Monterey Park Improves Traffic Safety for Drivers and Pedestrians

The City of Monterey Park covers 7.73 square miles in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, and the roadway system comprises 350 miles of paved streets. Most of the business districts and older residential sections have roads that were designed and installed in the 1920s. Traffic-related problems have increased due to the physical constraints of the streets, a burgeoning multilingual immigrant population and the city’s location between three of the most frequently traveled freeways in Los Angeles County. 

The City of Monterey Park has a population of more than 62,000 people, and children and seniors make up nearly half of that. The population composition is approximately 63 percent Asian, 29 percent Latino, 7 percent Anglo and 1 percent other cultures. Its diverse demographics and geographical location are significant factors in promoting and enhancing traffic safety in the city. From 1996 through 2001, several fatal traffic collisions occurred involving senior citizens. In addition, a number of school-aged children were injured in traffic collisions.

Meetings were held with city traffic engineers and staff in the Police Department’s traffic bureau to identify causal factors and brainstorm strategies to effectively address this crisis. Through these meetings, the city realized that efforts had to focus on the community with a global approach, using education as the starting point.

The Traffic Bureau staff began looking at programs and solutions that had succeeded in other cities. However, many did not address the challenges of a very diverse community, and many relied solely on enforcement. With assistance from the California Office of Traffic Safety, Traffic Bureau staff developed and implemented several traffic safety programs specifically tailored to target the identified affected groups.

Since 2002, traffic collisions, injuries and fatalities in Monterey Park have seen a steady decline. Bike collisions and injuries have been reduced by more than half and pedestrian incidents by about a third.

Annual fatalities have gone from three to zero, and total injuries have dropped to 151 from a high of 236. It’s clear that the proactive approach to traffic safety is having tangible results.

Defensive Pedestrians

The first program was the Mature Driver Program. An officer with expertise in the area of senior driver safety was assigned to present and teach this program. In making the program all encompassing, a Senior Pedestrian Safety Program was also developed and implemented. Through the program, seniors are taught to be defensive pedestrians, learning about laws applicable to pedestrians and safe practices to use when out walking.

A key component in a global approach was to strengthen the city’s outreach and education programs. This meant a program had to be developed that would allow for a more “real world” interaction; in other words, an experience that would allow the textbook and lecture elements to be put to the test by all pedestrians.

To raise the awareness of drivers and pedestrians, a Driver and Pedestrian Safety Trailer program was developed, the key educational elements of which are contained in a fully equipped 44-foot trailer. The back 16 feet of the trailer is a 15-seat classroom with a 42-inch flat-screen monitor, a computer link and a surround sound system with all the audiovisual capabilities for state-of-the-art educational presentations. The front half of the trailer is out-fitted with six computers used as driving simulators for training and evaluating driver behavior.

To enhance children’s safety, the Monterey Park Police Department developed the Safe Move City program to teach pedestrian and bicycle safety to young children. To further ensure the safety of the city’s youth, a Valet Drop Off program was implemented at all schools. A 120-foot-long traffic lane is designated for dropping off students, who are helped to unload by student “valets.” Additional volunteers stand by on the curb in case more help is needed with unloading. This expedites the process for parents and students, and keeps traffic moving along in a steady and orderly fashion. Prior to implementing this program, the average time spent dropping off a student was 5-10 minutes, and traffic stacked up quickly. With the program in place, the drop-off time has been reduced to 5-10 seconds.

To raise traffic safety awareness throughout the city, a series of public service announcements (PSAs) was developed and shown on local cable television addressing pedestrian safety, school bus safety, driving under the influence and seatbelt safety. To address the diversity of Monterey Park’s community, each PSA was filmed in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin.

Recognizing the value of personal interaction with community members, the city developed the Community Traffic Safety Forum in 2004. In this program, representatives from various traffic safety organizations are invited to give safety presentations at an open public meeting. Presentations are given by members of the Traffic Bureau and by representatives from organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the California Office of Traffic Safety and the Automobile Club of Southern California. The most critical and valuable component of this program is that community members have the opportunity to personally ask questions or share their traffic safety concerns.

Aggressive Traffic Enforcement

The department recognized that public education was only one part of the equation in reducing the number of traffic injuries and deaths involving seniors and children. The second part required an aggressive traffic enforcement program. The department designed and implemented a computer geographical information system (GIS) to collect, collate and analyze traffic collision, citation and DUI data.

This program allows immediate access to and examination of collision data, including the primary collision factors, location and time of day. The information gathered is plotted and printed on maps of the city and distributed to Police Department personnel so that enforcement efforts can be specifically targeted to bring about effective and efficient traffic enforcement.

The department also began an aggressive Pedestrian Decoy Program. In this program a decoy crosses the street in a legal and safe manner. When vehicles do not yield in accordance with California Vehicle Code requirements, the driver is stopped and cited by traffic officers monitoring the intersection. And in 2005, the School Bus Enforcement Program was implemented, wherein a decoy school bus makes periodic stops. If a driver fails to follow vehicle code laws regarding school bus passenger crossing, the driver is stopped and cited.

Recognizing the importance of collaboration, the Monterey Park Police Department has built partnerships with the community, surrounding police agencies and other organizations in an effort to improve traffic safety. The Police Department’s continued efforts have resulted in a significant improvement in the safety and quality of life of Monterey Park residents.

Contact: David A. Elliott, Traffic Bureau commander, City of Monterey Park; phone: (626) 307-1481; e-mail:

This article appears in the October 2006 issue of Western City
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