Viewpoints & Ideas: It’s time to start taking traffic safety seriously in Northeast L.A.

Photos by Severin Martinez, Steve Ascencio & The Eastsider

By Severin Martinez

In recent years Colorado Boulevard has been the most widely discussed street when it comes to talk of traffic safety in Northeast L.A. The attention dedicated to Colorado Boulevard is well warranted, however, it is not the only dangerous street in the neighborhood. There are many streets in Northeast L.A. that enable the kind of reckless driving we regularly experience and cause the crashes that scar the community. Ten years of collision data (2002 through 2011) accessible through UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, or TIMS, reinforces the need to take traffic safety more seriously on all our streets.

Between 2002 and 2011, there were  264 severe and fatal reported traffic collisions with 48 people killed in traffic on the streets of Northeast L.A., according to TIMS (Atwater Village, Cypress Park,  Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Highland Park and Mt. Washington were included in the crash analysis).

This works out to about 26 serious crashes annually, or one crash every other week resulting in a severe or fatal injury. These numbers just reflect the reported traffic collisions on streets; they do not include collisions that occur on local freeways in the area (2, 5, 134) or the Arroyo Seco Parkway. If freeways and parkways were included, the figures would be higher.

The primary causes of the severe and fatal traffic collisions in Northeast LA during this time period were:

  • Failure to yield right-of-way (66)*
  • Pedestrian violation (46)
  • Speeding (43)
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drug (23)
  • Running stop sign or traffic signal (19)

*(Of the 66 failures to yield right-of-way, 32 were failure to yield to pedestrians)

Most of these causes are the usual suspects when it comes to crashes. However “pedestrian violation” is a bit of a surprise, especially because it only falls second to failure to yield right-of-way. “Pedestrian violation” includes cases in which pedestrians cross against red lights or outside of crosswalks. This kind of behavior certainly should not be encouraged. It is clearly dangerous,  though at least ten of these pedestrian violations were reported on low-traffic residential streets where it is common practice to mid-block. Considering most residential streets have 25 mile-per-hour speed limits, it is curious that severe and fatal collisions involving pedestrians should occur on residential streets at all, or that pedestrians would be at fault.

Nonetheless, despite “pedestrian violations” heavily contributing to severe and fatal collisions in Northeast LA, pedestrians were not primarily at fault in most serious collisions involving people on foot.

Pedestrians were involved in 111 of the 264 severe and fatal traffic collisions between 2002 and 2011. Of those 111 collisions, pedestrians were deemed at fault in 50 cases. Meanwhile, pedestrians made up 27 of the 48 people killed in traffic. Pedestrian violation was listed as the primary cause in 14 of the 27 deaths, placing pedestrians at fault in just over half of all pedestrian fatalities.

However, although pedestrians are disproportionately represented in severe and fatal traffic collisions in Northeast L.A., this is not a “pedestrian” issue– it affects everyone in the community. The negative impacts of our street design goes beyond crashes. People are scared to cross our boulevards and children lack independent mobility in the same neighborhood their parents once safely traversed by bicycle and foot when they were younger. The neighborhood is literally destroyed by cars crashing into buildings. The quality of life is degraded on residential streets by dangerous speeding. Some streets, such as Oak Grove Drive and Campus Road, even experience speeding and careless behavior after stop signs and speed humps are installed.

We need to do more to make our streets safer. Last year ended on an unsettling note in Northeast L.A., with two fatal traffic collisions in December that occurred just two weeks apart. The start of a new year tends to be an inspiring time, an opportunity to change for the better– let’s make 2014 the year we start taking traffic safety seriously in this neighborhood.

 Severin Martinez is the founder and author of Walk Eagle Rock, a blog about walking and bicycling in Northeast L.A.

Viewpoints & Ideas is where Eastsider readers can express their opinions or start a conversation on neighborhood  issues,  problems and potential. 


  1. More hand-wringing and automobile blaming with zero solutions offered.

    There is no epidemic of cars bounding up on sidewalks, into buildings, and through red lights, killing pedestrians. These accidents, when they are happen, are a by product of living in an urban environment. Reducing lanes will only make life miserable for the 95% of locals who have to use cars.

