A couple of weeks ago we reported on a genius LA Times interactive called Walking in L.A. that mapped 817 of the “most dangerous” intersections in the county. As we noted with no surprise, several of most dangerous county intersections (and clusters) are right here in Beverly Hills. Despite the long histories of crashes, not one of them has been made more safe. City of Los Angeles several years ago acknowledged the problem, though, with a plan to stripe 53 problematic crossings for high visibility. Three years later, KPCC asks listeners, Are there others in need of a fix?
First, more about the harm. “Los Angeles has a higher rate of car accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists than the rest of the nation,” KPCC says of the crash data. How big is the disparity? Over a seven-year period ending in 2009, pedestrian fatalities accounted for 11% percent of all national traffic fatalities; bicyclists represented another 1.7% (which is disproportionately high given low rates of cycling). But in Los Angeles, according to a study by the University of Michigan, pedestrians accounted for a whopping one-third of traffic fatalities during that period. That’s three times the national rate. And 3% of fatalities were bicyclists, which nearly doubles the national rate.
Why the disproportionately-high fatality rates? Clearly something needs to be done to improve street safety in the metro area. For decades riders’ advocates had complained that negligence by local governments threatened public health. And nearly ten years ago some crafty DIY engineers took it upon themselves to stripe a faux bicycle lane on a Los Angeles River bridge. In the meanwhile the fatalities piled up.
Then something of a fix. Three years ago, Los Angeles identified 53 intersections for a safety upgrade: these selected intersections would be striped with highly-visible ‘continental’ crosswalks. Call it a first step toward the city’s new Vision Zero policy. “No level of fatality on city streets is inevitable or acceptable,” the city says in its program description. “Vision Zero Action Plan is the City’s foundation for ending traffic deaths and injuries on our streets.”
Los Angeles is following the Big Apple’s lead. Under Bloomberg’s transportation chief, Janette Sadik-Kahn, the city’s approach to street safety shifted. For the first time, really, transportation officials mandated planning for all road users…at least in high-profile city precincts like Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The program marks a break for Los Angeles. It was the first acknowledgment that traffic officials needed to take a systematic approach to ensuring street safety, beginning with engineering. Merely widening streets would no longer cut it; the city mandated that for years but in hindsight it only increased traffic speeds and volume.
The humble crosswalk would seem a small fix; low-hanging fruit perhaps. After all, we’re talking about thermoplastic on pavement. But a key federal study shows that crosswalks like the ‘continental’ are more visible to drives at all hours. They make crossing safer for pedestrians.
Now the map. Consider LA’s 53 intersections chosen for ‘continental’ crosswalks the ‘green shoots’ of improved street safety. KPCC’s interactive ‘Dangerous Intersections in Los Angeles‘ maps them:
Of course, 53 intersections is a mere drop in the bucket; they’re spread rather thinly across a city of 460+ square miles. So KPCC invites visitors to add problem intersections to the map. When we first saw it there were a few user-added intersections in Beverly Hills already (including the notorious Wilshire-Santa Monica deathtrap). But these few hardly get at our intersection safety problem. (Where Los Angeles struggled with fatalities, in Beverly Hills the incidence of injury is much more prevalent.)
But there intersections more injurious to health then those few mapped in Beverly Hills, so we’re adding our own to the KPCC map. How did we decide which Beverly Hills intersections warranted the red flag? We turned to the data generated by our own Beverly Hills Police Department. In a review of crashes in the city between January and September (inclusive) in 2014 we see ten of the worst intersections emerge. These showed the highest number of crash calls to BHPD.
We obtained the data report through an information request when we saw the findings referenced in a brief police statement. We counted the reported crashes and ordered the intersections from worst to not-as-worse.
|Wilshire & La Cienega||45|
|North SM Blvd & Wilshire||34|
|Olympic & Beverly Dr.||27|
|Wilshire & Robertson||26|
|South SM Blvd & Beverly dr.||18|
|Wilshire & Beverly Dr.||18|
|North SM blvd & Bedford||17|
|North SM Blvd & Beverly Dr.||13|
|South SM Blvd & Wilshire||9|
|South SM Blvd & Bedford||6|
Here’s what every city transportation official should see every time they boot up the office computer. And Traffic and Parking commissioners should receive a map like this along with the BHPD crash injury data every month. But they don’t, of course. So it’s business as usual. To nobody’s surprise, the rate of crashes and injuries fails to decline year after year.
If Los Angeles Can Do It…
If Los Angeles can do It, so can Beverly Hills, right? A crosswalk upgrade is just a first step. ‘Vision Zero’ implicates other changes too, like a reduction in the number of travel lanes (aka ‘road diet’) as well ensuring that engineers and law enforcement reduce prevailing traffic speed. It will take a shift in the professional and political culture in order to begin to value street safety in practice – and not just rhetorically.
We aren’t even close to that culture change in Beverly Hills. For example, the baby step of continental crosswalks has not even been undertaken by the city for these problem intersections. (Only the business triangle and civic center have gotten this kind of pedestrian upgrade. The rest of the city’s designated pedestrian zone is still stuck with faded old-style transverse crosswalks.)
And it’s worse for riders. We mix it up with the motor traffic daily, yet the city has never upgraded any intersection for bicyclists. And that’s despite our hounding of City Hall for five years! Do your fellow riders a favor: call City Hall and ask about street safety. Report a problem Beverly Hills intersection. And pin it to the KPCC map!
And remember: never say ‘accident’ when it comes to a crash. Very few are accidents; most involve carelessness or negligence (or worse). Per New York’s Vision Zero policy statement: “The City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents,’ but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed.” Are you listening KPCC?
* Remember that the crash data reflect only a subset of all incidents. And probably a small subset! Drivers may choose to exchange information without a call to police, for example, while riders or walkers, injured or not, may simply choose to go on their way rather than file a report.