by Alejandro Magallanes
Being a member of the Safe Streets Committee has been quite a treat. Don’t get me wrong. I know that our city’s traffic problems are appalling. We have our fair share of speeders, collisions, and even fatalities. These traffic problems have become haunting to our small, foothills community. Many of us drive these streets with anger, frustration and worry. Nevertheless, contributing to this committee has given me a greater understanding of what our problem is, and how we need to fix it.
Over the last couple of months our committee has been developing, shaping, and constructing solutions to our traffic problems. We started with articles in the local papers. A Facebook page immediately followed (Sunland-Tujunga Safe Streets). A Safe Streets logo has been developed. But what I love most about our monthly meetings is having the opportunity to meet with experts on traffic control. This month we were able to sit down with someone with whom many of us have a “love/hate relationship”: an LAPD motor officer.
On December 10th at North Valley City Hall, I sat down at our meeting table to see, sitting across from me, a man dressed in his LAPD blues, wearing boots that almost reached his knees. He was not the kind of motorc ycle cop that I was expecting. Was I assuming he would look more like Ponch or John from CHiPs? I guess that’s the image I had stuck in my head since childhood: a smooth talking, handsome man, wearing big aviator sunglasses, shaking off horny women traffic violators with his baton. You see what TV can do to a child’s mind? Well, this man was definitely not that.
Officer Allen Kamai is the quintessence of cool. If an officer could be West Coast Jazz, it would be this man. His head is as clean-shaved as his face. His black-rimmed, rectangle glasses are slightly tinted, just enough to let you see that he is looking at you when he talks. And his voice. His voice is just a smidgen higher than Barry White’s. And where Barry White’s voice seduces, Officer Kamai’s smooth tone protects, creating a serene aura around him that diffuses all the bullshit people throw at him to get out of a ticket.
My Lord, the stories this man had to tell! And the wisdom! This kind of knowledge only comes from a traffic officer with 17 years experience. Every story he told was precisely detailed: what time of day, what direction the violator was traveling, the exact code section violation number (i.e. 23123.5a, code section for texting and driving). Our Safe Streets meeting went over our allotted time, because we were hanging on his every word, learning about what an LAPD motor officer has to go through every day. Finally, after we had our fill of traffic stories, ranging from shocking to downright ridiculous, we asked this wise man, “What will change the traffic problems in our city?” His answer: driver behavior.
Officer Kamai shared data with us on Sunland-Tujunga’s traffic problems, letting us know he is fully aware of our collisions and fatalities. Then he pointed out, “The majority of these were not caused by engineering problems. They were all human error.” Incidentally, this is exactly what he experiences on a day to day basis. People failing to yield. People willing to break the speed limit, because they know the traffic officer’s work schedule. Drivers who commit the same violation, in the same location, even on the same day. He explained, “People are willing to take extreme chances if they believe they won’t have to suffer the consequences.”
So how many consequences do we suffer until we realize our responsibility as drivers in this town? A “harmless” uturn resulting in a death? We have that. Collisions due to texting and driving? We have those too. Ejected from a vehicle because of failing to buckle a seat belt? Unfortunately, yes.
One message that I received loud and clear from Officer Kamai’s calm and cool voice is that we need to educate people on the consequences of their actions. As a community, we need to make our citizens completely aware of their traffic responsibilities. So churches, high schools, neighborhood council, get ready! We’ll be coming to teach you a thing or two about traffic soon!