Citizen Directs Traffic Since Cops Won't—And Gets a Ticket

Did you notice the traffic jam at Fair Oaks Avenue and Huntington Drive Thursday?

You may have noticed a man wearing a bright orange shirt directing traffic at the corner of Fair Oaks and Huntington Drive at 8 a.m. Thursday.

It was South Pas resident Alan Ehrlich, who says traffic was backed up for blocks due to a broken traffic light. He noticed the mess when taking his kids to school and decided to take initiative.

"Traffic was backed up forever. Traffic spilling over to the side streets. No police or traffic control officers present, so I put on a bright orange shirt to make sure I was visible, and I grabbed two orange safety flags," said Ehrlich.

Onlookers say traffic was cleared within 10 to 15 minutes of Ehrlich directing vehicles.  

Yet after about 20 minutes, he was issued a citation by South Pas Police for "pedestrian on roadway," he said. And the police told him that they are not required under California law to regulate the traffic. 

Currently, there are several stop signs set up throughout the intersection directing traffic. (See attached video and photos for a visual.)

"This is an unplanned Edison service outage in the area due to extreme heat," said Public Works Director Shin Furukawa. "Their website currently says power is expected to be restored by 11 p.m. tonight. The City has set up temporary stop signs for traffic control purposes."

Yet this isn't the first time this specific set of lights have gone out. And residents are nervous of the safety hazards that come with it.  

"The light goes out periodically," said Richard Gerrish, who owns at the Corner of Fair Oaks and Huntington. "There's been at least one incident where a traffic officer was there."

"The 20 minutes while I was observing the intersection prior to Alan showing up, I saw many accidents that could have occurred," he continued. 

Ehrlich says he hopes to see the City implement a formal traffic management policy. He has already scheduled appointments with City staff and will be presenting his concerns at the next City Council meeting. 

did not respond to Patch in time for this article.

What the Law Says

According to Section 125 of the California Streets and Highways
, "traffic may be regulated by warning signs, lights, appropriate control devices, or by a person or persons controlling and directing the flow of traffic." 

"It is unlawful for any person to disobey the traffic directions of a person appointed or authorized by a local authority to regulate traffic pursuant to subdivision," the law goes on to say.

Section 21100 of the state's vehicle code also states that "local authorities may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution regarding various situations, including "regulating traffic by means of a person given temporary or permanent appointment for that duty by the local authority when official traffic control devices are disabled or otherwise inoperable, at the scenes of accidents or disasters, or at locations as may require traffic direction for orderly traffic flow."

Click on the video to your right to see footage of cars driving through the intersection.

Click here to read Police Chief Joe Payne's response to the traffic incident.

Patch Asks: Do you think the City should implement a formal traffic management policy? If so, what are your ideas and concerns? 

