Los Angeles holds the ignominious title of having the highest fatality rate of any major city in the country, with an annual average of 6.27 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for children in the city.
What is Los Angeles doing about this crisis? In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive order adopting the Vision Zero initiative. “Vision Zero” refers to a dream for the future when there are no traffic deaths. The initiative was started in Sweden and has spread to cities throughout the world and at least 30 major U.S. cities. The City of Los Angeles adopted Vision Zero with the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths on L.A. streets by 2025. It called for reductions of 20% by 2017 and 50% by 2020. So far, the initiative has yet to yield many positive results.
Unfortunately, in the two years since its inception Los Angeles has seen an 80% increase in pedestrian deaths. There were 134 pedestrian deaths in 2017, the highest number in more than 15 years.
A Los Angeles Times analysis shows nearly a quarter of auto accidents involving a pedestrian occur at less than 1% of the city’s intersections. Many of the most dangerous crossings are concentrated in high-density neighborhoods including downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, including Koreatown and Westlake.
The five most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles, ranked:
- Devonshire St. and Reseda Blvd. – Northridge
- Imperial Highway and Vista Del Mar – Playa Del Rey
- Balboa Blvd. and Nordhoff St. – Northridge
- Firestone Blvd. and Lakewood Blvd. – Downey
- Lindley Ave. and Roscoe Blvd. – Los Angeles
How is Vision Zero being implemented in L.A.?
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation knows which are the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles. It calls these streets the “High Injury Network.” This network, comprised of only 6 percent of streets in L.A., accounts for two-thirds of all serious and fatal crashes. Vison Zero has been focusing its efforts on making improvements to these streets, as well as focusing on education and enforcement that it believes will change dangerous behavior.
Specific projects include:
Curb Extensions: These extensions permanently widen existing sidewalks using concrete at intersections or midway along a street. These extensions visually and physically narrow the street to create a shorter crossing for people walking.
Intersection Tightening: Materials like paint, plastic bollards, and reflective markers visually and physically narrow the street at intersections, creating a shorter crossing for people walking with reduced exposure to traffic. They should also slow vehicles approaching intersections and encourage slower and more careful turns.
Leading Pedestrian Intervals: Intersection signals will give pedestrians a 3 to 7 second head start when crossing the street. The walk signal displays first to allow people walking to enter the intersection before cars traveling in the same direction. Cars get a green light after this head start period. This lead should increase the likelihood that turning drivers will yield to people walking.
Pedestrian refuge island: These concrete medians are designed for a person walking across a street to pause between directions of traffic with protection from moving vehicles. The islands (1) allow people walking to cross only one direction of traffic at a time; (2) reduce the distance in which people crossing are exposed to traffic; and (3) give people a place to stand in the middle of wide crossings.
Speed feedback signs: These signs use radar technology to determine the speed of an approaching vehicle and then display that speed to the person driving via a digital sign. The signs discourage unsafe speeding by providing drivers with their real-time speed. Statistics show that drivers decrease their speed when they see how fast they are going.
Pedestrian-activated flashing beacons: These button-activated amber LED lights use an irregular flashing pattern, similar to emergency flashers on police vehicles. People waiting to cross the street must push the button for the lights to activate. The lights alert drivers to the presence of a person in the crosswalk.
Protected left turns: A dedicated left turn arrow stops all other traffic and pedestrians to allow drivers to turn left. This can result in a significant reduction in confusion and accidents between drivers and pedestrians. Competition at intersections is one of the most common conflicts, with left-turning vehicles and pedestrians jockeying for position. Without a green arrow, drivers must yield to oncoming traffic to make their left turn. When doing so, they typically focus on on-coming traffic to look for gaps and may not pay due attention to people walking in the crosswalk.
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