County Supervisors Approves Union Pacific Traffic Study

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

The County Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive traffic study of an East Los Angeles neighborhood near the Union Pacific Rail Yard on Dec. 14.

But a week after the Board’s decision to request another study, public works officials who say they’ve already conducted a comprehensive study are scratching their heads.

“That’s something we need to work with the [First] District on, as to exactly what they’re ordering us to do,” County Traffic Investigator James Chon told EGP on Tuesday.

The new “comprehensive” study was proposed by Supervisor Gloria Molina after residents and other stakeholders in the community failed to get desired traffic safety measures approved through the normal channels.

But Chon said they are trying to get more clarification from Molina’s office. “For us to see a motion to do another study kind of baffles us a little bit,” he said.

The motion, which did not give a deadline for the study, states that “community input” should be included in the process, and that the analysis process should be handled by the County Public Works Department.

Molina’s motion asserts “there clearly are traffic problems that must be addressed” in the Union Pacific Neighborhood, even though the County’s Public Works department and the Highway Safety Commission have rejected the resident’s requests to install traffic control measures.

The County has made a “significant investment” into the residential aspect of the community, which consists of a heavy industrial and trucking area located right next to single-family homes and schools. The County has built a new park and opened two new childcare and community centers in the area, the motion reads, but conflicting land uses “present unique challenges in planning for pedestrian and traffic safety.”

Chon said the traffic commission and the public works department have a very technical focus and is set up to look at existing conditions. A planning-focused agency may be better equipped to address the vision and future goals of a community, he said.

Molina’s motion sets the new study apart from past studies by suggesting the traffic commission look at “nontraditional” methods of getting speed and traffic volume down to “acceptable levels.”

Chon admitted they have not looked at “nontraditional” methods for traffic calming, but he maintained that a “planning type” approach, involving the Community Development Commission or even the Regional Planning Commission would be more up to the task.

The Community Development Commission “may be able to see things we may not,” he said, which is why he feels it would be “healthy to contact them.”

At the Highway Safety Commission meeting, Guillermo Villalobos, one of the commissioners who directly represents the Union Pacific neighborhood, “recommended doing more of a planning type of study, rather than an operational type of study, which is the type of study we usually conduct,” Chon said.

Those commissions as well as the County Board of Supervisors would be able to “look at the technical [traffic] report, and based on those studies, they may make their own decision with respect to what is best for the community,” he said.

Though not stated in the motion, a spokesperson for Molina said the new study would focus on a “multi-modal” type of study, which assesses traffic needs of a neighborhood based not just on automobiles, but also buses, bicycles and pedestrian.

But Chon said this was the approach they had already recommended to the original applicants of the traffic measures.

In a letter dated Dec. 6 to East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Traffic and Lighting Division director recommended a relatively new method for assessing traffic needs described in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 616. The letter also referred the applicants to the manager of the Community Development Commission.

But Molina’s office said there is no need to go to the County’s planning agencies. Keeping the study in the Public Works Department, hiring a consultant to guide the project, and looking at non-traditional traffic calming methods is “worth a shot,” her spokesperson said.

The traffic engineers could always study the options “in even greater detail,” she said. “It is important to our office to exhaust everything. We need to know for certain,” she said.

Chon said if that’s the case, they might end up having to look into hiring a consultant to help them.

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December 23, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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