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Los Angeles, send us a signal

December 5, 2011 | 11:50 am

Windstorm in Los Angeles
Trees were down and lights were out through much of the weekend in Northeast Los Angeles, where I live, due to the windstorm that began Wednesday evening. Power was out in most of Highland Park through Thursday and Friday nights, and many of my neighbors expressed their unhappiness to each other via email. I wasn't happy either, but many of the dark, tree-blocked streets were filled with Department of Water and Power workers trying to get the electricity back on and Bureau of Street Services people cutting up and removing downed trees, so they get a big thumbs up from me.

The problem came in dark intersections where traffic signals were out. Every neighboring city, like South Pasadena (pictured above), had portable reflective stop signs (with sand bags on top to keep them from blowing away). But not Los Angeles -- at least not at any of the dark intersections I saw along North Figueroa, Colorado Boulevard or York Boulevard. Even portions of Temple Street near the Hollywood Freeway, well away from the most severe wind damage, were dark two nights later, with no signs, traffic officers or lights. How come?

Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Gillman said 600 traffic officers were indeed deployed at major intersections. When power goes out, aren't the signals supposed to flash instead of simply remaining dark? Not all of them, Gillman said -- that's affordable only for the signals at about 4,400 of 44,000 intersections (and remember, that's four signals per intersection).

[Updated, 11:50 a.m.: LADOT's Gillman called to clarify regarding flashing traffic signals: Signals can't flash at any intersection, he said, when the power is cut off -- with the exception of a few streets that cross railroad tracks. For those, under a pilot project, there is a limited number of signals with battery back-ups that do power flashing lights when the electricity goes out.]

Can't L.A. put stop signs at the dark intersections, the same way South Pas does? Smaller cities can do that, Gillman said, but Los Angeles would need to stockpile hundreds of thousands of the signs to cover every dark intersection.

I saw not only no signs but no traffic officers in Los Angeles this weekend; perhaps they were all deployed in fancier parts of town (that's the way we think in Northeast L.A.). The lines separating us from Glendale or South Pasadena were clear: Were there portable reflecting stop signs? If so, we had crossed out of L.A. Were intersections dark and unmarked? That's my town.

Here's another thing about Los Angeles, if not its government: I didn't see any accidents. Everyone seemed to be stopping at every dark, unmarked intersection. That was good to see, especially given that the winds are due to return tonight.

-- Robert Greene

Photo: Is that a Los Angeles or a South Pasadena intersection pictured Saturday? Guess. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

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