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Transportation and Mobility

What A Young Girl’s Death In A Crosswalk Tells Us About LA’s Traffic Violence

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(Dan Carino for LAist)
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Since last March, I’ve been walking a lot more. After working from the couch or dining room table, staring at screens for hours on end, it’s a relief to get out for some fresh air and sunshine.

But every time I step into a crosswalk, I think of Alessa Fajardo.

I was sitting at my desk in October 2019 — back when we still went into a building with other people to work — scrolling through Twitter when I first saw the breaking news headlines: A 4-year-old girl and her mother were walking to school in Koreatown when they were hit by a driver. The girl, Alessa, didn’t survive.

There wasn’t much detail about the collision itself. TV news cited police saying a woman was making a left turn and hit the mother and child in a crosswalk right in front of the school. Police officials called the tragedy “an unfortunate accident,” a phrase reiterated by TV reporters.

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At a memorial service for Alessa Fajardo a year after her death, family and friends donned shirts with the 4-year-old's picture. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

But these “accidents” — or what many safety advocates now refer to as traffic violence — happen regularly on the streets of Los Angeles. Alessa was one of more than 130 people killed by drivers while walking in the city in 2019. Hundreds more are injured by people driving cars each year.

As news of Alessa’s death spread, I scrolled through tweets expressing condolences for the young girl and her family — and outrage directed toward city leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti. There was a core question at the heart of the local outcry: Why isn’t the city doing more to make streets safer for people not traveling in cars?

That outcry led to protests outside L.A. City Hall, where activists demanded the city follow through on the promise of its plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. That plan, Vision Zero, was adopted from an international safety campaign that began in Europe in the late 1990s. The guiding philosophy of the program is that traffic deaths aren’t an accidental, unavoidable byproduct of transportation, but rather a result of prioritizing cars and their speedy movement above all other infrastructure decisions.

Mayor Garcetti launched L.A.’s Vision Zero strategy in 2015, but since then, traffic deaths have surged. City data showed 134 people lost their lives in traffic collisions while walking in 2019 — up from 87 in 2014 (the year before Vision Zero launched). Total traffic deaths have risen more than 30% over those five years.

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And if you think the effects of the pandemic made streets safer in 2020, think again (more on that below).

Alessa’s death stuck with me. The outrage of local parents and safety advocates who were waiting for L.A.’s leaders to put an end to the carnage stuck with me. And the dichotomy between the city’s officially adopted stance on traffic collisions and how police officers were characterizing what had happened stuck with me, too.

I hoped that learning who Alessa was and what happened to her would help me better understand the state of traffic violence in L.A. and what is and isn’t being done to curb reckless driving and save lives.

So I met with her family. I visited the intersection where she was killed. I spoke with LAPD and LADOT officials about the collision. I pored over the litany of safety improvements previously planned for the streets where she died — but not yet put in place. You can read my full story, as well as some key takeaways from my reporting, here: