For seven years, María López has been fighting for a traffic signal at the corner of North Fickett Street and Wabash Avenue, a busy thoroughfare for traffic moving east to west in Boyle Heights.

“It was a very dangerous corner. There were far too many accidents,” said the 50-year-old grandmother of two, who lives near the intersection. “Thank God there were never any fatalities, but there were injuries.”

López was one of several area residents who joined city officials on Wednesday to officially turn on a newly installed traffic signal at the intersection. It is expected to make it safer for parents who walk with their children daily across Wabash to nearby Evergreen Elementary School.

María López speaks at the traffic signal ceremony. Photos by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
María López speaks at the traffic signal ceremony. Photos by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Councilman José Huízar called the installation of the traffic signal a victory for area residents, who were organized by the grassroots group Unión de Vecinos.

“The community deserves all the credit. They learned to not take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Huízar, before helping resident María Rivera turn on the switch for the signal.

The festive ceremony, which took place on Mexican Independence Day, included local “conjunto” musicians who began playing as soon as the switch went on.

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Residents originally approached Huízar’s office and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) in 2009, after a number of close calls at the intersection.

“They would tell us to go to the corner of Soto and Wabash, where there was a signal,” said López, who explained that the long walk was impractical for many.

It took several years of lobbying, and in 2012 Huízar asked LADOT to conduct a traffic study that found that a signal was needed at the intersection. The nearly $144,000 required for the project was finally included in the city’s 2014-15 budget as part of a citywide effort to fund new traffic signals.

The push for the Fickett and Wabash signal was part of a larger campaign for Pedestrian Safety Zones by Unión de Vecinos, which claims a membership of some 500 families in Boyle Heights. Besides traffic signals, the group has advocated for the installation of “smart” pedestrian crosswalks, stop signs and other safety measures.

Huízar agreed that city planners have often overlooked pedestrians.

“For the longest time, the idea was to move cars as quickly as possible through the community,” said the councilman, noting that many residents of San Gabriel Valley communities use Boyle Heights streets to get to downtown and the Westside. “We forgot that people live here, go to school here, do their shopping around here. We’re trying to reverse that.”

The councilman said that many more traffic signals are needed to provide adequate pedestrian safety in Boyle Heights, but funding them may be impossible under current city budget restraints.

“I want to know how we can do this cheaper, because there’s very little money to go around,” he said.

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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