to be safe.”

Yao Lu, a student who was struck by a car on Reseda Boulevard and Vincennes Street last November, was attending Shanghai Normal University in China but came to CSUN in January 2008 because of her college’s ties with the American school. She quickly progressed in the Intensive English Program (IEP) and was taking two regular courses through the university, said Bessie Karras-Lazaris, academic director of IEP. She called the accident “devastating” to Lu and her academic community.

Lu was popular and very motivated and made friends quickly with other students in the program, Karras-Lazaris said.

“Initially, most of us thought she wouldn’t make it” because the student suffered severe head trauma and several broken bones, Karras-Lazaris said as she sat in her office. Many of Lu’s instructors and friends visited her as she lay comatose in the hospital, and Karras-Lazaris said Lu later told her she felt as if she could hear all her visitors and that “we all helped her wake up.”

“It was a miracle she survived,” Karras-Lazaris said. “She was very strong-willed; she wanted to make it through this. She said she felt (the accident) changed her and that she had a different view on life.”

When the IEP held an end of the semester party in December, Karras-Lazaris said Lu gathered the strength to attend – it had only been about a month after the accident – so she could thank everyone who visited her and kept her in their thoughts. Lu’s health insurance covered the hospital expenses – all foreign exchange students are required to have full coverage as a safety precaution, said Karras-Lazaris. Lu eventually became well enough to take her final exams.

While studying at CSUN, Lu also participated in activities at the university’s China Institute, which hosts exchange students and scholars visiting from the Asian country.

Dr. Justine Su, director of the institute, knew Lu and said it was a difficult time for her, other faculty and the student’s family to see her unconscious in the hospital. Her loved ones were “very angry at the hit-and-run driver.”

She said after Lu’s accident, she and other faculty members now advise students and visiting Chinese scholars to “just walk a few more steps” and use the lighted crosswalks rather than the regular painted ones. “I think that is sort of a temporary solution that will probably make it a little safer for now,” she said in a phone interview.

Karras-Lazaris said three students in IEP were hit while riding their bicycles and that the “campus is pedestrian or bicycle-friendly.”

Pointing out of her office window, which faces Nordhoff Street and Lindley Avenue, the IEP director said authorities “need to find a better way to take care of traffic.”

Su shared Karras-Lazaris’ concerns, saying, “Our policymakers who make the rules for the road…need to look into this (problem).”

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