    Oh wait though – we should all ride bikes and walk though, right? If you work 10 miles away, you should just move closer, right? If you’re elderly or disabled and not mobile by means other than car, than… well, let’s just not talk about that. By all means, every street must be refashioned into a cycling and pedestrian thoroughfare. That makes sense?

    Automobile safety has gone up. Car efficiency has gone up. Tailpipe emissions have gone down. This is a straw man argument pushed forward by a very slim minority of citizens with an extremely self-serving view of how a city should work.

    • The stats don’t lie… would it really be so terrible if our streets were safer for walking, cycling and driving?

    • Kyle, I think everyone understands that cars are useful or necessary for many trips, including long commutes to work and transportation of the elderly/disabled. But all you have to do is look around, and it should be obvious that many people in LA are driving all the time, everywhere, for every trip– even when there are alternatives available, even when they are within walking distance, etc. I’m not talking about disabled or elderly folks, I’m talking about young, healthy people, all by themselves in their car, driving short distances on surface streets, and often driving badly because they are distracted by texting. If you have spent any time walking around LA, you should know that many of those drivers do fail to yield to pedestrians, which was the focus of this post.

      The point of the post is that there are too many drivers who do not yield to pedestrians, who drive while intoxicated, who drive at illegally fast speeds, etc, and that they are placing people in danger in a city where there are many pedestrians. There are stats in the post itself which back up this claim. If you think those numbers are acceptable or cannot be improved, well, we will just have to disagree about that. We had an 87 year old driver blow through a stop sign and hit a family of five in Highland Park just a couple of days ago, so it is an appropriate moment to pause and think about what we can do to improve traffic safety.

      • Running stop signs is an epidemic in HLP and ER. Most direct and quickest way to address this would be aggressive and visible LAPD enforcement. Faster than waiting on road diet studies and cycling to take off. FYI, cyclists running stop signs are also a big danger to everyone.

        • Totally agree about the cyclists running stop signs. It’s a rare month that I see one stop.
          Almost ran over a fool not long ago who blew a stop sign. Not only did he blow the stop sign, he was riding with no hands,looking down, and texting!
          Does anyone know why bicycles don’t have license plates here? Where I grew up we had to have license plate on our bikes.. I’d love to report fools like him.

          • Carol —

            Do you have the same urge to report motorists who accelerate through yellow lights, or who slow roll through right-on-red, or who exceed the legal speed limit (by any amount)?

            If not, why not? Sometimes people seem to single out cyclists while overlooking car habits that are also illegal. Just because so many drivers break these laws does not change the fact that they are laws.

          • @carol: That sounds like unusual legislation… where did you grow up?

    • I think you’re wrong about several things, but the one that catches my eye the most is car-building collisions. There really has been an increase in completely inexcusable collisions between cars and buildings. I’m thinking about the two collisions between cars and Pete’s Blue Chip in ER, one of which took out the whole corner or the building and crushed two interior booths. Also, about the other two cars that hit Swork, resulting in the bollards being put up at the entrance. Also about one other collision that almost took out a corner of Panang restaurant (they hit a lamppost first).

      That’s just along Colorado Blvd. in ER.

      If we stay on Colorado, but widen the discussion to other huge immovable objects, there is the car that took out the fence surrounding the Dahlia Heights underpass. This was someone exiting the 134 at freeway speeds who lost control. And of course the four people killed by striking a magnolia tree in the median during a road race.

      All of these collisions were egregious, and should never have happened. For any one, we can blame the driver — texting or racing. But after you notice the sheer number of egregious violations, you have to admit there is something systematic going on as well. I think that something is, partly, road designs that invite speeding.

      As you can tell, I support the recent work to bring speeds on Colorado into the realm of sanity. I drive a car for most local trips (I also walk a lot to restaurants and for groceries), and I don’t mind the extra few seconds. I think I get them back while walking around anyway.

      Finally, we do need to keep in mind that there are several schools along these streets. In the stretch of Colorado I know well, there is the Celerity charter, Dahlia Heights Elementary, Ren Arts, and Eagle Rock Elementary, plus the Montessori preschool. These schools generate a lot of pedestrian traffic (take a look around 8am or 2-3pm), and it’s important that road design allows for this.

