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Officials say temporary barriers at Venice Beach Boardwalk are improving safety

Police say temporary ballards at Ocean Front Walk in Venice have prevented accidental drive-ons.
Rina Palta/KPCC
Police say temporary bollards at Ocean Front Walk in Venice have lowered the number of drivers turning onto the pedestrian-only area.

On any weekend in Los Angeles, Venice's Ocean Front Walk fills with joggers, bikers, and tourists.

Saturday was no exception, despite the heat radiating off the asphalt. By midday, the sidewalk cafes swelled with eaters and drinkers and the edges of the pedestrian path filled in with artists, psychics, and loungers.

Arist Niciforos sat painting oceanscapes near the intersection of Ocean Front Walk and Rose Avenue. A 30-year Venice resident, he's been painting at the boardwalk on Saturdays for about two years straight – including August 3. That's the day Nathan Campbell is accused of jumping the sidewalk in his Dodge Avenger and plowing through a Saturday evening crowd, killing a honeymooning Italian woman.

"Amongst the people who are local here, that come down here and try to make everybody's lives a little bit more beautiful through art, it's been somber," Niciforos said. 

Amongst city officials, the incident has sparked a serious evaluation of safety concerns surrounding one of L.A.'s most popular tourist destinations. 

"We have about 30 points of vehicular ingress and egress to Venice Beach, one of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares on the West Coast," said L.A City Councilman Mike Bonin, who's district includes Venice. "Most of them have uninterrupted access."

That's led to a lot of near misses along the boardwalk between pedestrians and cars, Bonin said. The Los Angeles Police Department estimates about 4-5 drivers a week turn onto Ocean Front Walk, mistaking it for a street.

Immediately after August's incident, the city installed temporary bollards at some of the entrance points to Ocean Front Walk. They look like bowling pins protruding from the pavement, but can be run over by an emergency vehicle or garbage truck.

LAPD Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez, who works the boardwalk, said since the temporary barriers went up, he hasn't heard of a single incident of an accidental driver entering Ocean Front Walk.

"A normal person would not want to drive over these barriers," Gonzalez said. 

That said, they're not necessarily a long term solution. Niciforos said one of the bollards installed near Rose Avenue, where he sits, has already popped out of the pavement once. 

"Plus they're gross," Nicoforos said. "They get all the grease from the underside of cars that run over them and it comes off on people when they walk by."

Bonin said he's conducting a full assessment of the safety needs at the boardwalk and is looking into more visually appealing alternatives, like bike racks, sculptures, or other barriers.

"Every intersection has to be evaluated independently," Bonin said. He'd also like to see a public address system and surveillance cameras installed.

Bonin expects to present an initial proposal to the Venice Neighborhood Council on September 17. It's not yet clear how much the safety upgrades would cost.

Nor would it necessarily prevent an incident like the fatal one in August. The entrance point where Campbell allegedly drove onto Ocean Front Walk is one of the few that actually has cement barriers in place.

He's been charged with murder in Alice Gruppioni's death and has pleaded not-guilty. Campbell is next due in court September 11 to set a preliminary hearing date.