North Hill Avenue Traffic Concerns: Accidents Waiting to Happen?

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5:20 am | August 30, 2016

Last Tuesday, some North Hill Avenue residents staged a demonstration to alert drivers to mind their speed along the busy street and to remind the city about their concerns about what they say are extremely unsafe conditions along their residential stretch of the roadway.  City officials said last week the City has been studying the situation since early 2016.

Hill Avenue has become a popular link between the I-210 Foothill Freeway and Altadena and North Pasadena, especially because of its easy access to the Hill Avenue on and off ramps.

© OpenStreetMap contributors

As summer ends, the volume of whizzing traffic is building rapidly, residents said.

“Simple things, like adding crosswalks or flashing signs, seem to take a long time,” said Becky McIlhenny, one of the demonstrators. “They’re things that could be done quickly and would be helpful.”

Councilmember Margaret McAustin of Pasadena’s Second District said her office has initiated steps to address the residents’ concerns.

“Conditions on North Hill Avenue were brought to my attention and we hosted a meeting for neighbors relating to traffic and parking issues,” McAustin said last week.

As a result, the City created the North Hill Avenue Complete Streets Working Group and held a first meeting June 13, 2016, and will hold another in Sept. 2016. The group consists of City officials including McAustin and Rich Dilluvio, Pasadena’s senior transportation planner, and 17 North Hill Avenue residents.

McAustin said that speeding was the number issue, and many factors contribute to this. Not only is North Hill Avenue a major access point to the I-210 Foothill Freeway that brings a high volume of traffic, but the drivers are going downhill which makes them much more likely to speed. In turn, this makes it much more difficult and dangerous for residents who live alongside the street to back out of their driveways — which many are required to do, based on a common home design along the avenue.

McAustin said she is working closely with both Dilluvio and the Pasadena police to solve the problem.

“Traffic enforcement is always something we’re looking at,” McAustin said. “The issues of speeding, distracted driving and distracted pedestrians are so prevalent in our community. We really need to work on this through all fronts.”

According to North Hill Avenue historical traffic counts, traffic volume North of Orange Grove has dropped from 16,924 to 16,814 from 2013-2016. In addition, traffic North of Washington has declined from 9,245 to 8,786 in the last three years.

However, residents say there is still too much traffic.

Dilluvio said the issues with the road arise from it being a two-lane residential street that sees much traffic due to having a 210 freeway on-ramp.

“We don’t think we can change the amount of volume on North Hill Avenue” Dilluvio said. “Basically, what you can try to change is the dynamic of the of the roadway and the behavior of those who drive on the street.”

Dilluvio said the key to solving this problem may lie in how drivers perceive the road, particularity how wide the street is. He went on to explain that a wider road psychologically makes drivers more comfortable, in turn making them speed.

One solution could be to bold out the street, Dilluvio said, which means bringing the curb out to the edge of the parking lane, shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians and cars.

“Usually, any visual narrowing that a driver a sees, the slower they drive,” Dilluvio said. “It’ll be just as safe to drive on, but the comfort level associated with driving on a wide street goes down.”

Solutions that seem obvious to residents, such as stop signs or speed bumps, aren’t good answers, according to Dilluvio. North Hill Avenue is a through street that many people use to get to the 210 freeway during peak traffic hours.

“We generally don’t put speed bumps in any street that has a speed limit higher than 25 miles per hour,” Dilluvio said. “We’d also have to get the sign-off from the fire department, which would be difficult because Hill Avenue is a major corridor for emergency vehicles.”

Lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian of the Pasadena Police Department said that mobile speed trailers, which are tools of education and prevention that display how fast drivers are going, could be helpful on North Hill Avenue.

“We usually put them in various parts of town that have been brought to our attention by traffic officers who write tickets or by residents who are concerned about speed,” Gourdikian said. “We will go out there to survey and then determine if it is a speeding corridor that requires a mobile speed trailer.”

Emily Moynihan, a resident of North Hill Avenue who has lived there a year and was in the protest Tuesday night, said the behavior of drivers on the street is “insane.”

“We want to remind people this is a neighborhood, not a freeway,” Moynihan said. She moved to the area last year and said she didn’t think a Pasadena street could be busier than where she came from in New York, but unfortunately it has been. “If I am not up to speed, drivers will pass by me, and if I’m slowing down to get into my driveway, sometimes they’ll pass by on the left hand side to get around before I pull in.”

Moynihan said the city could do more to prevent motorists from speeding on the street.

“The flow of traffic is their priority, especially because we are an exit off the freeway,” Moynihan said. “We’ve heard them say they can’t put up stop signs because it doesn’t meet certain flow-of-traffic parameters…They are prioritizing the flow of traffic over pedestrian safety.”