The 12 best things to happen to L.A. pedestrians in 2012

stopped at adams and figueroa where the city's 1st traffic signal was installed

From pedestrian coordinators to polka-dotted plazas, this was definitely a banner year for L.A.’s walkers. Across the city, we’re seeing physical improvements to our streets and sidewalks as well as a changing perspective from citizens who are actively proving a certain ’80s song wrong. Of course, we still have a long way to go—we still have far too many pedestrian collisions, including a recent “epidemic” of hit-and-runs—but we definitely think 2012 was a big step in the right direction for making the city more safe, accessible and fun for walkers. So, in no particular order, here are our picks for the 12 best things to happen to L.A. pedestrians this year.

1. The city appoints two pedestrian coordinators: Walkers won two official advocates in City Hall this year as the LADOT named two pedestrian coordinators: Margot Ocañas and Valerie Watson. The duo is working hard to update L.A. pedestrian infrastructure—like signaling, striping, and signage—and improve safe routes to schools and transit. And speaking of safety…

2. L.A.’s first continental crosswalk: Just this week, L.A. saw one of its greatest pedestrian victories as a “zebra stripe” crosswalk debuted at the intersection of 5th and Spring. Our own Deborah Murphy spoke at the press conference with Mayor Villaraigosa on how the new design will help make walkers more visible. 53 more crosswalks are planned for 2013, at intersections prioritized due to their high rate of pedestrian collisions.

3. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City book: Part urban planning primer, part love letter to walking, the former design director for the NEA’s fantastic book makes an excellent case for why focusing on the pedestrian experience will improve our cities. Not since Jane Jacobs have we seen a writer who describes a vibrant American sidewalk with such eloquent, blissfully jargon-free writing. The book only has a few examples from L.A., but maybe that’s a good thing—learning from the stories of other cities in this book will certainly help to inspire some change right here at home.

Sunset Triangle

4. Sunset Triangle Plaza: Who would have guessed that a half-block of chartreuse polka-dots would get so much attention? An unprecedented collaboration between Streets for People, the L.A. City Planning Commission and the L.A. County Department of Public Health resulted in the city’s first street-to-plaza conversion in Silver Lake for only $25,000. The plaza itself needs some tweaks—the color’s still controversial, neighbors complained about the loss of parking, ugly plastic barricades showed up after a car took out a few planters—but the good news is that the process is documented, and any community can adapt (and improve on) the model for their neighborhood.

5. Parklet pilot program approved: In August of this year, the City Council approved a new pilot program pioneered by the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative to build parking space-sized parklets across the city. Four locations were announced right away, and if the six-month program goes well, more will pop up around L.A. in 2013. We’re all for the parklets, but we prefer the more L.A.-specific name: Let’s call them “plazitas!”

6. Christopher Hawthorne’s Boulevards project: As part of a series that launched this year, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic has been documenting L.A.’s famous boulevards, from Sunset Boulevard’s changing personality to Harbor Boulevard’s history of political unrest. The fact that the architecture critic at our paper of record is focusing on L.A.’s streets shows a true shift in the city’s attention to urban design. Bonus: Maybe because of Hawthorne’s project, the L.A. Times launched a campaign to let readers report damaged or missing sidewalks.

7. Police return to Pedestrian Advisory Committee: After Los Angeles Walks, Midnight Ridazz and LACBC presented at City Council, police representatives re-joined the LADOT’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, signifying a unified commitment to safer streets. Especially in light of the recent rash of pedestrian deaths on L.A. streets, this partnership is extremely important. (If you’d like to attend an upcoming meeting, the committee is still looking for representatives from many council districts, details here.)

At the station

8. Opening of the Expo Line and Orange Line extension: These two projects illustrated the dedication of the city to providing transit options for its residents as it continues building (rebuilding?) a world-class transportation system. The Orange Line now connects the extremely popular bus rapid transit line to rail in Chatsworth, and the new Expo Line brought much-needed service to South L.A. and Culver City. And, despite political battles, the second phase of the Expo Line is on schedule, which means we might be riding that light-rail-to-the-sea as soon as 2015.

9. The L.A. Weekly’s hit-and-run investigation: A devastating feature in the L.A. Weekly just a few weeks ago explored the tragic “epidemic” of hit-and-runs on our streets: 48 percent of traffic accidents in Los Angeles are hit-and-run offenses (much higher than the national average of 11 percent), and approximately 100 pedestrians are killed each year in Los Angeles by hit-and-run drivers. Yet the city and LAPD are not doing enough to prosecute and prevent these crimes (read our response to the article). Investigative journalism like this is important to amplify the conversation about safer streets, and we applaud the Weekly for taking on this issue. Update: They even did an excellent follow-up article on how hit-and-run victim Don Ward tracked down the driver who hit him.

