FIGHTING CITY HALL AND WINNING

It was March of 2006. I was driving to work as I always do down an arterial highway named Moulton Parkway, through the City of Laguna Woods. Suddenly there was a bright flash of light. One of those robotic traffic light cameras snapped my photograph. In a few weeks I received a photograph of me running a red light along with a traffic violation. Shocked, as I have driven down this roadway for 22 years, I couldn’t understand why I suddenly ran this light?

Retracing my steps the next day, I saw that this signal was now obscured by growth of the trees and bushes in the parkway on the right side.

05gate-12-moulton-northbound-85-ft

The high bushes and widened trees were obscuring the street lights from my line-of-sight. I took some photos using my son’s digital camera while sitting in the passenger’s seat and prepared to fight this traffic ticket in court. As you can see in the above photo, If you were following the school bus or any large truck the signals are completely obscured because of the uphill incline, and curving to the right. It was now clear to me how I could miss seeing the signal and run this red light.

The day of the hearing I was assigned to a judge for the County of Orange, at a courthouse which coincidently was located near the intersection. I brought my photographs with me and prepared to argue that this intersection was unsafe, and needed maintenance, and that I should be excused from this traffic violation. To my chagrin, the judge asked me what kind of car I drove. I told him I drove a 2008 Toyota Prius. He joked, “THAT’S your problem, you should drive a large Suburban SUV like I do! Pay the fine, or attend traffic school!”  His cavalier attitude, and smart-ass remark infuriated me, but not wanting to get in any further trouble, I relented and paid the fine of $250.00.

However I wasn’t going to take this sitting down. As I am a civil engineer, I knew this situation was not in any way solved. This was still a dangerous intersection, and no matter how many photograph tickets were issued, the intersection was still a danger.

I started my research of this intersection using Google Earth, the County of Orange Standard Plans for roadway construction, and the historical records of this intersection. I discovered that this intersection was NOT a legal intersection. It was originally a golf-cart crossing for Leisure World so that residents of the retirement community could cross this busy arterial road to play golf. Originally there was just a flashing golf cart crossing sign there. The retirement community had probably lobbied their city (Laguna Woods) to install a full intersection at this location. The problem is this “crossing” is at an uphill incline, and has a curvature in the road. Per the County of Orange Construction Code and City of Laguna Woods Code intersections need sufficient “line-of-sight” before the intersection of at least 150 lineal feet before the intersection. This is to provide a safe braking distance before the signal. Using aerial photos, and scaling the distances  I found that this intersection was not “to code” and in violation of the laws.

I proceeded to call the City Engineer for the City of Laguna Woods, and he confessed that he was aware of this situation. I told him it was wrong for the City to use this dangerous crossing as a “cash cow” to collect fines with, and not doing anything to make the intersection safe. The engineer told me he was surprised their flashing signs wasn’t enough to warn drivers. I told him that the size and density of morning traffic and night traffic made their flashing sign inconsequential. I asked if they planned to do something about this, but he answered there was no budget for it and it might take be several years. Knowing that even a City Engineer didn’t have the clout to make or generate such a project, I then proceeded to write the City Council and Mayor. I sent them all my research, and ended my letter with the following warning:

“When the golf-cart crossing was converted to a signalized intersection it created a “false” condition of safety for the golf carts and cross traffic. It is still as dangerous as it was before the signal was installed. I assert this is because no one accounted for the fact that the parkway has no sidewalk, no ground cover, but has 20+ feet high juniper shrubs which block the view of the signal until it is too late to see it. I think the parkway from the back of curb to the block wall should be cleared of all vertical vegetation and replaces with sidewalk and/or ground cover w/ irrigation. The tall shrubs for screening should be planted on the golf course side of the block wall and not in the roadway parkway.”

I further informed the City Engineer and Mayor I would keep my records of my warnings should there be any fatality or injury accidents at this intersection, and gladly will provide them to the lawyers of the families of the injured or deceased…

It took a few years, but the City and/or County began a major construction project to eliminate the bushes and trees, and provided a cleaner line-of-sight for this intersection. If you compare the before-and-after photos you can see the dramatic change in this intersection. Nonetheless, after 22 years I changed the route I take to work in the morning and bypass this intersection completely.

075-ft

Now, even though the street is yet on an uphill incline, and curvature, the signals are clearly visible up to 150 lineal feet away. No doubt the cash cow of camera tickets decreased drastically, but so did the people running the red lights during their morning or evening commutes. It gave me immense satisfaction to see these changes made. It might have perhaps prevented future accidents, and even saved some lives and some limbs.

Fighting City Hall, may not result in avoiding a $250 fine, but the real win is righting a wrong. I get an immense sense of satisfaction whenever I drive by this intersection nowadays, knowing my efforts did make a difference.

 

 

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