    • Clearly the solution is to forbid buildings near streets.

  2. Great article… It would be interesting to see comparable traffic collision data between the stretches of Colorado that run through Pasadena, Glendale and Los Angeles (before and after the road diet and crosswalks went in.)

    It definitely seems like the three municipalities deal with street design and traffic syncing quite differently from one another.

    • Seems to me that what is needed is simple traffic enforcement by the LAPD. We have overzelous parking enforcement in the area and parked cars are not a threat to cyclist, peds or drivers. As many of the folks driving at high speeds, running red lights and stop sings are traveling on their regular routes, consistent enforcement of existing laws would go a long way. Would the Eastsider dig up some information on the # of tickets written by the LAPD in the same time period for theses areas? I’d be very interested to know. Also, the data doesn’t seem to take into account the actions of pedestrians or cyclists. I often see folks walking thru crosswalks texting, cyclists at night with no lights/reflectors, running red lights/stop signs and no helmets. Safety is a team effort and we are responsible for much of it ourselves.

      At many intersections in NELA the road striping at stop signs has worn away. The city needs to make these repairs as well as remove objets (tree branches etc.) that obstruct stop signs at various intersections.

      Lastly, I think it is a real concern that road diets etc. push traffic into residential neighborhoods where people drive even more recklessly. There is likely even less (i.e. zero) police presence to enforce traffic laws in residential neighborhoods. I’m seeing it get worse and worse where I live and you could also ask the folks living near the Rowena road diet in Silverlake. Not good or safe.

      • Couldn’t agree more about enforcing the traffic laws… seems like you can speed, tailgate, roll stop signs, cut off pedestrians, what have you, right in front of the cops in Los Angeles, and 9 times out of 10 nothing will happen. But if your car is parked in a street sweeping zone 5 minutes past the cutoff, you’re pretty much guaranteed a parking ticket. I guess the cops figure they have bigger fish to fry?

        However, I think street design and traffic syncing make a huge difference in how people drive (regardless of police enforcement.) A lot of streets in LA are designed to encourage speeding, and quite often the traffic lights are spaced and timed for it as well. This effort by LADOT to maximize speeds is a relic of the past… most cities have abandoned it because it is unsafe, and it ultimately just created bottlenecks. Calmer speeds actually create smoother traffic flow.

        As far as the road diets, I personally think they are a boon to our neighborhoods. Silver Lake, York, Spring… all more popular than ever. It’s unfortunate if some people are using side streets to avoid the minor backups caused by these road diets. But perhaps we just need to push for speed bumps and more stop signs when this becomes an issue.

        Why let the dangerous habits of a few impatient jerks dictate whether we invest in our communities. We live in a densely populated city, there’s really no reason anyone needs to be zipping through urban streets at 40mph. They can take the freeway if they want to speed, or slow down if they’re in a neighborhood.

      • I appreciate the desire for more traffic enforcement. However, the courts have taken away the effective way to do that through cameras. It takes a very large police presence to properly enforce moving violations, especially given that the violators are normally moving at a high speed and therefore hard to catch.

        I don’t think it’s fair to compare enforcement of moving violations to enforcement of parking violations. The latter is really easy to do – just send one person in front of the street sweeper, and have them do an occasional other sweep in areas with parking problems. But actual enforcement of traffic laws needs either a technological solution, or else a huge amount of police labor, which the city doesn’t obviously have funding for.

        • Kenny, I believe you’re incorrect on several points. For example, all a cop has to do is sit at the intersection of Townsend and Oak Grove in the morning and he could write 100 tickets for running the stop signs. Visible police presence writing tickets in the neighborhood would have a positive effect on driving habits. Folks are used to literally no traffic enforcement and therefore drive accordingly. As far as I know there are no red light cameras in HLP or Eagle Rock.

  3. i was actually thinking these numbers are really good. 48 people died in 9 years? that is only 5.3 people per year. that’s not bad at all when you consider how many people live in Northeast LA.

  4. Good discussion. More info needed to compare NELA with other similar neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Driver information would be useful, as well, such as age, gender, etc.

  5. Hey Eastsider, any way to get the LAPD to comment on this?

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