According to data released by Vision Zero and reported by the Los Angeles Times, 244 people died in traffic accidents in Los Angeles in 2019. While this represents a slight decrease of 0.8% from 2018, the statistics about pedestrian and cyclist deaths are more troubling. Since the start of Vision Zero in 2015 in the city, the total number of traffic fatalities has increased by 33%. Pedestrians represent a small percentage of accidents that occurred at 8%. However, they represent 44% of the fatalities that happened over the five years since the start of Vision Zero. In 2019, pedestrians represented 55% of the traffic fatalities that happened in Los Angeles.
When LA is compared to cities that also have Vision Zero programs, such as New York, it is clear to see that Los Angeles is not doing well with its initiative. New York established its Vision Zero program in 2014. It achieved a record-low number of fatalities in 2018 of 202, which was down from 707 in 1990 and 381 in 2000.
Why are traffic fatalities remaining high in Los Angeles?
There are multiple potential reasons for the stubbornly high traffic fatality rates in Los Angeles. While New York has invested substantial resources into designing infrastructure to help protect pedestrians and bicyclists, Los Angeles has not kept up with the pace. Many people in New York take advantage of the city’s subway system. By contrast, the culture in Los Angeles is much more focused on cars for transportation, making the streets very congested. The city also has done little to build better infrastructure to separate pedestrians and bicyclists from traffic, including separate pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes. Instead, cyclists must use unseparated bicycle lanes where they are available or ride in the far right-hand traffic lane where they are not.
There are around 6,500 miles of road in Los Angeles. Out of those, the mayor only designated around 80 for bicycle lanes at the start of Vision Zero in 2015. Subsequently, pushback from motorists has led to seven miles of bicycle lanes being removed.
There are many possible explanations for Los Angeles’ poor traffic fatality figures, but most cyclists blame the council members’ reluctance to put in new protected bike lanes. Out of LA’s 6,500 road miles, Mayor Garcetti only designated about 80 for bike lanes in 2015. Since that time, pushback against the installation of bicycle lanes by motorists has led to many being removed.
City council members have much more power over their districts in LA than they do in New York. Regardless of how much Vision Zero pushes for different districts to add bicycle lanes, the council members have the power to veto any decisions to install bicycle lanes in their districts. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has focused on adding new signs and signals and painting crosswalks instead of adding bicycle lanes and protected pedestrian walkways. In addition to these city-related issues, there are also driver behaviors that have led to an increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths and the persistence of the overall fatality rate.
Factors leading to increased pedestrian fatalities
One of the biggest factors leading to an increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities is the use of smartphones. Both pedestrians and drivers should avoid using their smartphones while they walk or drive. Motorists who have their phones turned on while they drive may be easily distracted by incoming messages, calls, and emails. When drivers take their eyes off of the road to look at their phones, their vehicles will continue to travel for a hundred feet or more. When they take their hands off of the wheel to respond to a text message, they will continue to travel without having any control over their vehicles.
While driving and using a handheld cell phone is illegal in California, many drivers continue to engage in distracted driving. Drivers should turn their phones off and put them out of sight when they get behind the wheel. Even incoming calls on a handsfree phone can distract a driver’s attention away from the road.
Pedestrians are also frequently distracted by their smartphones. When people are looking at their phones while they are walking, they may step in front of oncoming vehicles without noticing them. Both motorists and pedestrians need to keep their attention on the roads at all times. Motorists should take notice of pedestrians on the sidewalks who appear as if they might try to cross mid-block, and they should always obey all traffic control devices. When drivers turn onto other streets, they need to check the intersections and crosswalks carefully to avoid turning into pedestrians who are crossing.
Factors leading to an increase in cyclist deaths
Many people choose to ride bicycles in Los Angeles as a mode of transportation and for recreation. Like pedestrians, cyclists are frequently the victims of distracted drivers whose attention is focused elsewhere. Cyclists who do not have separated bicycle lanes are forced to share the roads with motorists. Drivers may not see cyclists because of driver inattention and because cyclists may be more difficult to see than other vehicles.
Los Angeles was designed for vehicles. The street designs are not very bicycle-friendly. Motorists frequently speed on the streets of LA, placing other motorists and cyclists around them in danger of accidents.
Contact an attorney at the Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers
Los Angeles needs to do more to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, including infrastructure changes that might initially be unpopular. Drivers should also do more to avoid causing accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. If you have lost a loved one in an accident that was caused by a motorist’s negligence in Los Angeles, you should get help from an experienced injury attorney. Contact the Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers today by calling us at 866.966.5240.