A recent article in the Los Angeles Times depicts a bleak picture for walking in Los Angeles. “Los Angeles isn’t known as a city for walking. Maybe there is a good reason — it’s too dangerous.” The article cites a new study from the University of Michigan showing that pedestrians are much more likely to be victims of car crashes in Los Angeles than in the nation. The study found that 32.4% of fatal crashes in LA were pedestrians struck by cars compared to the national average of 11.4%.
At first glance, these two numbers seem vastly different. So should we all be scared away from walking in Los Angeles because it’s too dangerous? No. We think that a better question to ask is, are these numbers an appropriate comparison? What about population size, mode split, or other factors that need to be taken into account?
New York was deemed even more dangerous — 49.6% of traffic fatalities were pedestrians. In actuality, New York is one of the safest large cities for pedestrians and had one of the lowest pedestrian fatality rates in 2008 (1.8 per 100,000 according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System). As a city that is known for walking, New York’s pedestrian program has taken an aggressive stance on cutting pedestrian fatalities and continues to grow safer over time. Los Angeles is ripe to follow suit. With a pedestrian fatality rate of 2.4 per 100,000 in 2008, there is definitely room for improvement in our city. As our friends in the cycling community pointed out, however, “because fewer people are getting killed in motor vehicles in New York and LA, [the study] incorrectly suggests that more people who bike or walk are getting killed.”
The article does highlight an important issue for the future of transportation in Los Angeles: the need for safer streets and increased investments in pedestrian infrastructure in the LA region. Although Los Angeles isn’t a city known for walking, it should be. Nearly 1 in 5 trips in Los Angeles County is done on foot. People are walking in Los Angeles, and funding must be dedicated to improving safety for the most vulnerable road users.
Walking is a healthy, environmentally friendly form of mobility that promotes social interactions and a sense of community. Heavily walked roads tend to be safer due to a higher number of eyes on the streets, and are frequently more economically vibrant as pedestrians shop on foot. Many people choose to walk but some low income residents who cannot afford cars walk as a matter of necessity. The City of Los Angeles and transportation agencies at all levels need to prioritize pedestrian safety to encourage walking and help create a more healthy, sustainable, and equitable city.
To make walking safer and more appealing, the City of LA, Metro, Caltrans, and other responsible agencies should:
- Invest in pedestrian infrastructure and programs proportionate to the need. Nearly 20% of trips in Los Angeles are on foot and 32% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians but only 1% of transportation dollars go to pedestrian infrastructure or safety improvements. Money spent on more visible and better lit crosswalks; on improved lighting for sidewalks and intersections; on education on sharing the road with walkers; and on calming and redesigning streets with the highest rates of pedestrian deaths can reduce accidents and make walking safer for all.
- Design streets to be traveled at safe speeds. Use AB 321 to lower speed limits around schools by creating school slow zones to make vehicles be more aware of pedestrians in these areas. Pedestrians hit by a car travelling 20 mph have just a 5 percent of being killed. The fatality rate skyrockets to 85 percent when a car is travelling 40mph. Many cities around the world are setting speed limits in residential and other highly walked areas at 20mph/30kph.
Let us know how you’d like to help make walking in the city of Los Angeles, and your neighborhood in particular, safer!
—Mark Vallianatos and My La