At A City Hall 'Die-In', Protesters Demand Safer Streets And Bold Action From LA Leaders

Street safety advocates held a die-in protest on the front steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, calling on city leaders to take bold action to address the surge in traffic deaths in recent years. (Ryan Fonseca/LAist)

Fed up by the lack of progress on reducing traffic deaths in Los Angeles, dozens of protesters staged a die-in outside City Hall Tuesday, calling on city leaders to take swift, bold action to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

"We have all the tools and solutions to solve this crisis," said cyclist and organizer Andres Quinche. "What we are lacking is the courage and the conviction from our city council members, our mayor, (and) the Department of Transportation to stand up and say that safety matters more than speed, and that someone's life is more valuable than a driver losing 10 seconds on their way to work."

Roughly 30 people, many with their bikes and helmets in tow, laid down on the front steps of City Hall in a silent protest to commemorate the lives cut short by car collisions on L.A. streets. Signs were placed on the steps, some featuring the names of cyclists and pedestrians fatally struck by vehicles on city streets, others taking aim at Vision Zero — the street safety initiative adopted by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015.

Despite Mayor Eric Garcetti enacting a Vision Zero program in Los Angeles, the number of people killed in traffic collisions — particularly pedestrian and cyclists — has surged in recent years. (Ryan Fonseca/LAist)

Despite Garcetti's goal to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025, the number of people killed on city streets has surged in recent years. Pedestrian deaths jumped more than 80% between 2015 and 2017 and have outpaced motorist deaths every year since 2010.

An estimated 240 people died in traffic collisions in L.A. last year — 127 of them pedestrians and 21 cyclists. And based on the preliminary data for 2019, the death toll will be comparably high this year.

From Jan. 1 through Nov. 23 this year, an estimated 121 pedestrians and 17 cyclists have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles, according to data from the LAPD. In total, 225 traffic deaths have been recorded in L.A. so far this year, though the final year-end figures are subject to change when they are released in early 2020.

Quinche said he and fellow cyclists are hoping for some acknowledgement from Garcetti and other city leaders, who he said have largely been "radio silent on this issue."

"I call the mayor's office once a week to ask about this," he said. "And I always get a response that someone's going to get back to me about it. And it's been maybe like two months since the last protest we staged and I haven't heard anything."

At Tuesday's demonstration, one bike displayed a tribute to cyclist Lenny Trinh, a 52-year-old Postal Service worker who was riding in a bike lane in Burbank when he was doored, then fatally struck by a passing truck last April.

One cyclists bike commemorated Lenny Trinh, who was fatally hit by a truck while riding in a Burbank bike lane last April. (Ryan Fonseca/LAist)

That bike belongs to cyclist Vera Valentine, who uses her bike and public transit to commute between East L.A. and Burbank for work. She took a detour to City Hall Tuesday "to show up a little bit more for the cycling community" and said L.A.'s work on street safety hasn't made a meaningful impact so far.

"Vision Zero is zero vision, in my opinion, because when you ask anybody what it means, they don't know," Valentine said. She believes stronger driver-based education is needed so people behind the wheel are more aware and respectful of sharing the road with cyclists.

Eagle Rock resident Cyndi Otteson said the recent death of a 4-year-old girl who was fatally struck while walking to school in Koreatown broke her heart, especially as a mother who walks her own children to school.

Otteson, who is running for the District 14 city council seat, said she leaves her phone at home on those walks, remaining "completely on guard" against the threat of drivers speeding on Colorado Boulevard. She said for that 30-minute round trip, she makes sure her children don't cross without her and that they don't step off the curb until they've all counted to five.

"[I] make them aware that at any given point, that we are afraid of cars [and] that a car can come and hit them because they're not paying attention," she said. "Every day I am riddled with anxiety until I get them through the school gates."

For Otteson, public demonstrations are an important way to keep pressure on city leaders to follow through on their goals to make streets safer for children, families and everyone navigating L.A. without a car. But change won't happen without more investments in making structural changes to the way people get around, she said.

"We can't ask people to make those changes in behavior if we don't have the infrastructure ready," she said. "It's like saying 'step on a boat,' but the boat isn't even at the dock."

Street safety advocates held a die-in protest on the front steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, calling on city leaders to take bold action to address the surge in traffic deaths in recent years. (Ryan Fonseca/LAist)

Asked about the state of street safety and Tuesday's protest, Mayor Garcetti's office spokesman Harrison Wollman provided the following statement:

"Every decision we make regarding street safety is with Angelenos' well-being in mind. The Mayor will always push to create and accelerate common sense safety improvements that can save lives."

Nearly 60 Vision Zero-related safety improvement projects are being studied, planned or underway across the city, according to LADOT officials. Those improvements include installing speed feedback signs, upgrading crosswalks and traffic signals, and adding protected bike lanes. You can explore a map of city projects on LADOT's Livable Streets website.

MORE ON STREET SAFETY IN LA

UPDATES:

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 10:43 a.m.: This article was updated with more recent traffic collision data from the Los Angeles Police Department.

This article was originally published at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3.