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. 

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