SoCal Connected on KCET
As if driving around L.A. weren't tough enough! Here's a story about a right turn into the ridiculous. It's about a traffic sign that shows up seemingly out of nowhere. It doesn't resemble any other sign, anywhere else. And all it appears to do is generate tickets. Lots of them! That is, until one person decided to fight City Hall, one car at a time.
Laurel Erickson/Reporter: The streets of Los Angeles have signs telling you "don't turn left," "don't' turn right," "stop for a detour," and "go one way." There are 700,000 of them, but it was this one that's been the talk of the town. Well, at least the talk of the corner of 7th and Broadway. Just ask shopkeeper Fred Mohamedy.
Were you here, Fred, when that sign went up 15 years ago?
Erickson [to Mohamedy]: What happened? Why did it go up?
Mohamedy: I didn't see who put it up, but they just put the sign, you know.
Erickson: It's one of the busiest intersections in downtown, and for 15 years, Fred has sat on this stool, watching drivers make a wrong turn by going right when it says you can't, at least between 3pm and 6pm.
Erickson [to Mohamedy]: Have you been counting the tickets ever since?
Mohamedy: Yeah, I try to help people, and just let them know don't make a right turn because you'll get a ticket.
Erickson: Even Fred's boss got one.
Roberto Denedel/Business Owner: I got a ticket myself. The officer was across the street with the motorcycle. He ran after me to the parking, all the way to the parking and wrote me a ticket. That's really ridiculous!
Erickson: He says the sign even ruined a customer's wedding day.
Denedel: They took his car and. They impound it his car, and he was getting married tomorrow, I swear to god. He cried. He had all his beer, his drinks in the trunk, and he had to take it out because of the stupid "no right turn."
Erickson: And perhaps the right turn would've continued ruining weddings, and a whole lot more, if it weren't for this man, D.J. Prator.
Erickson [to D.J. Prator]: All, right so here we are. This is the beginning of everything, right?
Prator: That's correct.
Erickson: If every cause needs a crusader, the drivers of L.A. have D.J. He lives just around the corner and was walking down street one day, when he noticed a police officer writing tickets for drivers who turned right between 3 and 6. It happened the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Seven days a week, even on Sunday! So how did you get the idea for doing this?
Prator: Well you know what, I just thought it was an injustice because I had never seen a limited "no right turn" sign anywhere else in the downtown area. And I though it was just a ticket trap to raise revenue for the City of Los Angeles.
Erickson: The tickets are pricey -- 234 bucks -- especially painful for the low-income, high immigrant population living in the area. D.J. shows us where those caught in the ticket trap ended up.
Prator: And it was happening so often, sometimes you would have a line of cars, three, four at a time.
Erickson: All parked up around here?
Prator: All parked in the same area right here.
Erickson: Ground zero was just across the street from Josh Erazo's clothing shop.
Erazo: Sometimes it becomes like an attraction. It caused so much attention. All of us, the businesses here, we just come out and look at what's going on. There's just files and lines of cars.
Erickson: And when the people who were cited, what were their reactions to the surprise?
Prator: Stunned. From what I could see, they were stunned, and, of course, unhappy.
Erickson: So D.J. became the Paul Revere of 7th and Broadway. 3 to 6 every day, he alerted drivers to the sign.
Prator: I tried to warn as many motorist as I could, and it got to the point, maybe throughout a three-hour period, maybe 1 or 2 cars got by me. You know, we hit that language barrier, and I'd see some Hispanics come down and I'd say, "Roll down your window! Roll down your window!" And I'd try to tell them not to make the right turns. So what I'd do is point to the signs and say, "Mira, mira, mira! Policia, policia!" and they got it! They'd see the police, and they got it, and they would continue straight.
Erickson: He even took photos of police writing tickets.
Prator: Well that didn't sit too well with the LAPD. So they go upset with me. One guy, actually, one of the motorists "? one of the LAPD motorcycle officers "? actually called the police on me!
Erickson: The LAPD declined comment on this story, but George Rodriquez, who works at the jewelry store across the street, recalls the LAPD repeatedly approaching D.J.
Erickson [to George Rodriguez]: You saw the cops talking to him?
Rodriguez: Oh yeah, yeah!
Erickson: Did other people in the neighborhood watch this going on?
Rodriguez: Yes, too many. Those guys on the corner. Those guys over there. The guys over here.
Erickson: Fred saw it too.
Mohamedy: I think they just don't want him to stay here. They tell him, "Why you stay here? You tell people to not make a right. Don't' do that. Just let them come and take ticket and move from here." And he said, "I'm not doing nothing. I just do my job. That's all."
Erickson: D.J. thought it was intimidation. Whatever it was, it didn't stop him from finding out why that sign was there in the first place.
Prator: This is the only type of sign in all of the Downtown Los Angeles. If they were to have it down in the Financial District, over on Spring St "? not Spring St. -- Figueroa, Olive, those streets, and they had no right turn signs, I would have not said anything. This is the only corner in all of downtown.
Erickson: D.J. wanted to know why, so he filed public records requests with the city. What did he discover?
Prator: They couldn't find to where anybody authorized the placement of the sign.
Erickson: But it has been up there for years!
Prator: It's like it appeared out of thin air.
Erickson: But this was no phantom sign. By D.J.'s calculation, it was a serious moneymaker for the city.
Prator: We estimated that over 50,000 people in a 15-year period have received citations on this one corner alone, generating over $13 million in revenue for the City of Los Angeles.
Erickson: While we couldn't find out how much revenue the sign has officially generated, we do know approximately 21,000 cars pass through this intersection every day, making it one the busiest in Downtown. And that "no right turn" sign is tough to see because the corner is a major bus stop. If you are behind a bus, forget it.
Prator: So I would stand right here.
Erickson: So nobody could see that from behind the buses coming up.
Prator: Nobody. This car right here could not see if there was a sign here. They just wouldn't' be able to see it.
Erickson: Like that guy right there. He'd never see it, and he'd make the turn!
Erickson: D.J. Prator's one-man protest continued. He even created a website devoted to the so-called "traffic trap" on 7th and Broadway. But a call from an engineer at the city's transportation department put the brakes on that illegal right turn.
Prator: So, after about a month, he contacted me and told me, "Well, look. I authorized that the sign be removed." I was elated about that. And then, within the next day, the crew came down - they were gone.
Erickson: You cost the city almost one million dollars?
Prator: A year. Yes.
Erickson: And you saved these people, who probably aren't making a whole lot of money, almost a million dollars a year?
Prator: That is correct.
Rodriguez: The police they put signs and nobody can say nothing. Nobody complain, but this man is unbelievable!
Erickson: But you can believe it! The millions of drivers who can now turn right whenever they want will probably never know the name of the guy who righted a $234 wrong. D.J. Prator, the ticket trap hero. For "SoCal Connected," I'm Laurel Erickson.