In the years following 1990’s spike in pedestrian deaths, the researchers whose job it is to track them were relieved: fatalities fell sharply, and continued to fall. That year, 6,482 people had lost their lives on the streets of America — not because they were behind the wheel themselves, but because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time: crossing or walking along the side of the street when somebody else lost focus.
The following year, more than 650 fewer pedestrians were killed. By 2009, the number had fallen to 4,109 fatalities, a 37% drop from those recorded nearly two decades prior; the lowest they’d ever been.
It’s hard to describe what happened next as anything less than a pendulum swing — as though the universe itself had abruptly realized it had been overlooking something, and promptly made the choice to course correct. Only nine years after the country registered its fewest pedestrian deaths on record, we are now within a hair’s breadth of pre-1990 figures.
According to a recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), an estimated 6,227 pedestrians were killed in 2018.
A mere five states comprise 46% of the reported fatalities: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and our home state of California. In fact, we were the site of more deaths than any other state. This isn’t particularly surprising — as the largest state in the union, we typically enter in on the high end of the statistical spectrum. The question remains: why?
Though the question is difficult to answer — one theory pins the blame on the surge in SUV sales in recent years — the fact that California is one of the most popular tourist destinations may also be contributive. Consider the above photo, for example. To take even a semi-decent picture of the iconic Venice Sign, one must quite literally stand in the middle an intersection. On a sunny day, when the lights turn red, it’s not uncommon to witness dozens of tourists converge on the crosswalks — like lions to a watering hole, prowling the banks of Pacific Avenue for the perfect Instagram selfie. But even after the lights go back to green, you’re bound to see a straggler — or worse, someone impatient, convinced “it’ll never happen to me” — who steps off the sidewalk prematurely, posing uncomfortably close to oncoming traffic.
This is undoubtedly the reason why today, on your own trip to Pacific and Windward, you’ll find the above intersection home to a scramble crosswalk — the kind shaped like an X, programmed to halt all traffic at the same time, thereby allowing pedestrians to safely cross in any direction they please (or, in the case of the Venice Sign, not at all).
Considering Los Angeles County has the unfortunate distinction of having 221 of the 444 most dangerous intersections in California — yes, just one shy of half — alongside the even more dubious honor of being the worst place in the U.S. for pedestrians, with 207 fatalities according to a 2014 study by NHTSA (Arizona’s Maricopa County sits uneasily at #2 with 91 death) — this explains why in recent years scramble crosswalks have seemed to spring up across the city as if overnight.
It’s an effort originating in large part from Vision Zero, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s push to see zero traffic deaths by 2025. Dozens of intersections across the city have been updated with the new design, and by all accounts they started saving lives immediately.
According to a tweet from VisionZeroLA, the Hollywood and Highland intersection — a tourist hotspot notorious for its foot traffic — previously saw an average of 13 crashes per year. In the six months following the installation of its scramble crosswalk, there were zero.
Between 2003 and 2009 an average of 49 people per year were “hit” at the same intersection, according to a separate source, although an important distinction must be made between the descriptors ‘crashes’ and ‘hit.’ That source, a 2014 report released by Los Angeles Walks, reveals that “The City of Los Angeles recorded over 19,000 pedestrian-vehicle collisions between 2003 and 2009 … an average of 2,700 per year.”
And yet, despite these numbers, and despite the push they inspired to reduce traffic deaths to zero throughout the city, and beyond, 2018 was still the worst for pedestrians in nearly three decades.
One has to wonder… what else can be done? More on that to come.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“Vision Zero.” Vision Zero. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://www.ots.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/67/2019/01/Annual-Report-2018-Final-12-27-18.pdf
“Footnotes Report.” Los Angeles Walks. Retrieved 28 February 2019. http://www.losangeleswalks.org/footnotes
“’A Complete Reversal of Progress:’ Why 2018 Was the Deadliest Year for Pedestrians Since 1990.” Fortune Media IP Limited. Retrieved 28 February 2019. http://fortune.com/2019/02/28/pedestrian-deaths-2018-data/
“Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data.” Governors Highway Safety Association. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://www.ghsa.org/resources/Pedestrians19
“Pedestrians and Bicyclists.” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/pedestrians#Trends
“Almost half of California’s most dangerous intersections are in LA.” Vox Media. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://la.curbed.com/2016/11/11/13601092/most-dangerous-intersections-los-angeles-southern-california
“LA Is the Most Unsafe Place in the US for Pedestrians.” Vox Media. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://la.curbed.com/2016/2/3/10942036/los-angeles-most-unsafe-for-pedestrians
“Here Are L.A.’s Most-Dangerous Intersections (MAP).” LA Weekly. Retrieved 28 February 2019. https://www.laweekly.com/news/here-are-las-most-dangerous-intersections-map-6370625