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Traffic congestion raises safety concerns for school community

A+Los+Angeles+Police+Department+officer+directs+traffic+on+Balboa+Boulevard+in+front+of+the+entrance+to+the+Daniel+Pearl+Magnet+High+School+parking+lot+on+Aug.+17.+
Alan Ruiz
A Los Angeles Police Department officer directs traffic on Balboa Boulevard in front of the entrance to the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School parking lot on Aug. 17.

Every day, amid the bustling streets dominated by cars and public transportation, senior Derek Vasquez walks home after school, despite being aware of the heavy traffic situation and the dangers it could pose.

“I look both ways and I look behind me when I’m crossing to make sure cars aren’t behind me,” Vasquez said.

For over a decade, persistent traffic congestion and frequent safety violations have persisted near Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS). The stretch of Balboa Boulevard between Vanowen Street and Victory Boulevard presents the most significant hazards, posing challenges for both pedestrians and drivers navigating their way to school. The traffic jam can be attributed to the proximity of these intersections to six other schools surrounding DPMHS. The daily rush of parents from multiple schools, all striving to ensure their children’s timely arrival, further intensifies the urgency of addressing continuous traffic safety concerns in the area.

“There’s a lot of schools bunched up so obviously, there’s going to be traffic,” Vasquez said. “The wait (to enter school parking lots) is unbelievable and there have been little scrapings and lots of honking.”

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Near misses often occur in front of the school entrance, which is parallel to a two-way service road that allows local traffic to gain access to property. (Maggie Simonyan)

Parallel to DPMHS’s entrance into the school is a two-way service road that allows local traffic to gain access to property. As drivers turn on to the service road, near misses often occur with parents and students trying to enter the DPMHS driveway. Adding to the issue, southbound Balboa Boulevard is a generally traffic-heavy main street, serving as the main route for those attempting to access the 101 Freeway, which contributes significantly to the continuous flow of vehicles in the area.

However, traffic issues surrounding DPMHS are not unique to the school and extend to the broader Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). According to data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), 11 people suffered severe injuries and 16 had visible injuries from 123 car accidents. These occurred near the intersections of Balboa Boulevard, Victory Boulevard, Hayvenhurst Avenue, Vanowen Street, and Sherman Way Street during school hours from 2019 to now. During that same time period and same intersections, there have been 11 vehicle on pedestrian incidents and 58 vehicle on vehicle accidents, according to LAPD data.

“From personal experience, I know that it’s sometimes hard to make certain turns into the driveway with heavy traffic,” Librarian Alain Cruz said. “It’s a really busy street and intersection.”

In February 2020, LAUSD approved a new plan to build an entrance in front of DPMHS, in hopes of improving safety as parents and employees entered the parking lot. The campus parking lot on Balboa Boulevard was supposed to have a central entrance and exit. The chain-link fence gate was supposed to be replaced with a rolling door and a new gate. In addition, the asphalt would be leveled and revamped. The goal of the construction was to make traffic less hectic in the mornings and the commute to and from school much safer for students. One month later, LAUSD schools entered quarantine due to the pandemic and the project never began. The plan has yet to be reconsidered.

“I was told that this was a bigger project than just building a new entrance,” Principal Armen Petrossian said. “It involved the flow of traffic for six schools and they did not have a solution but we need to revisit it.”

However, it’s not known when any solution to the traffic problem will happen.

“Los Angeles Unified is aware of traffic concerns around the greater Lake Balboa complex and takes the safety of our students and families seriously,” according to a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson. “As such, the District is working to conduct a traffic study for the complex. This will inform long-term updates and changes that may need to be implemented as a result of ongoing traffic patterns.”

The following is a map displaying Lake Balboa traffic and road conditions at 8:16 a.m on Nov. 30. (Maggie Simonyan)

Students in the surrounding area have also voiced their thoughts on the traffic congestion. Birmingham Community Charter High School varsity cross country runner Emily Parocua spends most of her practices running up and down the sidewalks of Balboa, Victory and Vanowen boulevards.

“It’s become a worry for both me and my parents,” Parocua said. “It’s sad knowing that my parents can’t feel at peace with me anywhere but inside the school.”

Parocua and her family remain very concerned about her safety when commuting. After Parocua’s mother witnessed a car collision by the school firsthand when picking her daughter up, she became even more concerned for her daughter’s safety.

An example of the risks associated with these traffic levels occurred earlier this year at another school in LAUSD. A car collision took place on April 25 at 8 a.m near Hancock Park Elementary school where a woman was killed and her 6-year-old daughter was severely injured.

On April 26, near Berendo Middle School in downtown Los Angeles, a vehicle hit a 14-year-old student. The Los Angeles City Council reported that the student’s condition remains unknown after being struck by a vehicle in unclear circumstances.

It’s become a worry for both me and my parents. It’s sad knowing that my parents can’t feel at peace with me anywhere but inside the school.

— BCCHS student Emily Parocua

At the beginning of this school year, Mayor Karen Bass and Superintendent Alvert Carvalho announced plans to create schools safer, including hiring more crossing guards. As part of the Los Angeles city’s Safe School Program, the city plans to install signs and speed humps to discourage speeding.

Jennifer Howe, a parent who had a daughter attending DPMHS from 2014-2018 and has driven her two sons here since 2021, sees plenty of reckless driving but believes it has gotten worse post-COVID.

“I think drivers are less patient on the road, so bad decisions are made,” Howe said. “And yes, it seems that the traffic is heavier lately especially right at drop-off time.”

Parents, teachers and students all agree that some method of traffic control must be implemented to help with entering and leaving the parking lot so drivers and pedestrians can feel safer during the most congested times of the day.

“I wonder why there is nothing being done to help minimize the collisions,”  Parocua said.

This story was originally published on The Pearl Post on November 30, 2023.