Special Investigative Report
Pedestrian Safety at CSUN Part 4 of 4
This article was reported by:
Megan Blumenthal, Danielle Directo, Brittany Glover, Alexis Lipnicki, Sandra Parada, Mike Tersigni, Alex Viray, Tade Williams
Current laws dictate that in order to use radar or laser traffic enforcement, the speed limits must be updated to reflect drivers’ average speeds.
Despite the opposition from neighborhood councils and residents, the Los Angeles City Council approved a motion to raise speed limits on Zelzah Avenue between Chatsworth and Nordhoff streets, a busy stretch that runs alongside CSUN’s east side and on which Northridge Academy High School and Granada Hills Charter High School sit. The speed limit was raised by 5 mph to 40 mph.
Echoing the concerns of Northridge residents, Assemblyman Paul Krekorian of Burbank said local governments shouldn’t have to accommodate speeding drivers by raising the average speed limit for the sole purpose of enforcing the very same speeders.
“The legislature refuses to make the changes,” councilman Greig Smith’s representative Matt Myerhoff said. “(Greig Smith) has always argued that this process automatically raises speeds each time you do it, regardless of what is a safe speed.”
Officer Daniel Del Valle of the LAPD’s Devonshire division said that though the five-mile increase on Zelzah might not be much, community members have a right to be upset.
“(It’s) not for me to decide,” he said.
He cited the city’s surveys, adding that the protocols are necessary.
“But would I have increased it? No. That’s just my opinion.”
Eventually, two lighted crosswalks were installed on Zelzah Avenue – one of which came after a pedestrian, a Granada Hills high school student, died.
Bruce Gillman, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) – the agency that conducts surveys to determine what needs to be changed on city streets – also said the city plans to install illuminated feedback signs that display vehicles’ speeds on Devonshire east of Zelzah and west of Balboa, which will be completed after July 1 of next year.
But Del Valle noted that with the state’s grim economic state, garnering funds from Sacramento for local fixes such as installing crosswalks and other safety measures might be even more difficult.
But authorities say not all the accidents are always the fault of drivers.
Del Valle said crosswalks often give pedestrians “a false sense of security.”
Many pedestrians think, “‘Hey, we have the right of way,’ and the vehicle should stop, which is true,” he said. “But the reality is you have a lot of drivers who just aren’t paying attention.”
Anne Glavin, CSUN chief of police, agrees that pedestrians are not always completely faultless.
“They shouldn’t assume that just because they walk off a curb into a sidewalk that the whole world is going to stop,” Glavin said. “And that’s the difficulty for law enforcement, trying to deal with both sides of the coin.”
Kiley Carmona, 21, has observed offenses as both a pedestrian and a driver. The CSUN student lives close to campus and said she usually rides her bike or walks to school.
She nearly hit a skateboarder because he or she seemed to come out of nowhere, she said. Another time, she was riding her bike and a driver nearly hit her while attempting to make a right turn because he “did not want to wait” for her to cross.
Like Del Valle and Bustos, the student said pedestrians hold responsibility in their safety and need to be more aware of their surroundings. And like police, Carmona said cell phones and iPods seem to be too much of a distraction to both drivers and pedestrians alike.
CSUN student Jenn Newsome lives near the intersection where Johoney Lobos was killed last fall.
Newsome said she feels most drivers are too impatient to wait for pedestrians. Despite the lighted crosswalk on Zelzah Avenue, the 22-year-old interior design major said the street is still dangerous because many drivers speed down the road. Newsome herself had a close call when a driver trying to make a left turn didn’t notice her.
CSUN isn’t the only college campus to suffer the tragic effects of pedestrian accidents.
In the early morning of March 29, 18-year-old USC freshman Adrianna Bachan was killed when she was struck by an alleged drunk driver just north of campus at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street.
Bachan was crossing with a friend, 19-year-old Marcus Garfinkle, who was carried about 500 feet on the car’s windshield before being removed by a passenger of the car, police say. Garfinkle suffered two broken legs with multiple fractures, as well as injuries to his abdomen and arms. A witness, 19-year-old Will Sturgeon, told the media the pair may have crossed outside the crosswalk because Bachan’s body ended up about 15 yards away from it.
Money quickly became a driving force in the search to find the hit-and-run driver – the L.A. city council approved a $75,000 reward for information that led to an arrest and conviction in the case, and USC’s vice president of student affairs, Michael Jackson, announced the university would put up $50,000.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $10,000 reward on April 1, upping the award to $135,000. The following day, an anonymous donor contributed an additional $100,000 – bringing the total to $235,000, former LAPD Chief William Bratton announced to the media that morning.
a, who is being held on $1 million bail, is charged with felony hit-and-run and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and faces eight years in prison with a court date coming up next week. Cabrera’s husband, 32-year-old Josue Luna, was arrested April 18 as he crossed San Ysidro border returning from Mexico. He was jailed on suspicion of being an accessory to the hit-and-run, but was later released on $50,000 bail, television news media reported.
Luna told the media the light was green and neither he nor his wife saw any pedestrians in the crosswalk, nor were they intoxicated. He did, however, admit to removing Garfinkle from the windshield and placing him on the sidewalk and returning to the car.
But some close to Yao Lu, a Chinese exchange student who was struck by a car on Reseda Boulevard and Vincennes Street last November, are discouraged as to why the USC incident garnered more attention from the city and media.
“I remember the police told Yao Lu’s family that if the victim died, they would offer a (larger) monetary reward to catch the driver,” said Dr. Justine Su in a later e-mail interview, adding that perhaps that was reason why the USC case received more coverage. Currently, the standard reward offered by police to find hit-and-run drivers is set at $50,000.
Bessie Karras-Lazaris, academic director of the Intensive English Program (IEP) who worked closely with Lu, who was a part of the program, has sympathy for Adrianna Bachan’s family, but she doesn’t understand why the CSUN-area accidents received less publicity.
“(Yao Lu’s accident is) really the same thing… A car hit a student by a university,” but yet the incident near USC “had much more coverage,” she said.
Karras-Lazaris said she never saw the police’s reward flyer for Lu’s case posted, and she herself had to request a copy from the station. Had authorities “made more of a public plea,” the driver that hit Lu might have already been caught. Instead, nearly six months after the Chinese student’s accident, the case remains open without any leads.
Though Lu returned to China this January, Karras-Lazaris said the student plans on coming back to CSUN in the fall to finish her studies. The IEP academic director said she’s grateful that Lu survived, but regardless of whether or not someone dies, she said, “why (should the response) be any different? It should be safe for all of us.”