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Even With Stay-At-Home Orders, LA Traffic Deaths Are Keeping Pace With Last Year

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(Courtesy LAPD via Twitter)
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Before the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles city streets were a dangerous place, especially for people walking and biking. While there was an initial lull in collisions and deaths under the “Safer at Home” orders, now there is bad news.

Despite a period of far fewer cars on the road, traffic fatalities are on par with this time last year, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

So far this year, 86 people have been killed in traffic collisions on city streets, Commander Marc Reina of the LAPD’s Traffic Group said at a news conference Thursday.

“To put that in perspective, year-to-date, 89 people have been the victim of homicide within the city of Los Angeles,” Reina said. “Even with the stay-at-home orders still in effect, we're currently at the same amount of [traffic] fatalities that we had at this time last year.”

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Commander Reina had a simple message for drivers:

“Please slow down. Put your cell phones down. Don't be a distracted driver and be extremely mindful of your surroundings — especially of the pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Of the 86 deaths reported so far this year, Reina said:
  • 50 victims — nearly 60% — were pedestrians killed by drivers
  • 3 victims were bicyclists
  • 14 of the pedestrian victims were reportedly people experiencing homelessness

In addition, police have logged more than 360 collisions that caused severe injuries, Reina said.
According to LAPD Deputy Chief Blake Chow, the city experienced a lull in fatal collisions in the first few weeks of the city’s stay-at-home order. “But around the beginning of April, people started getting back on the road [and] going to work,” he said, “and we saw a significant spike in our fatal traffic collisions.”

Police officials and community safety advocates also addressed a May 1 collision in South L.A. that in which three people were killed. Unsafe speed was a factor in that crash.

Fewer cars on the roads means more open streets, which has enticed more drivers to speed citywide, according to data from the L.A. Department of Transportation. Dan Mitchell, chief engineer for LADOT, told me data from speed feedback signs installed throughout the city show a slight but “pretty consistent” increase in speeding.

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“What feels comfortable in a car feels very differently to people who are outside of a car riding a bike, or a scooter, or on foot,” he said. “It's important that people are aware that we have more people out and about, and that they're particularly vulnerable to people driving their car too fast.”

In all of 2019, more than 240 people died in traffic collisions on L.A. streets, according to city data. Roughly 55% of those victims were pedestrians struck by drivers. In the past 10 years, overall traffic deaths in Los Angeles have risen 32%. The number of pedestrians killed by drivers jumped 52% in that same time frame.

The lack of progress to make L.A. streets safer for people not driving cars has become our new normal, even as the city continues work on Vision Zero, an international safety initiative that Mayor Eric Garcetti launched locally in 2015.

The goal of the program is in the name: a city where not one person is killed in a traffic crash. To get there, L.A. needs to dramatically overhaul its safety infrastructure citywide by improving crosswalks, traffic signals, bike lanes and much more — while also working to curtail speeding drivers. As I’ve reported previously, the city is falling short on both fronts.

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