Our response to SoCal Connected’s segment on pedestrian safety

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As the Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks, I should have been thrilled when KCET’s SoCal Connected aired a segment on pedestrian safety a few weeks ago. The potential for the segment was huge: It could address a critical issue facing pedestrians in Los Angeles on a mainstream television program where it could be explored in depth for all of us to discuss and debate. (You can watch the full episode here.)

In fact, back in December of 2012, I had received a call from the producer of the program asking me for advice on the segment.

I was excited by the variety of issues the show could address. We could talk about the way pedestrians are not prioritized in the city’s infrastructure, looking at intersections, mid-block crosswalks, driveways, parking lots, and hillside streets lacking sidewalks. We could talk about pedestrian safety technology devices, including design and engineering ideas being introduced in LA that function as traffic calming. Or we could talk about how more teenagers and young adults are choosing to walk, bike and take transit instead of running out at age 16 to get their drivers’ license and buy a car.

But instead, KCET chose to focus on a very small part of the pedestrian safety world and puzzlingly devoted almost the entire segment to their criticism of the installation of high-visibility crosswalks in the City of Los Angeles.

High-visibility crosswalks—which many of us have called “zebra-striped” crosswalks forever, now known as “continental” crosswalks—are the new City of Los Angeles standard crosswalk design and their installation is being prioritized by LADOT (the City’s transportation department) by locations with the highest number of pedestrian-vehicle collisions. (We covered the installation of the city’s first high-visibility crosswalks on our blog in December.) For those of us who have encouraged LADOT to install the continental crosswalks for over 15 years, we are thrilled that this is the new standard and that the prioritization was based on need, not politics.

But KCET had an issue with the LADOT prioritization methodology. They decided that LADOT should have prioritized the locations which saw the most serious injuries as results of collisions—not just the total number of any collisions or injuries.

They also minimized the diversity of the victims of pedestrian-vehicle crashes in the city. When I was contacted by the show’s producer, they asked for a connection to a person they could interview who had been a victim of a pedestrian-vehicle collision. I am lucky that I didn’t know anyone directly, but I did know an African-American friend and colleague of my mother’s who had been in a horrible collision on Florence Avenue in Inglewood near her church in August of 2011. I reluctantly called my mother to ask if she would contact her friend, a long time principal of various schools in the Inglewood Unified School District. My mother’s friend agreed to be interviewed and gave many, many hours of her time to the segment, dredging up the horrible memories of the crash—like being thrown like a rag doll across the street—and reliving all the various surgeries required by her injuries. After giving her time and images of her scars to the KCET cameras, the show’s editors cut her completely out of the segment other than a two-second image of her in the introduction. Instead, the segment mainly focused on one young white woman victim from the Westside—ignoring the fact that the majority of victims of pedestrian-vehicle collisions are Latino and other minorities, and that these collisions are more likely to occur in lower-income neighborhoods.

Another error was an important one when it comes to educating the public about pedestrian safety: KCET used the term “accident” instead of “collision” or “crash,” even after I advised them on why the term is incorrect. The word “accident” implies there was no fault or no possible way to avoid the crash, which most of the time is not the case.

We all waited for months for this segment to be aired on KCET, only to be greatly disappointed by the results. If we truly care about saving lives and preventing injuries, we must present a comprehensive and thoughtful review of the pedestrian safety challenges on our streets. We can’t nit-pick on one issue, like how LADOT prioritized the installation of continental crosswalks, a victory that we have fought long and hard to achieve, at the expense of dealing with the complexity of the pedestrian safety situation. We must hold drivers responsible for the safety of all road users, especially those that are the most vulnerable, like pedestrians and cyclists, and in particular children and seniors.

We must remember that we are all pedestrians in Los Angeles. When we get out of our cars, we are pedestrians. When we get off our bike, we are pedestrians. When we get off the bus, we are pedestrians. We are all pedestrians. Let’s take care of each other out there.

KCET should get out of their news van and get out on the streets.

Los Angeles Walks hopes to take on the challenge of alerting drivers to the safety needs of pedestrians with our “Hey, I’m Walking Here” campaign for LA 2050 and other grant opportunities. We look forward to having all of you join us in our campaign.

—Deborah Murphy

Continental crosswalks make their debut in downtown

Continental crosswalks press conference

Just in time for the holidays, the intersection of 5th and Spring in Downtown LA received a pretty special gift: Shiny new continental crosswalks that are wider, clearer and safer for pedestrians. And this isn’t a one-off: 53 crosswalks across the city—prioritized due to their high rates of pedestrian collisions—will get the same makeover in 2013. This is a huge victory for LA walkers, who will finally get the same safe street crossings which are already found in many cities around the world.

Continental crosswalks press conference

Mayor Villaraigosa announced the new crosswalks at a press conference yesterday along with LADOT representatives and the city’s two new pedestrian coordinators, Margot Ocañas and Valerie Watson. And we were thrilled that Los Angeles Walks founder and chair of the LADOT Pedestrian Advisory Committee Deborah Murphy was asked to speak after the Mayor, citing the importance of these crosswalks in showing Angelenos that “we are all pedestrians.”

Continental crosswalks press conference

The new crosswalks feature two-foot-wide “zebra stripes” that make the pedestrian crossing area more visible, as well as a “stop line” five feet from the crosswalk that discourage cars from entering the zone. You can download a PDF that explains more about the thinking behind the crosswalks, and contains a list of the intersections that will see the new crosswalk design. We’re happy to say that the press conference was attended by many members of the media, and stories were reported on local news stations like ABC and blogs like Blogdowntown.

Continental crosswalks press conference

Afterwards, everyone had a little fun with the new crosswalks. The LADOT pedestrian program team posed for an Abbey Road-inspired photo.

Continental crosswalks press conference

The Mayor, Deborah, other members of LADOT and the Mayor’s office took a walk across the new crosswalk (that’s photographer Gary Leonard capturing them on the left). They were joined by a few curious walkers as well.

Continental crosswalks press conference

But perhaps our favorite part was when Deborah presented the Mayor with a Los Angeles Walks poster! We’re so thrilled to be a part of this positive change for pedestrians in LA. Let us know if you spot the new crosswalks in your neighborhood, and keep us posted about how else we can make walking safer, more accessible and more fun for Angelenos.

Check out all of our photos from yesterday’s event!