Andy Krinock September 09, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Just another reason, other than astronomical cost, they should be replaced by the Sheriff.
scott September 09, 2011 at 02:05 AM
@Sheepdog. They stopped sometime on the early 60's is my guess. Many of the S.Pas cops are too bored and too under stimulated so they ticket those who really don't need a ticket. At least, that has been my experience. I had a S.Pas cop threaten me that he would "find something" wrong with my bike one day while I was parked. He didn't but n the less, there is little REAL police work in S. Pas (to their credit) and as such, watch out in S.Pas Just my 2 cents.
H.M. September 09, 2011 at 02:05 AM
typical SPPD, not surprised a bit
Lisa Minjares September 09, 2011 at 02:42 AM
This is just ridiculous! SPPD Chief Payne, should apologize to Mr. Ehrlich, for his Officers utter stupidity and tear up the ticket. Honestly, what kind of bass-ackward thinking prompted the Officer to write such a slap in the face ticket such as this? Thank you, Mr. Ehrlich, for being a great person who doesn't just follow the lemmings to the edge of the cliff. Just ridiculous!
Joseph Payne September 09, 2011 at 03:06 AM
I will not go into detail because I refuse to cooperate with reckless reporting. Mr. Erlich was cited because he was waving cars through a signal outage that had been posted by the police department earlier that morning. What he was doing was dangerous and in lucky he was not arrested. Ms. Lepore can give her readers and bloggers more information since I responded directly to her for her reckless disregard for the facts. There are a number of responsible journalists that we will continue to respond to in order to provide accurate information to the public.
scott September 09, 2011 at 03:14 AM
Joe Payne. I Do so appreciate you responding and congratulations on your position and many years with S.Pas. S.Pas as in many small towns have a "reputation" Sometimes true, and others not so much. I was an 80's S. Pas kid. Actually, y'all kept me in line for the most part, but there were a few of your officers that, well may have been a bit mis-guided. Thanks again, Joe.
C. Wong September 09, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Consider this: Fact: Mr. Ehrlich's actions, directing traffic without legal training or authorization is against the law. Regardless of intentions. What do you think would happen if drivers got into an accident/s while he was illegally directing traffic? Who's at fault? How would you feel if you were hit by another car while you're taking your kids to school, because the other car was waved through by someone who had no business directing traffic? Mr Ehrlich should consider himself lucky that nobody was hurt on his self-imposed watch. As a resident, I am confident in my ability to stop and go when safe at a 4-way stop, and I certainly wouldn't want an officer pulled away from his patrol duties to direct traffic at a simple signal light outage. There are far bigger issues that deserve our time and attention than a squeaky wheel who wants to play Batman.
John Q September 09, 2011 at 07:12 AM
This town is absolutely amazing, you're applauding this man's actions as if he's performing the highest of civic duties. He's pretty close to canonization at this point. Not only did he put himself in danger, he's risking the safety of the other drivers. Why does no one seem to understand that?? CWong, I have to disagree with you, I do not have confidence in these motorists to navigate the daunting intersection. That's why the police department exists, to help these hapless souls through their lives. Apparently, it's the fault of the police when there are near accidents, AND NOT THE FAULT OF THE OTHER MOTORISTS!! I don't know how SPPD officers manage to work in this town without losing their minds. The yahoos that posted about this article are the very citizens they serve and to deal with that garbage everyday, is simply phenomenal. Since everyone here is about praising people, I want applaud the officer who wrote Mr. Ehrlich the ticket. That officer did his job and he/she did it knowing that Mr. Ehrlich would run to the media and whine, which would in turn, cause an unjustified uproar. You few ungrateful, ignorant people who have posted on this article don't realize how lucky you are that someone getting a ticket for doing something stupid is the most exciting thing you have to whine about today.
jacksprat September 09, 2011 at 08:17 AM
Yes, God forbid we pull an officer away from hiding between parked cars doing nothing but issuing tickets to motorist on Fairoaks and on Monterey Rd. Keep up the good work officers
Scott Edmonds September 09, 2011 at 09:27 AM
Mr. Ehrlich needs to leave the traffic control to the persons who are trained to do it. I'm sure he has a cell phone at home along with his orange flags and shirt. Call the police and let them handle it. If he perceives a problem with juveniles loitering or a person drinking in public should he just step in? Where do we draw the line with citizens stepping in? The liability he assumed stepping into the street to direct traffic is huge. A car accident, a pedestrian hit, he himself getting hit, who would be blamed? I'm sure many of you would be blaming the police and the City. The South Pasadena Police work hard, they protect their residents from crime and assist them with traffic control when necessary. South Pasadena is a sleepy community where nothing happens because these officers do a good job of keeping criminals out. They are proactive and responsive. Keep up the good work.
Ellen Daigle September 09, 2011 at 02:20 PM
