Changes to improve traffic safety along a 5.7-mile section of La Tuna Canyon Road are set to be installed in June, several months after a bicyclist was seriously injured while riding on the street.
The plans, which include the removal of a center passing lane on one part of the road, were revealed by transportation engineers during a May 15 community meeting at the Villa Scalabrini community room in Sun Valley.
The part of the street getting the changes stretch from Sunland Boulevard to Tujunga Canyon Boulevard. Engineers said the removal of the passing lane, which runs through a non-residential part of the street, eliminates the ability of motorists on the road to pass slower cars. The resulting reduction in the number of lanes is also meant to discourage speeding, engineers said.
Residents along La Tuna Canyon Road fear driving or bicycling on their own street, where drivers are often speeding and driving aggressively. At this section of La Tuna near the 210 freeway there is no bicycle lane and no shoulder for cyclists, or cars to escape to. (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News-SCNG)
The safety improvement measures come after a hit-and-run driver struck and seriously injured 52-year-old Keith Jackson in December during a family ride with his son and daughter-in-law on La Tuna Canyon Road. The incident prompted a petition calling for safety measures to be installed on that road.
Engineers said the plans reflect efforts to address feedback from the community, who asked that they find ways to reduce speeding and unsafe passing, and to put in more protections for bicyclists and equestrians.
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Raised pavement markers to demarcate and alert drivers if they drift over boundaries and into the bike and equestrian lanes will also be among the first changes to go in, along with painted messages on the street reading “do not pass,” engineers said.
These changes are set to take place next month, while the road is also undergoing resurfacing work, engineers said.
Motorists speeding or improperly using bike and center turn lanes to pass other cars has long been a headache for residents who live along the road. The announcement of the “do not pass” messages, and additional signage saying the same thing, elicited applause from many who attended the community meeting.Kris Hekking, a resident who has sat through multiple discussions on the matter over the years, said the safety improvements to discourage speeding and unsafe passing are a long-time in coming.
“They just talk talk talk, and nothing gets done,” she said of previous meetings on the matter. “I’ve been here since ’72. I think this is the first time that anybody’s really done anything about that street.”
Many like Hekking who live on the road, which also goes by La Tuna Canyon Park, say that the situation has gotten to the point where it can take five to 10 minutes during rush-hour, during which 50 or so cars might whiz by, before they have an opening to exit out their own driveways.
“La Tuna Canyon Road has now become an on-ramp and an off-ramp. Hopefully this plan will work. Hopefully we can get something going, because it is just getting worse every year.”
— Elizabeth Freeman, resident
Residents along La Tuna Canyon Road fear driving or bicycling on their own street, a relatively sleepy drag through in Sun Valley where drivers are often speeding and drive aggressively. Bicyclists do not feel comfortable riding along the bike lanes that are painted on the road (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News-SCNG)
One resident, Elizabeth Freeman, said she finds La Tuna Canyon Road “really dangerous” and avoids walking on it. But speeding is also an issue for the equestrians and bicyclists who frequent the area, she said.
“We want people to come and enjoy the canyon,” she said.
Freeman thinks incidents of speeding and unsafe passing have grown in recent years, potentially due to GPS-based navigation systems, combined with the fact that the 210 Freeway lets out right onto the road.
“La Tuna Canyon Road has now become an on-ramp and an off-ramp,” she said. “Hopefully this plan will work. Hopefully we can get something going, because it is just getting worse every year.”
Engineers said that they are also looking into additional safety measures, such as rumble strips that make the road bumpy enough to discourage fast driving, new traffic signals and stop signs, and physical barriers such as white plastic bollards alongside the bike lanes.
In addition to addressing the road’s design, more traffic enforcement may be on the way, according to Eve Sinclair, an aide to Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez.
“One of the things we’ll do is request for more intensive speeding enforcement and also just general traffic enforcement following all this implementation,” Sinclair said during the community meeting. “Ideally this will all roll out and we’ll have some enforcement in the weeks and months afterwards to really kind of cement the changes.”
The speed limits on La Tuna Canyon Road, which goes through both a residential area and a less inhabited canyon area, range from 35 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour.
Damian Kevitt, a traffic safety advocate who runs the organization Streets Are For Everyone, said it was the petition that got city officials to start focusing more attention on the street.
After the cycling collision in December, Jackson’s family reached out to Kevitt for help to address safety issues on La Tuna Canyon Road.
“They said we want to change La Tuna Canyon,” he said. “They ride it a lot. I know a lot of cyclists who ride La Tuna Canyon, runners and all of them have said, you know, this is a dangerous corridor.”
He also reached out to the area’s councilwoman, Monica Rodriguez, to get her support, and was then introduced to Scott Froschauer, head of the La Tuna Canyon Community Association, who he worked with to put together the petition.
“That petition took off and within a few days, we got thousands and thousands of signatures, enough that the city paid attention and brought (back) original plans that were sitting on the shelf … and started reworking them.”
Kevitt also said the improvements fit well with Los Angeles’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city by 2025. While that initiative has been commonly associated with plans to reduce car lanes and replace them with bike lanes that have prompted pushback, Kevitt said the La Tuna Canyon Road project could serve as an example of a traffic safety improvement plan that has wider support, he said.
In nearby Sunland-Tujunga, a project along Foothill Boulevard in which car lanes were taken out and bollards installed to mark off new bike lanes, provoked backlash from some community members who complained that it created traffic congestion. The road reconfiguration, also referred to as a “road diet,” was installed after a bicyclist was killed in 2016 in November on that road.
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While there was outcry over the Foothill Boulevard project, some in the community said they having been asking for traffic safety improvements on other streets.
La Tuna Canyon Road was among those streets, but it was not technically a priority project under Vision Zero. It is not included on a 2017 list of streets currently considered “high-injury” based on the number of serious and fatal collisions that have occurred there. Transportation officials said earlier this year that an updated “high-injury-network” is in the works.
Kevitt said that he believes while the initial impetus to address La Tuna Canyon Road’s safety issues was Jackson’s cycling collision, “this is not just a cycling problem, this is a problem for all of the residents.”
For Freeman, while the plans unveiled this month serve as a hopeful starting point to fixing a long-running problem on her street, she is uncertain the measures now being installed will do enough to discourage speeding and unsafe passing.
“People don’t read signs unfortunately, so that’s going to be, I think, a continuing problem,” she said. “But I do like the bollards on the side of the road there where it’s got the striping for the horses.”
**Article and content courtesy of the Los Angeles Daily News and author Elizabeth Chou**