SP’s Avenue Of Aggravation

Cars and trucks clog Fremont Avenue last week — a frequent and frustrating reality for residents, including one citizens group, “Families For Fremont,” that’s pushing for improvements. City officials say remedies now available for Fair Oaks Avenue may eventually ease Fremont’s woes. Photo by Henk Friezer

I WAS in a neighborhood living room last weekend, meeting with a group of residents called Families For Fremont.

The group has been formally meeting for two years to express its frustration with traffic conditions along the entire length of Fremont Avenue.

Its members are upset about traffic, noise, speeding, trucks and the many obstacles they endure every day while living along the only north-south residential street that runs the entire length of the city.

They have met with the city manager twice, the city attorney, the Department of Public Works, transportation officials and police. Their Council Member, Richard Schneider, was also in the room last weekend, agreeing that they have valid concerns and that perhaps the City Council could have moved more quickly in solving the problems presented by Fremont.

I took their case to City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe, who provided news that no one in that room seemed to know.

The city manager informed me that the city now has $100 million in regional grants to analyze traffic flow throughout the major north-south corridor in the city — though not along Fremont. 

The entire amount will be spent on this endeavor, and is available as the result of money returned from the end of the 710, DeWolfe said. 

“This creates a landmark opportunity for the city to not only envision, but also implement a new mobility blueprint for the community which anticipates and plans for the needs and desires of future generations,” DeWolfe said.

DeWolfe said the funds had recently become available from Measures R and M, Rogan Funds and other sources, and that, “We anticipate moving forward quickly.’’

That is good news for the city, but the funds won’t immediately — or directly (at least at first) — answer the concerns of the neighborhood group.

The funds will, however, go toward improving flow on Fair Oaks Avenue, which the city manager said would encourage cars to move off of Fremont. DeWolfe explained the grant dollars cannot be used on Fremont because they do not achieve the objective of the funding agencies to improve flow in the north/south corridor.

“The grant dollars come with strings and can only be used for the purposes designated by the granting agencies,’’ DeWolfe said. “To achieve the goal, the Mobility Plan will review traffic throughout the city.’’

When heavy traffic isn’t an issue on Fremont Avenue, speeding often is, residents say. Photo by Henk Friezer

The city manager said that staff has yet to identify traffic-calming measures for Fremont that would comply with state and federal standards because of existing conditions of narrow lanes, visibility issues and the train crossing.

Schneider had explained to the group that traffic increased from the north in the 1970s when a freeway ramp was put in that dumped traffic onto St. John’s, then Pasadena, before it zig-zagged to Columbia and then tobogganed down Fremont.

Alhambra had hoped that an extension of the 710 would solve problems going north.

Now, both Pasadena and Alhambra have grant money for also improving north/south traffic flow and the granting agencies have emphasized the need for collaboration among the cities.

The cities are supposed to work together to make things better.

So, Families for Fremont residents are going to have to hope that improvements to Fair Oaks are the answer to the larger concerns.

“We’ve lived on Fremont for almost eight years and have seen the safety and traffic issues go from bad to worse,’’ said Andrea Fox, who lives on the street. “Once we learned more about the history, it became apparent that Fremont Avenue is a topic the city likes to avoid.

“Although officials keep telling us to get involved and be active, we have taken multiple steps, but have seen no evidence that the city has a true interest in solving the problem.’’

Families for Fremont has pointed to a 2010 study regarding possible solutions, and DeWolfe replied that study was a conceptual study presented by a consultant, and did not include supporting data, a feasibility study or cost analysis.

Some of the people who attended that meeting have been living on Fremont for over 50 years, and they say that traffic has gotten worse since the 1970s. They have been signing petitions and  going to council meetings, and you could hear the frustrations in their voices.

DeWolfe added that her staff is working on other solutions, including a Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan to address neighborhood traffic issues. She said it would go to the City Council later this year.

It will provide, she said, an accessible approach for handling traffic requests and engaging with the community while working toward permanent solutions and setting up a platform for ongoing community engagement.

The plan allows residents to work with a traffic engineer to learn about possible solutions and their impacts. It then requires petition signatures from a majority of the residents before the city will make changes in traffic patterns in a neighborhood or street.

The council has recently directed staff to reorganize the Public Works and Transportation Commissions, which DeWolfe said would “better focus on broad mobility policy and appropriate expenditure of the grants fund.’’

The group has met with police about the problem of speeding, especially coming down the hill at the north end of Fremont. Schneider mentioned this at the meeting, and the city manager confirmed that the city is expanding its traffic enforcement within the next few months by increasing the number of traffic officers from one to three.

A plan to deal with gridlock during rush hours will include the Police Department, during the month of January, conducting directed enforcement on certain corridors in town in an attempt to change the behavior of motorists, the  city manager said.

The Families for Fremont group, which has attracted as many as 40 people to meetings, is eager to hear more, but they have also seen studies come and go and the speeding cars and noise  linger on. DeWolfe has offered to go to one of their meetings and talk to the group. They want her to be their champion.

The group — and residents — will be watching to see what comes from all these plans. Will traffic go off Fremont and onto Fair Oaks? And if so, will Fair Oaks become more of a bottleneck?

We’ll be watching, too.

My email is ALippman@gavilanmedia.com. Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.