Safety features being added to Spring Street, one of 40 “priority corridors” previously identified through the Vision Zero program.

“Road diets,” despised by some drivers, are still on the table

In Los Angeles, where residents and visitors are killed by vehicles at a rate amounting to one person every 40 hours, city officials have identified more than 80 streets and intersections in need of urgent safety improvements.

Approved last month by the Los Angeles City Council, the list is part Vision Zero, the city’s plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025.

The 23 corridors and 60 intersections included on it are some of the deadliest in the city, based on data collected by law enforcement agencies throughout California. They join 40 “priority corridors” where the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has already begun to implement safety measures, ranging from new traffic signals and crosswalk striping to lane reconfigurations, or “road diets.”

In the past, transportation department staffers selected street segments to focus on through a scoring system that factored in serious injuries and fatalities, with additional weight given to injuries sustained by pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, and children. Roads and intersections in communities already exposed to high health risks—such as poverty, pollution, and lack of food options—also scored higher in the system.

But after the City Council requested a more data-driven approach, the department changed its methodology in 2018.

This year’s list of priority corridors and intersections is based on traffic deaths and injuries alone (without consideration given to the age of accident victims or whether they were walking, biking, or driving when the collision occurred). Communities where health hazards already exist are no longer given extra weight.

The most deadly corridor identified by transportation officials is a stretch of Imperial Highway between Athens Way and Vermont Avenue in South LA. Here, between 2013 and 2017, more than 21 people were killed or injured per mile of roadway.

The deadliest intersection is where Pacific Coast Highway meets Temescal Canyon Road, at the entrance to Will Rogers State Beach. Nine people were killed or seriously injured there during the same time frame.

Streets and intersections targeted for safety upgrades this year are spread across nearly the entire city—though none are located in the seventh council district, which includes Sylmar, Sunland-Tujunga, and other neighborhoods in the northeastern San Fernando Valley.

The deadliest corridors are overwhelmingly concentrated in central Los Angeles, and they include segments of well-known and well-traveled thoroughfares like Hollywood, Sunset, Beverly, and Pico boulevards. Safety improvements are needed at multiple sections of some major streets, including Western, Normandie, and Vermont avenues.

Three of the corridors on the list are on streets controlled by the state (Lincoln and Santa Monica boulevards), and transportation officials say they’re working with Caltrans to address safety concerns on those roadways.

Projects undertaken on corridors and intersections operated by DOT will likely include those detailed in the Vision Zero “safety toolkit.” Those include curb extensions, left turn arrows, and traffic signals that give pedestrians a quick head start before allowing vehicles to enter the intersection.

Conspicuously absent from the toolkit are so-called road diets, where lanes for cars are removed in favor of dedicated turn lanes, bike lanes, or angled parking spaces. According to the Federal Highway Administration, road diets make streets safer by ensuring cars travel at “more consistent speeds” and that pedestrians have fewer lanes to cross when entering an intersection.

VZ map
City of Los Angeles
A map of the streets and intersections where safety projects will be prioritized.

Department of Transportation engineering associate Oliver Hou tells Curbed that lane reconfigurations are “one of the most effective ways to create safer streets if the existing conditions are appropriate.”

But lane reconfigurations undertaken in Los Angeles have inspired fierce resistance from drivers, who argue that they cause traffic congestion and inspire opportunistic commuters to seek shortcuts through residential areas.

Hou says that, in spite of pushback from some residents, the department will “continue to implement them in conjunction with other strategies on our corridors.”

In 2017, Los Angeles officials reversed road diets on the city’s Westside after community members there threatened lawsuits and threatened to recall Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the area. Plans for a similar project on a stretch of Temple Street that passes through Rampart Village and Historic Filipinotown were later scratched in favor of more modest safety features.

Emilia Crotty, director of Los Angeles Walks, says the organization has been working with families in the area around the proposed Temple Street road diet, where she says safety issues are still a concern for students and parents walking to school.

Crotty argues that “more robust” dialogue between community members and city officials must be a key part of Vision Zero if the program is to achieve its lofty goal of fully eliminating traffic deaths by 2025.

“First, we have to collectively agree there’s a problem,” she says. “Then we have to agree to address that problem, and that requires engagement with the community.”

Last month, the city’s Neighborhood Council Coalition considered a resolution opposing “all traffic calming measures, including but not limited to road diets.” With bike and pedestrian safety advocates opposing the measure, the coalition this month approved a much-amended motion calling on city officials to consult with neighborhood councils before installing road diets.

City of Los Angeles
Priority corridors for 2019

Crotty says neighborhood councils could be a good forum for discussing road safety issues, but that the voting members of the councils shouldn’t be the only one with a say over which projects move forward.

Since the Vision Zero program launched in 2015, safety improvements have been completed on 16 of the 40 priority corridors initially identified by transportation department. Work is underway on another 14 corridors, while safety improvements for the remaining 10 are being addressed through other programs.

After pedestrian deaths jumped 82 percent between 2015 and 2017, Mayor Eric Garcetti set aside more than $90 million for street safety projects in his 2018-19 budget, including $37 million for Vision Zero.

Councilmember Nury Martinez has suggested that might not be enough.

“We at some point need to be very, very serious about this program and committed to funding it—and committed to getting to the communities that have been historically plagued with these accidents,” said Martinez at a committee hearing last month. “If we’re not going to be serious about that, then let’s not kid ourselves.”