In December 2019, a “die-in” was staged by advocates for traffic safety. On the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, protesters pretended to be dead to bring attention to the lack of progress towards eliminating traffic fatalities in the city by 2025. Unfortunately, not much has changed since the protest.
Los Angeles is Failing to Meet Vision Zero’s Goals
Now in its fourth full year, Vision Zero, the program initiated to prevent traffic-related deaths in Los Angeles, has failed to decrease the number of fatalities. According to new data released, the deaths from auto accidents remain high.
In 2019, 244 people lost their lives in auto accidents on city streets. It represents only a decrease of 0.8 percent from 2018, per preliminary figures released by the city. Among the victims were 134 pedestrians and 19 bicyclists. While these numbers may change slightly as further analysis is performed, this early data represents another year of Vision Zero’s dismal progress.
Mayor Eric Garcetti launched Vision Zero in 2015, and since then, annual deaths caused by auto accidents have increased by 33 percent. Fatalities for pedestrians, vehicle drivers and passengers, motorcyclists, and bicyclists surged in 2016, rising from 183 to an astounding 253. Since 2016, the figure has decreased by only 3.6 percent.
It is more than evident that Los Angeles has missed the mark when it comes to Vision Zero, which required a 20 percent decrease in deaths by 2017. The next goal outlined by Vision Zero and city officials is reducing traffic deaths by half no later than 2020. Achieving this goal means that fatalities must be reduced by more than 100 this year.
“Any life lost on our streets is one too many — and we will continue to pursue our goal of zero traffic deaths until we meet that mark,” expressed Alex Comisar, a spokesman for the mayor, in a statement. He went on to say that the mayor “urges everyone to use our streets as responsibly and safely as possible so that we can save lives together.”
Police Chief Urges Drivers to Put Down Their Cell Phones
The success of Vision Zero and traffic safety in Los Angeles depends heavily on decreasing the use of cellphones while driving, according to L.A. Police Department Chief Michel Moore, who spoke at a recent news conference. He went on to say that drivers who are “driving 30, 40, 50 mph … put their head down to pick up a text or handle a call, and they move 100 yards, and they drive over someone.” Drivers, Moore stated, are “teaching a generation of children today in the back seat what to do with that cellphone.”
Action for Vision Zero Goals: Safety Modifications to Streets
According to spokeswoman Connie Llanos, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation made more improvements to the streets in 2019 than they did in 2018 and 2017 combined. The city added 1,529 improvements to crosswalks, traffic signals, intersections, as well as other modifications to improve the safety of everyone using the roads.
“We share in the community’s frustration when any life is lost on our streets,” Llanos expressed. The department of transportation also feels the “sense of urgency” to make changes, and has installed approximately 2,900 street safety improvements over the last three years, she said.
Modifications made in 2019 were highly focused on pedestrian safety. They included 1,162 upgrades to crosswalks, as well as 13 sets of flashing lights to gain the attention of drivers when someone is crossing the street in front of them.
Although pedestrians are only involved in a small fraction of traffic collisions in L.A., they represent a disproportionate number of injuries and fatalities. During a five-year period in this decade, pedestrians were involved in eight percent of accidents but accounted for 44 percent of those killed, as per data released by the city.
The number of vehicle drivers and passengers killed each year in city accidents has dropped. However, at the same time, the number of pedestrian deaths has significantly increased. In 2019, pedestrians accounted for about 55 percent of those who lost their lives in traffic accidents, which represents an increase from 40 percent in 2015 when Vision Zero began.
Among the 2019 deaths was a 4-year-old girl struck by a driver on her walk to school with her mother in Koreatown. The driver had her own children in the backseat when she made a left turn into the crosswalk, striking the girl. Her death caused advocates to become even more active in voicing their frustrations with the unsatisfactory progress of Vision Zero in Los Angeles, leading to December’s “die-in.”
Those who were in attendance of the “die-in” pointed out that the leading principle of Vision Zero is that no traffic fatalities are acceptable. However, Los Angeles drivers do not reflect this. Protesters expressed that the general public seems to care extremely little about the hundreds of people who are seriously injured or die in auto accidents each year.
Safety Versus Politics on L.A.’s Streets
“No one is talking about it,” explained Andres Quinche, a landscape architect who assisted in organizing the protest. “What we are lacking is courage and conviction among our political leaders, to stand up and say, ‘Safety matters more than speed.’” Quinche went on to say that the city requires more bold action to separate pedestrians and cyclists from motor vehicles. They need to scale back the space for cars on major roadways, making room for bike-only and bus-only lanes.
John Yi, the executive director of pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks, says that rather than making modest changes to intersections, the city needs to invest in changing its car culture. If zero traffic fatalities are indeed the city’s goal, “we need to have a visionary plan that matches the scope of that goal,” Yi added. “We have failed to do that.”
The Transportation Department, Llanos said in a statement, will “continue working aggressively to deliver key infrastructure and design changes to our most impacted corridors, while working with the community to build support for more transformative projects that rely on neighborhood support to be successful.”
One of the roadblocks is the political risk involved in making changes. A massive outcry began in 2017 when traffic lanes were eliminated on several streets in Mar Vista and Playa del Rey, resulting in a failed recall attempt for Councilman Mike Bonin. Eventually, the city removed most of the changes, did leave a protected bike lane in Mar Vista on Venice Boulevard.
Chief Moore reports that the LAPD plans to work with community groups to educate the city’s pedestrians to be alert when crossing the street. Even though pedestrians have the right-of-way, “that does not stop a speeding car that’s paying attention to a text message rather than the roadway.”
“The idea that distracted texting is as much of a problem as distracted driving shows how far Los Angeles has to go on Vision Zero,” responded Yi. “Just look at a three-ton vehicle that’s moving at a high speed, versus me, a bag of flesh who weighs 130 pounds,” Yi said. “It is ridiculous.”
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