Our Relatively Safe Streets

The scramble crosswalk at Hollywood and Highland is an example of “Vision Zero” changes. A year before its 2015 installation there were 13 collisions at the intersection. A year later, only one fender bender. Photo: Shauna Watts.

The scramble crosswalk at Hollywood and Highland is an example of “Vision Zero” changes. A year before its 2015 installation there were 13 collisions at the intersection. A year later, only one fender bender. Photo: Shauna Watts.

The city’s co-called “Vision Zero” plan, which aims to reduce traffic deaths and injuries to zero by 2025, has its work cut out for it in some areas of the city, but not so much locally.

According to city officials, good portions of Los Feliz, East Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village have had a statistically low ratio of car related fatalities and serious injuries compared to other parts of Los Angeles.

“We’re fortunate in Council District 4 to have had relatively few traffic-related fatalities,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, who represents those neighborhoods in part, along with Council District 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. “That said, even one is too many and there’s always room for improvement.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti introduced the plan in 2015 to track traffic-related accidents that either kill or seriously injure.

Garcetti’s goal of reaching zero accidents by 2025 focuses on targeting trouble-spot intersections and improving them with the installation of traffic lights, dedicated bike lanes and other improvements.

The idea of “Vision Zero” originated in Sweden in 1997 and similar plans have been up and running in major cities nationwide—such as New York and San Francisco—for years.

Citywide, the problem is a major one for Los Angeles, a famously car-dependent and traffic-oversaturated metropolis.

According to Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) data, traffic deaths were up 43% in 2016 with 260 people killed citywide. Of those numbers, pedestrians and cyclists represented a disproportionate 53% of fatalities.

Currently, Vision Zero officials are focused on 450 miles of what they call the “high-injury network”—problem streets particularly conducive to traffic deaths and injuries. CD4 has 22 miles of such streets.

According to data, the most problematic thoroughfare in CD4 is Third Street between Normandie and Vermont avenues.

“There’s a portion of [Third Street] just west of Western where we have to make some safety improvements—signal upgrades, pedestrian crosswalks—that we think will have a significant impact,” said Lilly O’Brien, a spokesperson for Vision Zero.

CD13, according to O’Brien, has 40 miles of streets deemed high injury.

One street in particular that will be targeted for safety improvements in that district is a three-mile stretch of Temple Street running through Historic Filipinotown, between Beverly Boulevard and Beaudry Avenue. There, the Vision Zero team is targeting safety improvements such as crosswalk visibility and some street re-design.

Despite an uptrend of deaths or people seriously injured, both districts are relatively calm when compared to other, more problematic parts of Los Angeles.

“We’re not seeing a disproportionally large share of what we would call a pattern of deaths and serious injuries,” O’Brien said, especially in CD4.

According to O’Brien she has her theories why that area is relatively safer than other parts of the city: it has more traffic.

“It would be sheer speculation,” she said, “but if I had to take a guess, we see speed as the primary reason for deaths for collisions. If you hit someone going 20 miles an hour, they are less likely to die. If you have a neighborhood that’s heavily congested with a lot of traffic,” there is less speeding.

One of the goals of the program is to create more bicycle only lanes.

According to LADOT data, more bicycle-minded improvements unfurled under former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa compared to Garcetti.

Under Villaraigosa, 251 bike lanes were added citywide in 2012 and 2013 compared to Garcetti who has had just 17 such new lanes installed during 2015 and 2016, the first year of the Vision Zero Plan.

As for upcoming bicycle-related street designations, none are planned for CD4 for now.

However, in CD13, under Vision Zero, the possibility of adding a dedicated left lane for bikers at Temple and Fletcher Streets is currently being explored.

“Bicyclists are making risky left turns because they don’t have a dedicated lane,” O’Brien said. “Those kind of adjustments save lives.”

According to O’Brien, such a plan for Temple and Fletcher would need to go through considerable analysis internally and in the community.

Colin Bogart, with the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC), said that his organization is optimistic about the city’s plan.

“We’re encouraged by the support we’re seeing among city leadership in favor of dedicating [funds from the 2016 voter approved traffic improvement plan, Measure M] to Vision Zero, which prioritizes the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists,” he said.

According to Bogart, his organization is in favor of keeping the bike lanes that were installed in 2013 on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake.

The installation of bike lanes, he said, “[has been] proven … to reduce collisions that result in injuries and fatalities,” Bogart said.

City officials working on the Vision Zero team are well aware of the looming 2025 goal year.

For 2017, officials said they will roll out a $2-million advertising campaign, in partnership with Los Angeles Police Dept., to remind drivers about safety precautions.

“That education component is pretty significant,” O’Brien said. “Our behavior matters. It’s an important part to being an Angeleno.”

With that in mind, Ryu said he hopes the plan can be a jumping off point for more solutions to save lives.

Vision Zero, he said, is “only one tool in our toolbox and just one method of addressing a much broader problem. The city and state must do more to prevent distracted driving and increase the quality of our roads, in addition to making improvements to protect pedestrians and cyclists.”

Moreover, Ryu said he wants to see Vision Zero get to the point where it will help people adjust their driving habits.

‘“The Vision Zero campaign is not just a response to the uptick in traffic-related injuries and fatalities, it’s also supposed to be preventative,” Ryu said. “It’s meant to change the conversation, educate pedestrians and motorists and prevent the next traffic related fatality from happening.”

In the meantime, the Vision Zero team looks forward to seeing the results of their comprehensive data-crunching and educational components turned into practical measures that will save lives, as 2025 looms large.

“We still have seven years’ work after 2017,” O’Brien said.

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