Fire Officials Nearing Completion of Traffic Study; Benefiting First Responders

Fire officials are in the final stages of preparing an analysis of South Pasadena streets that will provide first responders easier access through roadways now encumbered by vegetation, parked cars, and other obstacles that can slow down response times.

The study – On Street Parking & Traffic Study in Monterey Hills – should be completed by the end of May, according to South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle. At that time, the audit will be presented to the South Pasadena City Council for approval, Riddle said during a sit-down interview Monday morning after the City’s public safety commission meeting.

The challenge of navigating narrow streets has been an ongoing issue for fire officials down through the years, Riddle said. The City hired a consultant to help in the study, Minagar & Associates, of Irvine, who has worked with the City for more than a decade, according to Eric Zanteson, SPFD Division Chief. There wasn’t a single event that prompted the City to undertake the study, Zanteson said, but over a period of time there has been an accumulative effect that made the street analysis important. They undertook the study late last year, according to Riddle.

“We are trying to be proactive, not reactive,” Riddle said. “We’ve caused some damage to the engines having to pass through some of the streets.” The damage has been minor, Riddle said – usually scrapping vegetation – but something has to be done to prevent a more serious issue from occurring.

“We do not want to take away any parking spaces from the streets,” Zanteson said. “We are very mindful of that.”

The study is examining the situation in three phases, Riddle said. The first phase, which is going to be starting this week, is cutting back the overhanging vegetation – including trimming back overhanging trees, hedges and overgrown plants – that now blocks passage for first responders. The second part of the study is dealing with the ‘pinch points,’ which are the tight curves that need to be cleared of the vegetation, parking and other obstacles and the third phase is a lower priority that specifically relates to parking. Again, fire officials said the study is concentrating on not losing any parking spots. The fire department responds to every call with a fire engine and a paramedic truck.

“These streets were built back in the (19)40s and (19)50s,” Riddle said. “There are very tight corners we call ‘pinch points ‘and they are high priority.” Riddle reiterated, though, that the fire department is “mindful” of residents’ concerns.

“We are trying not to lose any parking spaces,” Riddle said. “Sometimes, it might just mean that we move the space a few feet; paint a red curb, but we are working very hard to not affect any parking.”

The 30-page study is going through a final vetting and focuses primarily on the southwest side of the city known as Monterey Hills, including streets such as Indiana Avenue, Alta Vista Circle, Alta Vista Avenue and Oneonta Drive, to name just a few.

Riddle said they may hold public hearings when they release the study or, if the area is small, they might just hold targeted discussions with those neighbors affected.

“It all depends on the area,” Zanteson said. But both Riddle and Zanteson said the public’s input will be included.

“That’s very important,” Riddle said. “We haven’t had any pushback and I don’t think we will, but we want to make sure the public has an opportunity to review it.”

The SPFD response times is just under four minutes, which is more than acceptable, but Riddle and Zanteson want to keep that time intact. Sometimes, they’ve actually had to stage at the bottom of a hill because the roadway was impassable, Riddle said. They’ve had to haul their equipment to the incident. And the majority of the calls are medical.

“About 80 percent of our calls are medical and we need to have clear access to any site,” Riddle said. Using the study as a guide, that could be accomplished sometime next year.