LA's Remembering People Killed In Traffic Collisions With 'Rainbow Halos'

City officials say their goal is to install 100 "rainbow halos," created by local artist John Morse, across L.A. in an effort to raise awareness for preventable traffic deaths and the city's Vision Zero initiative to eliminate all traffic deaths. (Courtesy LADOT)

A new art project will memorialize lives lost in traffic collisions on L.A. city streets. Last week, Los Angeles city officials formally announced the installation of "rainbow halos" — mounted multicolored discs that cast a colorful glow when sunlight shines through them.

The most recent was unveiled in Sherman Oaks. The halo was posted on Woodman Avenue and Addison Street, near the spot where 16-year-old Conor Lynch was struck and killed by a driver who then fled the scene. Lynch, a student and cross country runner at Notre Dame High School had been jogging when he was hit.

The halos, created by local artist John Morse, are a joint effort between the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Transportation. While some have already been installed, city officials said the goal is to place 100 across L.A. to commemorate victims of fatal traffic collisions.

LADOT is partnering with Southern California Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group for families whose loved ones were killed or seriously injured by motorists, to select future locations for rainbow halos.

"It's about using every tool in the toolbox to to raise awareness about street safety," said LADOT spokeswoman Connie Llanos. "Art — and thinking about ways in which art can be a part of our public right-of-way — allows us to see streets for more than just places for cars to get from point A to point B."

A 'STAGNANT' START TO VISION ZERO

Meanwhile, there's been little, if any, decrease in the number of people dying in traffic incidents in the past few years, even as the city ramps up its Vision Zero initiative, described by Mayor Eric Garcetti as "an international movement, based on the fundamental principle that loss of life due to traffic collisions is unacceptable and preventable." The goal of L.A.'s Vision Zero is to eliminate all traffic deaths in the city by 2025 through coordinated engineering, traffic enforcement and public education.

In 2016, the first full year of Vision Zero, 253 people died in traffic collisions — up about 38% from 2015, according to city data. The next year, officials recorded 244 traffic deaths, down slightly from 2016, but still notably higher than 2015. Pedestrian deaths skyrocketed more than 80% between 2015 and 2017.

Overall, four fewer people were killed in traffic crashes in 2018 than in 2017, according to preliminary city data. However, more motorists and cyclists died than the previous year, continuing an upward trend for those categories.

John Yi, executive director for street safety advocacy group Los Angeles Walks, pointed out that while awareness efforts like the city's memorial art initiative play a role, "it's by no means the solution."

Yi said his organization started using the term "car violence" as a way to reframe the conversation around traffic deaths in much the same way that the term gun violence has been used to advocate for policies to reduce gun deaths.

"Someone is impacted, there's a death that happens or injury that happens because of the car," Yi said. "We don't want to put the blame on the driver, because oftentimes, it's the way that our cities are built, it's the way the streets are built. It's the... cultural norm that we've even set as a society on speed and what streets mean to us."

"By focusing on the instruments, we then ask yourselves, 'then what can we do policy-wise to create a better system or city so that cars can actually be safer for pedestrians and bicycles alike?'" he said.


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Yi also registered some disappointment with City Hall, calling Garcetti's leadership on Vision Zero "a bit muted," especially given the slow progress so far on saving lives.

"The numbers really have been sort of stagnant," he said. "There could be more visibility around this."

For Jessica Meaney, executive director of community advocacy group Investing in Place, the lack of progress to reduce traffic deaths represents a "heartbreaking" crisis that requires city leaders to be more courageous in pushing for safety-focused street redesigns.

"I do think we need to see bolder action from City Hall than we've seen," she said. "But I also think the issue [has] escalated to even more community issues that we're all struggling with in our neighborhoods — around affordable housing, around accessible sidewalks, around bus shelters... we've stalled out on a lot of these important things that impact people's ability to get around and live in Los Angeles."

Which brings us back to the suncatcher art project.

City officials see the rainbow halos as a physical beacon, signaling the need for street safety improvements to reduce traffic deaths. They're "more than just a gesture," LADOT's Llanos told LAist.

"It's through that conversation and that engagement that we can ensure that we continue to have the funding that we need and the community support and buy-in that we need to be able to make the changes to streets... to improve safety for everybody," she said.

'A TOUGH YEAR' SO FAR

(Courtesy LADOT)

Based on the preliminary data available from LAPD officials so far in 2019, "it's a tough year, where we're not seeing the kinds of declines that we want to see," Llanos told LAist.

According to preliminary traffic collision data from LAPD, through Aug. 3 this year, fatal collisions are virtually unchanged from the same time period in 2018. DUI-related fatal crashes were up 50% from the same time last year and pedestrian deaths were up 6%. Again, these statistics are tentative and it'll be several years before the official figures are released.

While the city is "challenged" by this slow rate of progress, Llanos said LADOT is committed to eliminating traffic deaths "by working with the community to gain support for our projects and delivering improvements to neighborhoods that help make our streets safer for all." Since 2017, according to LADOT, those improvements include:

"This design of our transportation infrastructure that privileges car above anyone else is 60 to 70 years in the making, so rethinking this infrastructure and changing it will take time," Meaney said. "But I think we can't wait much longer."