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The pandemic might have cleared the roads from traffic and the air from pollution for a brief time in Los Angeles, but what it never improved was the actual safety of the streets and the people who use them. Despite tens of thousands of fewer incidents, the number of road fatalities actually rose.
According to Crosstown, there were 35,654 vehicle collisions in the period that ran through Mar. 14, 2021. This represents a nearly 37% drop from the previous 12 months. Moreover, there were 257 fatalities from Mar. 15, 2020 to Mar. 14, 2021, according to Los Angeles Police Department data. This figure represents a 4.4% increase from the previous 12-month period and a 7% rise over the 240 reported four years ago.
One particularly disturbing subset of the fatalities centered on a vulnerable community: the unhoused. From Mar. 15, 2020 to Mar. 14, 2021, 45 people experiencing homelessness died in a collision, slightly more than the 42 during the previous 12-month period. Four years ago, the number of fatalities of people experiencing homelessness was 20.
Moreover, fatalities were down in the pandemic year for Latinos, white, and Asian people. But the 63 Black people who died in a collision were up 75% from the 36 in the prior 12 months. And when it comes to gender, collision fatalities also increased for men, of which 185 died compared to 172 during the previous 12-month period. The 61 women who died in collisions is down from 67 during the previous 12 months.
Damian Kevitt, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Streets Are For Everyone reportedly called this trend an epidemic. “There’s a responsibility for drivers to drive safely and every collision has a toll whether that’s an emotional one or losing productivity,” he said.
According to a 2019 report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, car collisions are the fourth leading cause of premature death in the county. And though steps have been taken to make driving safer in the county, like when Garcetti launched the Vision Zero initiative in 2015 with the aim of eliminating traffic deaths by 2025, little to no improvement has been made in six years.
Colin Sweeney, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, reportedly said that despite “significant” street safety investments by the city, drivers responded to open roads during the pandemic by stepping on the gas. The past year revealed a “pandemic of speeding,” according to Sweeney.
Speeding was actually an almost immediate side effect of the pandemic when it first started. According to the LA Times, the California Highway Patrol saw an alarming 87% increase in citations for speeding in excess of 100 mph. During the month after the start of the stay-at-home order in March, the CHP issued 2,493 tickets throughout California for speeding over 100 mph — almost doubling the amount of the same offense seen during the same period the previous year.
“These trends cement our need to maintain a data-driven approach that prioritizes investments in historically marginalized and under-resourced communities,” Sweeney reportedly said. “This includes prioritizing capital projects that create meaningful change for neighborhoods.” One of those projects is on Avalon Boulevard in South Los Angeles, where 12 miles of protected bike lanes were installed. Sweeney said similar safety projects are happening along Broadway and Main Street in South Los Angeles.