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Over the course of five years, culminating on June 30th of last year, 88 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. These collisions occurred mostly after dark in Long Beach’s denser neighborhoods. Of the 88 deaths, 48 occurred between the evening hours of 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Some collisions were the result of a motorist’s medical emergency or a mechanical malfunction. However, in more nefarious situations, the driver at fault was under the influence or committed a hit-and-run. According to police data analyzed by the Southern California News Group, most of the collisions were avoidable.
Lt Kris Klein cites a lack of complete attention by one of both parties involved, “It comes down to one second, in most instances, someone wasn’t paying attention.”
These deaths have become a part of a larger, frightening trend in Southern California. Additionally, with technology’s advents, drivers and pedestrians alike are becoming increasingly distracted by their cell phones and electronic devices. In cases where pedestrians were found responsible for causing a collision, the pedestrian often assumes they have the right-of-way. Without checking for cars, they decide to step into the street, which was especially true for pedestrians at crosswalks, most notably those accompanied by flashing yellow lights around the sign.
Sgt Kaiser urges and reminds citizens, “Those yellow lights caution drivers to slow down and to stop if someone is crossing. The responsibility still falls on the pedestrian to make sure drivers see them before crossing.”
In fact, a study on collisions, conducted from 2013 to 2017, found pedestrians were at fault in over half of all the cases. Within four months of each other, two people were killed while crossing at a marked crosswalk after dark. In an accident on South Street near Downey Avenue in North Long Beach, two pedestrians were struck and killed while walking outside of the crosswalk. Other pedestrians were attempting to cross on green lights when a driver turned left into their path.
In cases involving “unmarked crosswalks or intersections,” police have found difficulty assigning blame. Despite this, pedestrians and drivers should treat these intersections that don’t have cross markings as regular crosswalks. Pedestrians are responsible for making sure the driver sees them while drivers are supposed to yield. In two of the cases, where pedestrians were held accountable for causing a collision, the pedestrians ran out into the street and were struck in an effort to commit suicide.
Areas with denser populations naturally experience a higher number of collisions. Stretches near downtown and in North Long Beach with thinner roadways littered with parallel parking often experience more crashes. Seventh Street and Pacific Avenue are two streets that drivers use to cut through the city quickly; there were eight pedestrian/bicyclist fatalities in just this area alone during the five years. About half of the 88 deaths were people in their 50s or 60s.
John Solone was a 79-year-old Long Beach resident who recently underwent knee surgery and attempted to cross the street and reach his house. Just before 10:30 p.m. on an October night in 2016, Solone crossed at the corner when a Honda Civic suddenly struck him. The driver, a 55-year-old man, was not arrested, although police determined that Solone had the right-of-way. His death prompted Long Beach residents and distraught neighbors of Solone in Belmont Heights to sign a petition that would require the city to install traffic lights and crosswalks at Forth and Obispo.
Over the years, traffic circles have been placed in residential neighborhoods at intersections encouraging drivers to slow down. Fences have been installed as medians, including on Long Beach Boulevard and next to Jordan High School on Atlantic Avenue to discourage people from hastily crossing major streets. In July of last year, the City Council announced the Safe Streets Initiative that would require the city to redesign certain roadways in a practical manner that would consider all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. The plan calls for zero pedestrian and bicycle deaths by the year 2026.
Despite changes made to the city landscape in an effort to promote safer streets, there is only so much that can be done by local legislation.
Lt. Klein believes, “If both sides were paying attention 100 percent of the time… we could have been able to avoid most of these. Pay attention to your surroundings. Eye contact is huge. Make sure you see their eyes, and if you do, you’re probably okay.”
Additionally, pedestrians should wear bright-colored or reflective clothing at night, which increases the chance of drivers seeing them. The most critical factors contributing to avoiding these types of collision come down to us, local citizens, pedestrians, and motorists who must assume a greater responsibility when they get behind the wheel.