Angelenos Are Taking Street Safety Into Their Own Hands With DIY Crosswalks
The intersection of Romaine Street and Serrano Avenue in East Hollywood is in a residential neighborhood, but it’s busy. In the brief time I was there Wednesday afternoon, I counted dozens of people walking with their groceries, kids or dogs, plus a few cyclists — and plenty of people driving.
I was there to see the white stripes — specifically the zebra-esque paint markings used to make continental crosswalks, which adorn all four sides of the intersection.
But this paint is different: it’s “unauthorized,” according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and these crosswalks didn’t exist a couple weeks ago.
They were painted by a DIY crew called Crosswalk Collective LA, who showcased their work on Twitter.
“We are a small group of community members who have tried for years to request crosswalks and other safe streets infrastructure the official way,” the group said in a media statement. “At every turn, we’ve been met with delays, excuses, and inaction from our city government, as well as active hostility to safe streets projects from sitting councilmembers.”
These four crosswalks were the group’s first strike, but the collective plans to keep painting. The group has not disclosed much about their plans or approach, but did tell Twitter users that they used a “professional-grade stencil” to make the crosswalks.
They’ve also shared an online form residents can fill out to request crosswalks in their communities. The collective told LAist they’ve received 30 requests so far, from neighborhoods including Crenshaw, Venice, Highland Park and Koreatown.
This guerrilla approach to street safety is best explained by the group’s motto, found in their Twitter feed: “The city doesn't keep us safe, so we keep us safe.”
That sentiment echoes the same frustrations I’ve heard from many residents and community advocates over the years: the city is not acting fast enough to improve streets and protect its most vulnerable residents.
In L.A. and across the U.S., traffic violence is a tragic but ubiquitous part of everyday life, especially for people walking. And despite an initiative meant to reduce and ultimately eliminate traffic deaths, the number of people killed in crashes has surged over the past decade.
City data shows 132 pedestrians were killed by drivers on L.A. streets in 2021. That represents a 73% increase over 10 years.
‘A Powerful Statement’
The collective told LAist they received “extremely positive” reactions from residents as they were painting the crosswalks, including from drivers. They said some even pulled over to say thanks and share stories about near-misses at the intersection.
On my visit Wednesday, pedestrians and vehicles moved through the intersection almost constantly. If I hadn’t known their origin, I’d have assumed the crosswalks were a standard city-made feature.
Walking home after a lunch run, Diana Umana told me she saw the crew painting the crosswalks a couple weeks ago and noticed they didn’t look like city workers. Despite some recent donut marks she pointed out, she feels the new crossings are making the streets safer.
“There's a park right around there [and] lots of kids in the area walk home from school,” she told me. “I think it definitely should happen more.”
Roommates Flasch and Kiddest told me they walk and ride scooters in the neighborhood multiple times a day and are grateful that someone took action.
“I saw them when they were painting it and I was like, ‘thank you!’ because I always felt like I was gonna get hit when I was walking over here,” said Flasch. “We have more of a right-of-way now that the crosswalks are here… people are actually going slower.”
“It’s interesting that people did it as a response against the city government because the city government wasn't doing it,” said Kiddest. “That’s probably a powerful statement.”
How Will The City Respond?
Asked for comment, LADOT spokesperson Colin Sweeney said any “unauthorized alteration to a street,” such as the crosswalks at Romaine and Serrano, “is subject to removal.”
“We encourage individuals and organizations to work with us by contacting LADOT’s regional district offices or the office of their councilmember to ensure safety treatments are properly installed,” he added.
Asked if the department had received past requests for safety improvements at that intersection, Sweeney told LAist the only request on record was to convert it from a two-way stop to an all-way stop, which was approved and added in 2017.
“LADOT works to respond to requests for safety improvements promptly based on available resources,” he said. “Our engineering office has reviewed requests made for safety improvements at this location and it appears the group [Crosswalk Collective LA] has not contacted LADOT or made any requests for such improvements.”
The East Hollywood neighborhood is part of Council District 13, represented by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. Dan Halden, a spokesperson for O’Farrell’s office, said the district has “installed or upgraded more than 500 crosswalks, nearly 100 speed humps, and more than 250 stop signs” during O’Farrell’s tenure.
“Any Angeleno seeking upgrades or improvements to our transportation infrastructure is encouraged to submit a formal request through the Department of Transportation,” the statement reads. “We'll remain committed to pedestrian safety and to working collaboratively with stakeholders through the appropriate processes.”
But it's unclear how far residents' requests will get right now. LADOT's online service request form notes that the department "has limited safety requests to the most essential needs during the COVID-19 Pandemic." That includes "urgent pedestrian crossing issues," though LADOT does not clearly define what those are.
Crosswalk Collective LA shared with LAist some of the comments residents had submitted with their online request for crosswalks. Several wrote that they’d voiced concerns to LADOT or their councilmember’s office and asked for safety improvements, but changes never came. One person wrote:
"Our community has repeatedly requested the City to do something to slow the traffic and ensure that pedestrians who cross here are visibly seen. No one has done anything for years. A crosswalk would ensure that automobiles respect the pedestrian right of way."
Southern District: 310-732-4599
Central District: 213-972-4990
West Valley: 818-774-4306
East Valley: 818-374-4688
The city is planning some safety improvements at Romaine and Serrano, including installing a traffic circle at the intersection, Sweeney told me. That’s part of LADOT’s work to upgrade its Slow Streets network, which includes Romaine Street, Serrano Avenue and other local streets in the neighborhood. That program launched in 2020 in response to the pandemic as many Angelenos began walking and biking more in their neighborhoods during stay-at-home orders.
LADOT sent the plans to the local neighborhood council earlier this year, according to Sweeney, and “are awaiting a letter of approval before proceeding with implementation.”
The traffic circle would “likely” amount to plastic bollards, signs and paint, similar to one installed as part of a Slow Streets upgrade in South L.A., Sweeney said. That treatment does not include marked crosswalks.
When it comes to the fate of the DIY crosswalks, “LADOT will address this issue separately,” Sweeney said.
We wondered if DIY street changes like these crosswalks could create a liability issue for the city. Both LADOT and the city attorney’s office declined to comment.