what Allen did was courageous. I do not believe it should go down the path of us versus the police. We live in a society of people looking the other way. We need people to step in when someone is hurt, threatened or our children find themselves in a frightening position. Please everyone lets use Allen as an example of how we can help each other . When there is an accident or someone is hurt I always rush to help. I am a trained registered nurse but have not practiced for 20 years. I know that I can certainly lend a hand till a qualified person comes on the scene. I hope that we can turn this into a positive situation . I believe this is what Allen was doing. We must encourage this because we live in a world that can be frightening.
Kristen Lepore (Editor) September 09, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Chief Payne says Ehrlich posed a serious safety concern. Please see our follow-up article here: http://patch.com/A-lQ73
"Kid Gloves" September 09, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Hey Kids, Very brave Alan, but very risky and illegal. Stop signs are like blinders because most force the right of way, Someday, people that are not running late, will get this "Who gets first priority? The DMV rule says car making left turn has to yield right of way. But,it also says the car at the right side has right of way aka clock-wise turns at going. The power outage lasted over 24 hours to nearby residents of northwest of Huntington and Fair Oaks Ave. Does anyone remember when a car went right the front of Dilbeck Realtors, owned by DG Real Estate, Inc
Dexter Choi September 09, 2011 at 06:24 PM
"The 20 minutes while I was observing the intersection prior to Alan showing up, I saw many accidents that could have occurred," he continued. Why didn't Gerrish call police? Why didn't Ehrlich call police? Based on the two articles regarding this incident, it appears that the only complaint called into police was of Ehrlich being in the street.
phil e. September 09, 2011 at 09:52 PM
While Alan Ehrlich may not have been trained in traffic contol, it seems clear by his actions he understood the task. To bring flags and dress as he did is demonstratative of that. This father of two s.pas tykes walks his kids by crossing guards regulary and understands their value to his children's safety. One might ask, was he sober? How many accidents has he has in his 30+ years as a driver. Did he attend things like the scouts where he may have learned about emergency preparedness. If you see a person drowning and no life guard what would you do if you could swim. In fact he has more understanding of traffic flow not just on the ground where cars drive on one surface but in the air, where the altitude of traffic is another concern. He has flown small airplanes for years. I'm this officer wasn't there doing the job himself, or why he didn't issue a ticket for impersonating an officer? Perhaps the officer also wanted to see this oversight in government management addressed, and used the only tool he had to open a forum.
Just My Opinion September 10, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Bravo Mr. Ehrich for stepping up BUT you should have just called the Police and told them of the terrific odds of a bad accident occurring. Maybe the Police shouldn't have issued him a citation, as a courtesy, but they should have brought out the temporary stop signs. It's true, if an accident had occurred during Mr. Ehrlich's traffic control debut, he could be held liable as an unauthorized person directing traffic. Thank God there was no accident and no one was hurt.
Ron Rosen September 10, 2011 at 01:48 AM
The temporary stop signs were out. But stop signs on busy streets during rush hour can create traffic jams. Ehrlich was responding to the traffic jam that had built up in spite of the stop signs.
jbu September 10, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Mr. Wong, I don't agree with your passive thinking. It's totally against federal law as Ms. Betty Ong, a United flight attendant, used her cell phone on board an aircraft -- United Flight 11, to call United operation and provided the valuable information as 911 unfolded. Do you think her act to use cellphone on an airplane and her intention shall be punished and condemned? How about those heroes who stormed the cockpit on United 93? They were not trained law enforcement officers. Neither were they trained to fly an airplane! Will you blame the crash of Flight 93 to those average citizen who did the act? Obliviously, most laws are legislated for ordinary time. In none ordinary time, many laws are not applicable. Mr. Ehrlich helped to resolve the traffic jam in our major street during the unexpected power outage. I don’t think that law is applicable to him. Issuing a ticket to him is even ridiculous and unthinkable. Not only did he help to improve our community, nor did he cause any problem (It’s very unlikely anyway. I do believe Mr. Ehrlich had good judgment of his capability.) IMHO, his intention shall be promoted for our community.
Dexter Choi September 10, 2011 at 06:27 PM
I asked before and asked again: Did Mr. Ehrlich call police to respond to the traffic jam? Did anyone else? Why weren’t these questions asked? Please correct me if I'm wrong but there is always heavy traffic in South Pasadena during rush hour because most commuters simply use our beautiful city as a thoroughfare. Mind you, a power outage does cause traffic to back up more than usual but traffic is cyclical and will jam and clear with time. How many cars drive through South Pasadena on a typical weekday? Yet, there was only one accident reported despite the inoperative signal. Even if Mr. Ehrlich or the police directed traffic all day long, there would still be a traffic jam because there are traffic jams every weekday even when the signals are operational (and there is no construction on Fair Oaks). It’s unfortunate but we do live in a litigious society. Instead of a citation, Mr. Ehrlich and the City of South Pasadena could have been named in a lawsuit if there was a collision while he was directing traffic.
Damien Bean September 10, 2011 at 09:04 PM
