COVID-19 is making LA safer for pedestrians
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, pedestrian-vehicle collisions across Los Angeles have dropped to precipitously low levels, achieving years of what public education campaigns and traffic safety policy could not.
Total pedestrian-vehicle collisions in 2020 fell by 70%, to 1,135, down from the 3,733 collisions reported in 2019, according to publicly available data from the Los Angeles Police Department.
Pedestrian-vehicle collisions in Los Angeles, 2015-2020
This year’s drop in collisions marks a reversal from the previous five years. From 2015-2019, total annual pedestrian-vehicle collisions in Los Angeles crept up from 3,417 to 3,733.
The year began with 316 collisions in January, but the numbers began to fall immediately afterward. February had 140 collisions, and once county health officials put the “safer at home” order in place on March 19, monthly pedestrian-vehicle collisions have remained below 100. December saw the fewest pedestrian-vehicle collisions, with 57, since the city began releasing its data in 2012.
Pedestrian-vehicle collisions in 2020 by month
The pandemic appears to have achieved what Mayor Eric Garcetti had set out to do five years ago. In 2015, he launched the Vision Zero campaign — which aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city by 2025.
[Related: Is LA becoming bike-friendly?]
Street safety advocates like Damian Kevitt, believe the goals behind Vision Zero are not flawed, but the method of implementing them are. As the executive director and founder of Streets Are For Everyone, a nonprofit that advocates for greater street safety, and a cyclist who lost his own leg in a hit-and-run several years ago, Kevitt has made it his mission to reduce traffic violence across Los Angeles.
“By stats, Vision Zero has not actually been delivering what it’s supposed to deliver,” said Kevitt. “It’s a concern that we have, and a concern that a lot of other organizations that we work with have. We’re dedicating funds to save lives and to make things safer, and it’s not statistically resulting in that.”
After Vision Zero was launched in 2015, pedestrian traffic-related deaths rose 55% by 2019, to 137 fatalities. By contrast, pedestrian traffic-related deaths in 2020 fell by 57%.
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John Yi, the executive director of Los Angeles Walks, is glad that the numbers have gone down, but notes that relying on a pandemic is not a long term solution.
“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,” said Yi. “So yeah, I think one can attribute it to the pandemic.”
With less traffic and more people out on the roads, the pandemic has presented Los Angeles with an opportunity to focus on improving its infrastructure. However, Yi believes the city missed the mark with its Slow Streets Program. Launched in May, the program aims to limit street traffic in order to give more space to local pedestrians and cyclists.
“If you think about it, what is the big infrastructure project the city has done in response to COVID? Nothing. I mean, the only thing we can point to is the Slow Streets projects,” said Yi. “Which is good… but when it was rolled out how many of those luxury projects were implemented in communities of color, or in communities of need or communities where there were essential workers? And so was it done equitably?”
[Related: Major drop in traffic collisions this year.]
Colin Bogart, who serves as the active transportation program coordinator at Day One, shares a similar sentiment. Bogart believes that the city of Los Angeles has passed up the chance to overhaul its approach to pedestrian safety and implement larger, more far-reaching projects.
“It’s small ball,” said Bogart. “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.”
While the number of pedestrian-vehicle collisions has declined, the streets where most of the incidents occur has changed. 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.
Los Angeles streets with the most pedestrian-vehicle collisions
For Angelenos living in neighborhoods that are bisected by these busy corridors, traffic violence is an all too familiar occurrence.
“This is a social justice issue. It’s not just about concrete and cement. This is about well being and community,” said Yi. “The city has really missed the mark on reinventing what the public space can be and what it should look like after the pandemic.”
How we did it: We examined the LAPD’s publicly available data on traffic collisions and pedestrian injuries from 2012 through 2020. LAPD may update past collision reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.
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