In a pair of accidents about two decades apart, cars have slammed into Pizza Buona restaurant at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alvarado Street in Echo Park, injuring and killing pedestrians standing on the sidewalk outside the corner pizza parlor. During the first incident about two decades ago, a baby was killed as the child and mother were waiting for a bus when a traffic collision sent a vehicle hurtling backwards across the sidewalk and into the restaurant dining room through the front doors. In the most recent accident in February, a pregnant woman suffered relatively minor injuries when a driver lost control of his vehicle, which dragged the woman off the sidewalk and into the pizza parlor. After the most recent accident, Israel Palacios, whose family owns the restaurant, approached the city about installing posts – or bollards – near the curb to protect the restaurant as well as pedestrians at the busy corner. But, after navigating the city bureaucracy, Palacios discovered that while it is relatively easy to install bollards to protect buildings and property, there was no easy way to get the city install bollards or a barrier to shield pedestrians.
Now, as the repairs to Pizza Buona are underway, four bollards sunk three feet into the ground have been installed a few inches inside and outside the glass front doors of the restaurant. Those posts paid for and installed by the restaurant will certainly offer additional protection for Pizza Buona patrons but nothing for pedestrians.
“It’s going to protect anyone who is inside,” said Palacios of the bollards. “But it is still a safety issue for pedestrians.”
Bollards and metal posts can be found on sidewalks across the city, from elaborate stone and concrete barriers outside federal buildings to metal posts protecting telephone equipment and buildings. It’s not clear how effective bollards can be when it comes to protecting pedestrians. But in a report titled “Rethinking Bollards,” Transportation Alternatives, an influential New York City transportation advocacy group, recommended that bollards be used to help protect pedestrians waiting at street corners. But getting New York City to install bollards “remains a huge struggle” in New York, according to a Transportation Alternatives official.
It’s not much easier in Los Angeles, where no city department seemed willing to take responsibility for overseeing the installation of sidewalk bollards as Palacios found out. In fact, when The Eastsider inquired about which agency is responsible, a public information officer with the Department of Transportation referred the inquiry to the Public Works Department. But a spokesman for Public Works Department’s Bureau of Street Services said his agency was not responsible for bollards or any other barriers. It turns out the Bureau of Engineering – in some cases – reviews plans to install bollards plunked in the sidewalk but it is up to the property owner to submit plans, apply for and pay for permits and an inspection.
Pizza Buona is not the only corner business that has faced a runaround when it comes to installing bollards. Patricia Neal, owner of Swork Coffee in Eagle Rock, said it took about a year to get bollards installed out her coffee house at the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado boulevards after a car crashed through her front door facing the intersection about five years ago. Neal eventually turned to the office of Councilman Jose Huizar for help that came in the form of two black metal posts planted a few inches on either side of the cafe entrance. In the case, the city paid for the bollards, said Huizar spokesman Rick Coca. “The council member got involved since that is an extremely active and busy intersection he decided to use CD 14 discretionary funds to have the City purchase and install the bollards,” Coca said.
Of course, the bollards at Swork wont’ do anything to protect a pedestrian since they are located only a few inches from the building.
Back at Sunset and Alvarado in Echo Park, Palacios was finally able to determine that a bollard installed close to the building was not a problem – a permit was not even required. But he was advised that bollards needed to be installed at least four feet away from the curb – which does no good no the narrow Echo Park sidewalks - in addition to make sure their placement complied with the Americans With Disability Act and other ordinances. Palacios was also advised that the bollards could expose his family’s business and the city to legal liability if someone was injured The city may have considered install another kind of barrier along the sidewalk if the the speed limit was 45 miles per hours instead of the current 35 mph.
“We wanted to protect pedestrians,” said Palacios. “I was surprised the city does not have a program of that nature.”
But bollards also have their limits as safety barriers. After the pair of bollards were installed outside Swork Cafe in Eagle Rock, another car came crashing into the coffeehouse window after missing one of the posts by a few inches.