The Rise of Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

In 2015, 74 people on foot were killed by drivers in Los Angeles. That figure rose to 134 in 2017, the highest number in more than 15 years, according to the LA Times. Although LA’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, has been working for over two years on an initiative to end traffic fatalities, there’s been an 80% increase in pedestrian deaths.

What is behind this surge in pedestrian deaths and what is being done to curtail further increases? Let’s explore the possibilities.

Reasons for the Increase in LA Pedestrian Deaths

Street Size

In LA, there can be anywhere from four to six lanes of traffic on some of the main arteries throughout the city. That is a lot of distance to have to cross.

Timing of the Walk Lights

The amount of time given is sometimes not enough to make it safely across the street, especially for someone walking with young children.

Right Turning Drivers

“A lot of the cars are turning very fast, just turning [at] the corner and not really seeing or paying attention to pedestrians who are coming in either direction on the other side” according to Alissa Walker, urbanism editor of Curbed. [source]

Speeding Drivers

Drivers that drive over the posted speed limit create an unsafe environment for pedestrians. Additionally, the increase needed for these speeding drivers to stop safely, such as when a pedestrian suddenly appears in the road, can dramatically impact the accident rate.

Additionally, as the Los Angeles Times reports, “When struck by a car moving at 20 mph, a pedestrian has a 90% chance of survival, but when hit by a vehicle going 40 mph, the chance of survival falls to 20%, according to a federal study of crash data.” [source]

Distracted Drivers

The distraction caused by drivers on their phones, whether texting, following GPS directions, or checking email, means their eyes are off the road just long enough to spell danger for unsuspecting pedestrians.

What is being done in LA to improve safety for pedestrians

In an interview with NPR’s Ailsa Chang, the urbanism editor of Curbed, Alissa Walker, discussed some of the plans the city of LA is working on implementing to increase safety for pedestrians around the city.

CHANG: Well, what else besides adjusting speed limits can LA do to try to help with this problem?

WALKER: So what LA wanted to do when it first started its Vision Zero program was address some of these dangerous intersections, like the one I talked about before, with things like scramble crosswalks that stop traffic in all directions, let people cross diagonally, even, which separates the pedestrian movement from the car movement. So those right turns, for example, into crosswalks won't be as big of a problem. Then there was kind of a shift in their strategy and they went after the 40 most dangerous corridors across the city. So looking at, you know, blocks and blocks and blocks where a lot of pedestrians were dying, and looking at how cars were moving through the space and endangering the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. So for these streets, these would be engineering changes that would actually make pedestrians more visible and get drivers to slow down and pay attention.

CHANG: Why is that not working yet?

WALKER: I think you need to have a lot of buy-in from your elected officials. We have a city council member who has banned one of the most effective safety tools in his council district because of the perception from - I'm going to call them traffic safety deniers - people who think that these changes are just a trick to get people out of their cars and onto public transit. And they don't actually believe the deaths are happening, and they should still be able to drive as fast and free as they can through their streets.

Read the full interview here: Why Pedestrian Deaths Are At A 33-Year High And How To Prevent Them

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