10. Big objects moving through L.A.’s streets: First it was a boulder for LACMA, then it was a space shuttle for the California Science Center. (What’s next? One of the pyramids creeping up the PCH en route to the Getty Villa?) But instead of eliciting groans from drivers, closing our roads to move Levitated Mass and Endeavour to their destinations transformed L.A. into massive street parties where people discovered new ways to navigate the city without their cars.

Walkways

11. It started to feel like everyone walks in L.A.: From the Big Parade to the Great L.A. Walk, from Trekking L.A.’s neighborhood walking tours to the L.A. Conservancy’s exploration of historic districts, we saw a groundswell of pedestrian tours, itineraries, and events throughout the city. Our only regret is that we can’t possibly keep up with all of the pedestrian urban exploration happening around us!

12. Rebirth of Los Angeles Walks: Of course we couldn’t help but include a revitalized Los Angeles Walks in our round up. You might know that L.A. Walks has been around in some form since the ’90s, but 2012 saw our official relaunch with a new steering committee and vision for the city. After our awesome karaoke fundraiser in April, we set to work on our campaigns, hosting three community meetings across the city, and we organized “WalkLAvia” parade down Figueroa during the autumn CicLAvia. And we got plenty of press which helped connect local walkers to our cause. We’re excited for 2013 and hope that you’ll join us as we work to make L.A. a great place for walkers. Thanks to everyone for your support!

Did we miss your favorite pedestrian moment for L.A.? Let us know in the comments!

—Alissa Walker

How to stop LA’s hit-and-run “epidemic”

Continental crosswalks press conference

Los Angeles Walks joins many in expressing concern over statistics uncovered by a recent LA Weekly article on the high prevalence of hit-and-run accidents in the City of Los Angeles and the frequent lack of effective response by law enforcement and city leaders. According to the Weekly, 48 percent of traffic accidents in Los Angeles are hit and run offenses, much higher than the national average of 11 percent. Approximately 100 pedestrians are killed each year in Los Angeles by hit and run drivers.

Motor vehicle crashes are a significant threat to public safety, especially for pedestrians and children. We blogged earlier this year about how pedestrians in Los Angeles were disproportionately likely to be victims of fatal car crashes compared to national statistics. Motor vehicle crashes are the third leading cause of preventable death in Los Angeles County, behind only coronary heart disease and homicide. Motor vehicle crashes are even more dangerous to children and to young adults. These crashes are the single highest cause of death [PDF] (not just preventable death) for children ages 1-4 and the second highest cause of death for children and young adults between the ages of 5-24.

As such, law enforcement agencies and policy makers should be taking car and truck crashes very seriously, with a focus on prevention, enforcement and prosecution. It is shocking and disappointing to read so many accounts of tragic deaths and injuries that suggest a lax attitude towards hit and run offenses from some police, prosecutors, and elected officials. The city and LAPD do not keep track of how many injuries and deaths result from hit-and-run crashes. There are not enough traffic enforcement officers to respond to all fatal hit-and-run crashes, let alone hit-and-run incidents that cause severe injuries. Few fleeing drivers are ever tracked down by police. Those that are, or who turn themselves in, often get light criminal sentences, like a drunk driver in a case profiled by the LA Weekly who maimed a cyclist but received just six months of community service.

The City of Los Angeles needs to get serious about reducing fatalities and injuries from all motor vehicle crashes, especially hit and run incidents. Here are some steps we think they should take:

  • Publicize the crisis of deaths from motorized vehicle crashes and set targets and strategies to address the problem. If Los Angeles fails to even collect data about hit and run injuries and fatalities, how can it reduce the carnage? LAPD and city leaders are proud of progress made in lowering homicides and should bring the same focus to reduce vehicular killings by increasing staffing, enforcement and punishments to deter unsafe driving and catch hit and run offenders.
  • Design roads for safety rather than for speed. The best way to reduce speeding, unsafe driving, and resulting crashes and deaths is to design and transform streets so that drivers are constrained and influenced by the physical layout of the road to move at a safe speed. Narrower lanes and traffic calming measures cause drivers slow down more effectively than posted speed limits on a wide, straight street engineered to remove all obstacles for fast motor traffic.
  • Invest in pedestrian infrastructure and programs proportionate to the need. Nearly 20 percent of trips in Los Angeles are on foot and 32 percent of traffic fatalities are pedestrians but only 1 percent 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.
  • Lower speed limits to protect pedestrians, especially children. Pedestrians hit by a car travelling 20 m.p.h. have just a 5 percent chance of being killed. The fatality rate skyrockets to 85 percent when a car is travelling 40 m.p.h. Many cities around the world are setting speed limits near schools and in residential and other highly walked areas at 20 m.p.h./30 k.p.h.

Let us know how you’d like to help make walking in the city of Los Angeles, and your neighborhood in particular, safer, by signing up for our newsletter and attending one of our upcoming meetings.

—Mark Vallianatos