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Can We Make the Arroyo Seco Parkway Safer?

Leiana Ramirez's mother did all the right things in attempting to drive safely on the dangerous parkway. Is there anything that can be done to prevent another accident like it?

Can We Make the Arroyo Seco Parkway Safer?

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) paints a bucolic picture of life on the Arroyo Seco Parkway:

"Dedicated on December 30, 1940, and built in three major stages, the 8.2-mile Parkway was conceived in the parkway tradition, with gentle curves and lush landscaping - envisioned both as a scenic pleasure road and a vital traffic artery linking the growing cities of Pasadena and Los Angeles."

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

But those of us who rely on the Parkway on a daily basis know that traveling along it can be harrowing experience.

The three-lane highway, which winds its way from Pasadena to Chinatown, is flanked by onramps that allow little time for merging and are separated from the main road by low, insignificant bumps of concrete.

Traveling the freeway can be just as hair-raising. Its 55-mile-per-hour speed limit is really just an impotent suggestion, as every day thousand of distracted drivers blaze through the Parkway at speeds it simply was not designed for.

And yet, neither of those factors seemed to have played a role in the accident that took the life of 2-year-old Leiana Ramirez. Ramirez burned to death inside a vehicle that was rear-ended on the Parkway as nearby residents attempted save her life with garden hoses and buckets of water.

Calling Ramirez’s death a tragedy suggests that there was anything that could have been done to prevent what happened to her. Reports from the scene indicated neighbors acted with a courage and urgency that those who weren’t there have little place to question.

Ramirez’s mother wasn’t speeding—in fact she had pulled over due to a front passenger side flat tire to her 2002 Nissan. Some suggest that the mother should have exited the freeway despite the flat tire, but those comments seem to discount the kind of panic that can set in while a driver attempts to negotiate an antiquated Parkway in a violently shaking vehicle.

Leiana's mom also made sure to buckle her in, a decision that millions of responsible parents make every day.

As for the driver of the 1999 GMC truck that rear-ended the Ramirez vehicle, the California Highway Patrol reports that neither drugs nor alcohol played a role in the accident.  Nowhere in the report are excessive speeds mentioned, either.

By all accounts, last Friday’s accident was a case of every day people acting as responsibly and courageously as possible, and yet still finding themselves overtaken by the universe’s sometimes cruel nature.

Could anything have been done to prevent Friday’s accident?

Numerous on our previous story suggested that this all could have been avoided if Ramirez’s mother had access to a breakdown lane. As it stands, the Parkway does not have any.

Maria Raptis, a spokesperson for Caltrans, said that its unlikely breakdown lanes would ever be installed.

“There’s no way to widen that road, the geography doesn’t allow for it,” Raptis said. “You’ve got the river on one side and hills on the other.”

Raptis added that the Parkway is already overloaded from a traffic capacity, which would make converting one travel lane into a breakdown lane a “nightmare.”

“That would be hard to say if there were conversations about making it into a two lane, with the one lane shoulder. Operationally it would be … a nightmare really,” Raptis said. “It would cut the capacity, which is already high, by one-third. Our numbers show that 6,600 cars an pass through the Parkway’s traffic counters.”

Raptis makes a compelling point. Motorists already brazenly disregard the speed limit on the Parkway, who is to say that they would not continue to speed along it if it were converted to a two lane highway? Imagine how tempting that breakdown lane would look to motorists during especially high traffic hours.

Would a breakdown lane offer anything more than a false sense of security?

As Raptis said, “If it was easy, it would have been done by now.”

We believe that a conversation about safety improvements on the Arroyo Seco Parkway is a valuable one, but not if it is directly informed by an accident which appears to have been caused by a confluence of nearly unavoidable factors.

Instead, we hope Patch can serve as a forum to share our grief over the loss of Leiana Ramirez, and when the time is a right, a place to respectfully and intelligently discuss what can be done to make our Parkway safer.

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