The number of traffic deaths dropped slightly in 2018, but crash fatalities remain high.

City leaders aim for zero deaths by 2025

Three years into Los Angeles’s Vision Zero initiative—a campaign to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025—hundreds of people continue to die each year in crashes citywide.

Preliminary data from the transportation department show that 240 people were killed last year. That’s five fewer deaths than in 2017, and 57 more than in 2015, when Mayor Eric Garcetti launched Vision Zero.

An executive directive issued by the mayor at that time called for a 20 percent reduction in deaths by 2017, with an emphasis on preventing “pedestrian fatalities involving older adults and children.” Traffic deaths rose 38 percent in 2016 and have fallen just 5 percent since then.

The transportation department’s initial count, which does not yet include the final two days of the year, also indicates that 127 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2018. That’s down slightly from the 135 pedestrian deaths recorded in 2017, but it’s the second-highest total in the last 15 years.

The data covers just the city of Los Angeles, and does not include neighboring parts of LA County.

Garcetti spokesperson Anna Bahr points out that overall traffic deaths, which include pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, have fallen since the first full year of the initiative, and that the city has made “more than 1,000 road safety improvements” in that time.

Those projects range from new high-visibility crosswalks to speed feedback signs, installed along the city’s deadliest traffic corridors.

“We will continue to pursue our goal of zero traffic deaths until we meet that mark, because loss of life and severe injuries resulting from traffic collisions are preventable outcomes we can address,” Bahr writes in an email.

The city’s efforts to cut down on traffic deaths mirror those of cities around the world, which have adopted similar Vision Zero goals.

Since Los Angeles launched its initiative, fatal crashes have spiked nationwide, with the rate of pedestrian deaths rising dramatically. In spite of that trend, the number of deaths in some U.S. cities with Vision Zero initiatives has plunged in recent years. In New York and San Francisco, the number of deadly collisions last year was close to the lowest level in a century.

In Los Angeles, almost as many bicyclists were killed in 2018 than all victims of fatal crashes in San Francisco, regardless of mode of travel. The 21 bicyclist deaths reported last year in LA is tied for the highest number since 2003.

Eli Akira Kaufman, director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, says those numbers are discouraging, given the long advocacy of cyclists for road safety measures.

“I think there is a frustration in the community about how incremental the work is,” he tells Curbed.

Kaufman points out that more comprehensive street safety measures can be politically tricky to implement.

On some streets, like a nearly mile-long stretch of Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista, transportation officials have reduced the number of lanes for cars, adding instead a center turn lane and protected bike lanes.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, these lane reconfigurations, or road diets, can reduce crashes by up to 47 percent, but opponents of the Venice Boulevard project argued that it had also worsened traffic in the area, pushing drivers onto residential side streets.

Resident resistance to similar projects in Playa del Rey was strong enough to inspire a preliminary recall effort against Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, before the lane reductions were abruptly reversed.

Kaufman says building community support for road diets and other measures will take time, though he argues that making the city safer is about more than individual projects.

“Infrastructure doesn’t save lives; culture does,” he says, arguing that it’s important for people to consider the safety of others when moving around the city.

After this story was published, Kaufman clarified that the coalition supports infrastructure changes aimed at reducing vehicle speeds.

“We’re all just people trying to get where we’re trying to go. And we’re trying to find a way for folks to recognize the shared experience—whether you’re on a bike, in a car, or on foot—of trying to navigate this humongous city.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the number of bicyclist deaths in Los Angeles was higher than the number of overall traffic deaths in San Francisco in 2018. There were 21 bicyclist deaths in LA, compared to 23 overall traffic deaths in San Francisco.