First published in the Dec. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The City Council recently directed city staff members to adjust the traffic signal timing on Glenoaks Boulevard, one idea out of many raised to control reckless driving.
The change, which Public Works Director Ken Berkman told council members Tuesday will take a few weeks, could effectively cause motorists driving faster than Glenoaks’ speed limit during non-peak hours to encounter red lights more frequently.
Vehicles traveling on the thoroughfare during “off peak” periods — hours other than the morning and evening commute — see mostly green lights, unless another car approaches on a connecting street. Public works staff members said they could modify the timing of the signals so that speeding vehicles would encounter more red lights than those motorists traveling at the posted speed limit.
Community members for years have expressed concerns about speeding on Glenoaks, saying that the line of green traffic signals at night encourages drivers to use the street as a racetrack — a notion to which Councilman Nick Schultz alluded during the meeting.
“We need to talk about redesigning our streets, and I think we all know that,” he said, “but when you have these long stretches of streets where people hit green light after green light, it almost begs folks to be going faster than the posted speed limit there.”
This week’s discussion regarding potential solutions for speeding and similar traffic issues comes four months after three young people died in a fiery crash on Andover Drive and Glenoaks caused, police say, when their car was struck by two other vehicles that were racing. Authorities have charged the teenage drivers of those vehicles with murder.
William Richardson, whose son and Burbank resident Jaiden Johnson died in the crash, urged City Council members to act quickly.
“My son is gone, and I just want to [keep] somebody else’s child from passing,” Richardson said. He explained that he appreciated that the city recently unveiled a mural of the three crash victims, but that the area still needed more traffic enforcement.
“How many murals are being painted before some action is taken to stop the street racing in Burbank?” Richardson added.
Besides the altered timing of the traffic signals, the City Council’s discussion likely will not result in immediate infrastructure upgrades. The panel, department officials said, already approved a number of improvements for Glenoaks and First Street in 2018. Those changes, including more efficient signal systems, new or upgraded traffic cameras, left turn arrows and new traffic poles, are scheduled to begin construction in fall 2022.
Berkman also said that the Public Works Department would keep working with the Community Development Department on implementing the city’s Complete Streets Plan. The advisory document suggests potential improvements for “priority streets” such as Glenoaks, including reducing lane widths and installing curb extensions.
Council members also expressed interest in additions such as installing medians and roundabouts on Glenoaks and other busy streets. City traffic engineer Edward Yu warned that both ideas have advantages and disadvantages — such as impeding commuter traffic — but that his department would include them in their analyses.
“We’ll leave no stone unturned,” he said.
Dory Foster, co-founder of Burbank anti-speeding group Together We Can, said in an interview that though the new infrastructure will take time to arrive, she is pleased that the city is addressing the issue.
“They’re finally taking a step in the right direction,” she said, adding that she hopes the police department continues to patrol busy streets on weekends. “The City Council, they have all the information they need … and now it’s in their hands to do the right thing.”
The Burbank Police Department stepped up efforts to patrol Glenoaks and other areas following the deadly crash, according to interim Police Chief Michael Albanese. He explained that the department’s traffic bureau regularly conducts enforcement operations in parts of the city that have attracted concerns of unsafe driving.
But city officials also pointed to BPD data they said indicated that Glenoaks and nearby streets — such as Kenneth Road, Sixth Street and Bel Aire Drive — are not as dangerous as many community members believe. Most of those streets had a share of the city’s total traffic collisions comparable to their percentage makeup of Burbank’s roadways. For example, out of the nearly 4,700 reported traffic collisions to which the BPD responded between the beginning of 2017 and Nov. 15, 2021, 65 (1.4%) were on Kenneth, which comprises 2.2% of the city’s lane-miles.
There was one outlier, however: Glenoaks Boulevard itself. The BPD responded to nearly 300 traffic collisions there during the reporting period — roughly 6% of the total number, despite the street comprising only 2.2% of Burbank’s lane-miles. But city staff members believe the higher share of crashes is a result of the higher number of vehicles that travel on Glenoaks — an estimated 30,000 per day.
Police officials also emphasized that, while officers can cite drivers for reckless driving, they cannot constantly monitor every area of the city. Albanese added that some drivers have not changed their behavior after multiple citations — even in a single day.
Education, he maintained, will be a key component in mitigating unsafe driving, particularly with younger drivers. The BPD is working with the Burbank Unified School District to develop a driver safety course for high school students that will address DUIs, street racing and distracted driving, with officials aiming to launch the program in the first quarter of 2022.
“Our parents need to have a much stronger role as far as driving behavior so that they don’t experience what we just experienced,” Albanese said.