I-5 at Los Feliz Blvd

Interstate 5 by the Los Feliz Boulevard overpass.

The sight of a pedestrian walking alongside Eastside freeways or even dashing across traffic lanes has become more common. And so have pedestrian fatalities.

In early April, for example, a 39-year-old homeless Latino man was fatally struck by a vehicle after he’d been walking in the northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway in Atwater Village. The very next day another pedestrian was run down and killed on the westbound 60 Freeway in East Los Angeles near the Lorena Street on-ramp.

Many of the pedestrians struck and killed by vehicles on freeways are homeless, according to authorities. The encampments that have sprouted along freeways and underpasses are often only reachable by walking dangerously close to speeding traffic.

“Point of access to some of these encampments would be through freeway entrances,” according to Ann Reyes, associate director of Metro LA Programs for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH). “With narrow walk spaces and fast-moving vehicles, it’s so unfortunate that lives have been lost.”

Pedestrian deaths on LA freeways have risen sharply in 2021

During the first four months of this year, the California Highway Patrol had to deal with about a dozen pedestrian deaths within seven miles of central Los Angeles, according to CHP Officer Roberto Gomez. That’s normally the average number of pedestrian fatalities reported during an entire year.

Three of the fatalities this year took place within a 36-hour period, Gomez added.

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The CHP is flooded with reports of pedestrians on the freeway in central Los Angeles. The number of non-fatal reports has risen from 4,584 in 2015 to a peak of 11,050 in 2019 before settling back to 9,500 in 2020 during the pandemic.

So far this year there have been 2,450 calls about pedestrians on freeways as of April 15.

Who is walking on L.A. freeways?

Officer Gomez noted that these pedestrians are often homeless. In a random sample of 20 freeway fatalities since 2014, seven were listed as homeless by the L.A. County coroner, according to research by The Eastsider. The CHP in the past has deployed a special unit to visit homeless encampments by freeways and warn them to avoid the roadway and offering help.

But in other cases, people have been reported not just trying to reach an encampment, but of trying to cross the freeway from the right shoulder to the center divider. In one case last year, the victim was even reported lying down in the lanes before being hit.

Sometimes a freeway pedestrian turns out to be an elderly person with dementia, Officer Gomez said. A handful of cases have been ruled by the coroner to be suicides - though it can be hard to know for sure whether other cases were suicides as well, Gomez said.

But most of the time, he said, people seem to be walking across the freeway … just to get to the other side.

“I think the majority are trying to get from point A to point B,” Gomez said.

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