By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
Caltrans began work this week installing a traffic signal on Laguna Canyon Road at the pedestrian crossing where a Laguna College of Art and Design student was fatally injured in April, school officials said Wednesday.
Caltrans estimates work will be completed by Oct. 16, an installation fast-tracked in the aftermath of senior Nina Fitzpatrick’s death. About 500 students are expected to enroll at the campus in the new academic year, which begins Tuesday, Sept. 2.
Even so, the college’s president, Jonathan Burke, knows the signal falls short of a safety panacea for pedestrians and cyclists on the over-congested road, used by 29 percent more vehicles than its 30,000 a day capacity. The figures are included in a report about improving the artery presented to the City Council on Aug. 19.
“I am personally grateful this system will improve pedestrian safety for our students, faculty and staff as well as our neighbors in the canyon,” said a statement from Burke, who had pressed Caltrans for more than two years for a better traffic signal at the crossing. The agency put off the matter until 2015, citing budgetary concerns.
While a pedestrian now triggers flashing in a yellow warning light when crossing between LCAD’s main campus and senior studios, the newer version would set off a red traffic light signaling motorists to halt.
Fitzpatrick was struck in the pedestrian crosswalk at night by a motorist, who told police she did not see anyone. She was not charged or cited and the investigation is still incomplete, police Capt. Jason Kravetz said this week.
While Burke will join a newly established city task force to guide Laguna Canyon Road improvements over the next decade, the school is taking its own steps now. As part of freshman orientation, students undergo training on how to cross the canyon road and get to the school’s satellite facilities, Burke said. They are encouraged to use safety vests when crossing the highway and to commute to facilities for five undergraduate majors and a graduate department by boarding an 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. campus shuttle.
A recent college land acquisition near the Big Bend visual communication buildings will add another 50 spaces to the campus parking capacity. The class schedule is already staggered by day and hour to distribute use. “That’s the only way we can do it; we’re not unusual,” said Burke, who predicts that the college’s 8 percent average annual growth rate of the past five years will slow. He is more focused on expanding the college’s social spaces – little more than break rooms — to improve the student experience rather than in increasing enrollment. “We don’t have enough and our competition does,” he said.