Gabrielino graduate Bo Feng was 17 and getting ready to leave for college when a 73-year-old driver fatally struck her in Alhambra last July. Her death launched a movement to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection where she was killed — Shorb Street and New Avenue — and throughout the area. But more than a year later, the street remains essentially the same as when Feng – an only child — died just blocks from where her father was working in a nearby restaurant.
“All I think we really need to do is put a light there,” said Feng's friend Kimiko Nishitsuji, who visited city councils in Alhambra and San Gabriel pleading for a flashing light to warn drivers of crossing pedestrians and received more than 1,000 signatures to a petition supporting the move. “It's not going to solve everything, but it's a start."
But city officials said that after researching the situation they found no need for a LED light which would flash when pedestrians were crossing. Alhambra Police Department officials explained that the lights may not adequately ensure safety. "In some respects – not that [LED lights] don't serve a purpose – they do, but they're not a barrier and give pedestrians a false sense of safety,” Alhambra Police Department Captain Elliot Kase said. “There is no guarantee someone won't go through the signal."
Alhambra ranked among the top 10 most dangerous cities of its size for pedestrians in 2010, according to California Office of Traffic Safety, with 42 pedestrians killed or injured. As of August, there have been 31 pedestrian accidents this year, according to Sgt. Jerry Johnson of the Alhambra Police Department. Elderly pedestrians appear to be particularly at risk locally, with the fifth highest incident of accidents out of 104 cities in 2010 and the highest number of similar sized cities in 2009.
Kase said the police department is aware of the problem and that pedestrian safety efforts begin with education. Crosswalk safety operations take place throughout the year to increase awareness about pedestrian security. A police officer out of uniform will attempt to cross an intersection while a traffic officer observes surrounding drivers. If a driver fails to yield, the traffic officer will then proceed to pull the driver over.
Operations such as these can result in dozens of tickets being issued in one day. On a recent pedestrian safety operation, 70 citations were issued. "The police department's job is to enforce and a lot has to do with education,” Sgt. Gabriel Ponce said. “We prefer not to write tickets, but that is not the case. It's our job to educate. It's our job to enforce.”
But Nishitsuji, who has now left town for college, remains concerned another person will be run over like her friend – and believes such accidents are preventable. She said that a family friend shared that "he's lived in San Gabriel for 45 years and he remembers at least 14 traffic accidents at that intersection, specifically involving pedestrians." Education and ticketing efforts, alone, she fears, is not enough. "It's something, but I don't know how giving out tickets really does anything," she said, adding, "It would be great if there was something more effective."