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, it may be appropriate to ask if we want to live in a world where everyone stands back. Should the heroes of Flight 93 remained in their seats and waited for their plane to fly into the White House because there was no trained expert or authorized person? Our country was founded by individuals taking responsibility - can you imagine this conversation with a Washington or Jefferson?. Sadly, our children's futures are threatened as we wait for some 'trained expert' to fix whatever ill is perceived. What happened to the American spriit of taking charge and getting something done? Besides how much 'expertise and training' is needed to direct traffic. If we're supposed to ignore Mr. Ehrlich's efforts, then we can all blast right past the next flag person at a construction site and ignore a parent directing children at a school crossing outside of the guards hours or maybe it's just that the city needs Mr. Ehrlich's money to pay for the unfunded police pensions?
Ron Rosen September 10, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Giving Mr. Ehrlich a citation was a public relations blunder for the SPPD. The story will go on. I saw it on the Channel 2 new last night. Ehrlich will undoubtedly appear before the City Council, and likely will fight his ticket, leading to more and more coverage.
jacksprat September 11, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Damien, nobody could have said it better than you have...I now applaud you
Dexter Choi September 11, 2011 at 01:59 AM
You're comparing terrorism to a traffic jam? Mr. Ehrlich is not a hero and should not be compared to the heroes that lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Look at the intersection of Huntington Drive and Fair Oaks Avenue from Google Earth (or any other satellite view) and try to envision how Mr. Ehrlich could safely direct traffic at that intersection. Chief Payne said it would take three officers to safely direct traffic there. We live in a litigious society. As a business owner, I am required to purchase numerous types of insurance in case of a litigious claim. Mr. Ehrlich needlessly exposed himself to tremendous civil liability by taking matters into his own hands (not to mention the danger he put himself in from road raging drivers that may not have yielded to him). There is a time and place to “take charge” and “take responsibility” and a TRAFFIC JAM (every day occurrence in Southern California) is not a call to action. I have yet to see a single citizen direct traffic on the 405 during rush hour.
Scott Edmonds September 11, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Mr. Ehrlich is not a hero. He's a guy who got mad at a traffic jam and foolishly took the matter into his own hands. Comparing this to "stepping up" on 9-11-01 or taking action in other situations is ridiculous. Jefferson and Washington? Do you people read what you write before hitting send? This was a TRAFFIC JAM not the writing of the Constitution or Crossing the Delaware. The guy didn't show what he knew by putting on a bright colored shirt and grabbing two flags, there is a lot more to directing traffic than wearing bright colors and holding flags. The guy screwed up and got a citation for his mistake. Next time call the police and if you've done that, then just leave the situation alone. There may be reasons for the police not taking action. While placing stop signs out may have caused more of a traffic jam it does minimize the city's liability in the event there is a collision.
Scott Phister September 11, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Wow, Alan Ehrlich got more attention from this charade than pretending to run for city Treasurer. He even got to extend his 15 minutes of fame to the TV news running misinformation. Comparing him to the heros of flight 93 is offensive .
TRT September 12, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Did Mr. Ehrlich's intent/actions resolve the traffic jam problem? Yes, it did. Unfortunately, we live in a society where everybody says "it does not concern me", afraid of litigation, etc.. Therefore, it is great to see someone stepping up to help others. I am glad that I read this article and the comments. Let’s do not forget that he made a personal choice to help and he succeeded. I do not know him but it seems like he is a concerned citizen. Of course, we all have to be sure that we are safe when we are helping a person, animal etc. Personally I do not think that he was putting himself in danger when, thankfully, 99.9 percent of the drivers are smart enough not to create a dangerous situation for the person helping them during a traffic jam. By the way, I will not stop helping others in need just because I might get cited…... and I hope you will too. Let’s void the citation and give him a warning after explaining the SPPD and/or State rules and regulations and move on. ….
Ron Rosen September 13, 2011 at 01:21 AM
No doubt Mr. Ehrlich will fight the ticket in court. It will be interesting to hear what the judge has to say. TV cameras will be rolling. If you google the story, you'll find that it's being picked up by papers and websites all over the country. The media loves stories like this.
DC September 13, 2011 at 01:35 PM
So that's what this country has come to ..... today we have laws that take away the right of a citizen to attempt to step in and solve a problem... so sad.
Mike September 13, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Since no one can come to agreement about Mr. Ehrlich's actions, there is but one thing to do. Leave your cars at home and walk!
JT September 14, 2011 at 05:22 AM
I must say, SPPD Chief Joe Payne and his department don’t make a very good impression. Judging from this incident and other empirical data, I’d guess Joe and his department may not understand their role in the community, and may well be failing on a number of fronts. It’s even possible the SPPD does more harm than good. Too bad for South Pas.


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