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Despite previous efforts from the government, it took the coronavirus pandemic in order for Los Angeles to see a steep drop in pedestrian fatalities. According to a report made by Crosstown, pedestrian-vehicle collisions across the city have dropped to precipitously low levels, achieving years of what public education campaigns and traffic safety policy could not.
According to publicly available data from the Los Angeles Police Department quoted by Crosstown, pedestrian-vehicle collisions fell by 70% in 2020, to 1,135, down from the 3,733 collisions reported the year prior. From 2015 to 2019, total annual pedestrian-vehicle collisions in Los Angeles had crept up from 3,417 to 3,733.
Last year’s drop in collisions marks a reversal from the previous five years. January 2020 started on track with previous years, with 316 collisions, and February saw 140. But once government officials put in place stay-at-home orders in March, monthly pedestrian-vehicle collisions consistently remained below 100. December saw the fewest pedestrian-vehicle collisions since the city began releasing its data in 2012, with 57 total.
In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Vision Zero campaign — which aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city by 2025. But instead of the campaign working, it was the pandemic which made a bigger difference. Sinche the campaign’s launch in 2015, pedestrian traffic-related deaths rose 55% by 2019. By contrast, pedestrian traffic-related deaths in 2020 fell by 57%.
The executive director of Los Angeles Walks, John Yi, while glad that the numbers have gone down, he noted that relying on a pandemic is not a long term solution when speaking to Crosstown: “I don’t think one could attribute this to, say, better or smarter street design, because our city’s infrastructure is very much similar to what it was last year. So yeah, I think one can attribute it to the pandemic.”
Colin Bogart, who serves as the active transportation program coordinator at Day One, told Crosswtown that he believes the city of Los Angeles has passed up the chance to overhaul its approach to pedestrian safety and implement larger, more far-reaching projects. “In general, they go for a lot of the easy fixes, but they’re not necessarily getting bold and doing some of the big infrastructure changes … that would translate into sacrifices for drivers.”
What he’s referring to is mostly the city’s approach to its Slow Streets Programs, which aims to limit street traffic in order to give more space to local pedestrians and cyclists. However, some activists have criticized the program, saying that these moves were often hastily arranged in more affluent white neighborhoods, thus exposing, if not exacerbating, the inequalities between white and brown communities.
Moreover, another factor changed by pandemic are the streets where most of the incidents now take place. In both 2019 and 2020, Western Ave., Vermont Ave. and Figueroa Street have been among the top five streets for the most pedestrian collisions. In 2020, Sunset Blvd. and Broadway replaced Ventura Blvd. and Pico Blvd. to round out the top five.
“The city has really missed the mark on reinventing what the public space can be and what it should look like after the pandemic,” Yi concluded. “It’s not just about concrete and cement. This is about well being and community.”