(Editor’s note: On Thursday, October 22, yet another accident occurred at this intersection. Resident Bill Bruns drove by the site around 5:40 p.m. and reported “Tow trucks were there as we drove past, people talking to one another, at least one airbag deployed. Great evidence why the signal is needed.”)
A left-hand turn signal is scheduled to be installed by December for westbound traffic at Sunset Boulevard and Chautauqua, which many residents have felt was needed for years. Thanks go to resident Lou Kamer for his persistence in seeing it to completion and to Councilman Mike Bonin for his continued work with Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT).
In 2017, Kamer was one of the first on scene when motorcyclist David Babalyan died in a collision at the corner of Sunset and Chautauqua. That fatality accident involved four eastbound motorcycles and a westbound Mercedes Benz and shut down the road for more than five hours during the investigation.
Kamer, who lives in the Alphabet Streets neighborhood, said his quest for a turn-signal started in the “aftermath of the crash that killed David Babalyan (BabyFace) and traumatized a car full of teenagers,” he said. “It really struck me hard.”
He researched the intersection crash data and “was blown away by the number injuries and accidents going back years.” He then submitted a request to LADOT to study the intersection and data, which led to a meeting with Mohammad Blorfroshan, senior transportation engineer for the L.A. Department of Transportation.
“I met with Mo and we talked about solutions for an hour,” said Kamer, who praised Blorfroshan for being a smart, practical engineer who taught him a lot. “We eventually agreed that the turn signal was the best option.”
Mo ran a simulation, but it did not meet the qualifications for a left-turn signal based on visibility and the number of injury/fatal crashes over the past 12 months. The signal was denied.
Kamer is a member of a worldwide group of traffic engineers and data scientists through WAZE and he reached out to the group for input.
“They suggested getting more data,” Kamer said. “I put a video camera in a tree and sensors along the sidewalk to measure speed, traffic volume and sightlines and resubmitted to Mo.”
Kamer said that Blorfroshan ran a simulation with some of the new data and “it supported the turn signal.”
At the time of the accident fatality, Kamer was serving as the At-Large Area Representative on the Pacific Palisades Community Council and Maryam Zar was the president.
“We brought up the importance of the turn signal, so that a fatality wouldn’t happen again. Most [of the PPCC board] agreed as long as it did not slow down traffic or cause other issues,” Kamer said. “We got their ‘blessing’ and went back to LADOT.”
“Lou was instrumental,” Zar said. “He kept his eye in the ball and followed up every so often. A few months ago, after yet another accident at that corner, Councilman Bonin chimed in on an email thread seemingly affirming that the process should be on track to advance per course.”
After that accident, Zar said, “we got quick responses (relative to the average big city response time). The toughest part was time — time for the city to wind through its processes and priorities.”
Zar noted that the unfortunate experience of more accidents at that location made it clear that “the speed and the volume of traffic flow on Sunset has changed since the days the initial light was installed.”
“Councilmember Bonin worked with LADOT to approve the new signal in February 2018, and immediately began pushing for funding to construct the project,” said Eric Bruins, Councilman Mike Bonin’s Transportation Director in an October 19 email to CTN.
“Time rolled by,” Kamer said. “Every few months (or whenever there was an accident), Maryam or I would send a nudging email to key people at CD11, LADOT and LAPD.”
“In early 2019, Councilmember Bonin included the project in his Westside Fast Forward initiative to accelerate mobility and safety projects in Council District 11,” Bruins said. “Our office worked closely with LADOT to deliver the new signal this year and we look forward to activating it by December.
“Without the passion and persistence of Maryam, Councilman Bonin, Mo, Eric Bruins, Lisa Cahill, select members of the PPCC and others,” Kamer said, “this would never have happened.”
“To go from approval to installation in less than three years is very fast for these kinds of projects and could not have happened without persistent community leadership and good collaboration between our office and LADOT,” Bruins said, adding. “Councilmember Bonin is excited to deliver this significant safety improvement for the Palisades.”
“That spot of Sunset Boulevard, where cars careen around the bend and those who are turning left don’t always know what to look for, will now be far less perilous for all,” Zar said.
(Editor’s note: Kamer said he also reached out to “Bandit,” a member of the Ruthless Ryderz motorcycle group, to let them know that the turn signal was coming and that David Babalyon’s death was the impetus to get it installed. “He was thankful and told me that David’s widow and daughter are doing ok, and that David’s sister named their child after him,” Kamer said.)