LA Safety Activists' DIY Crosswalks Have Been Removed. Here’s What’s Next For One Neighborhood
Remember our reporting on guerrilla crosswalks that community safety activists painted at the residential intersection in East Hollywood?
Crosswalk Collective LA said the DIY project at Romaine Street and Serrano Avenue — and more in the works — was a reaction to a pattern of inaction from city leaders to improve safety for Angelenos, especially the most vulnerable.
Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesperson Colin Sweeney told us that any “unauthorized alteration to a street,” such as the crosswalks at Romaine and Serrano, “is subject to removal.”
And on Friday, that’s what happened. Video provided by Crosswalk Collective LA members shows a mixed crew of city workers and contractors using bobcats to grind off the stripes of white paint the safety activists added in mid-March.
The neighborhood is losing the marked crosswalks, but gaining a traffic circle, which will include plastic bollards, signs and paint — similar to this Slow Streets upgrade in South L.A.
It’s part of a slate of safety upgrades planned for the neighborhood through LADOT’s Slow Streets program, which launched in 2020. The program aims to make neighborhood streets safer for people walking and biking — which a lot more Angelenos started doing when stay-at-home orders took effect.
The traffic circle and related upgrades were initially presented to the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council earlier this year. Council members voted in support of the project in late April, giving LADOT the community approval they seek to move forward with street changes.
Sweeney told LAist the traffic circle would be completed Friday and the rest of the "Phase II" improvements would be added over the next two weeks.
Initially, Slow Streets amounted to A-frame barriers, cones and signs indicating streets are for local traffic only and imploring drivers to slow down and be mindful of other road users. For an idea of how enforcement works on Slow Streets, here’s a gif.
The Slow Streets network also shows up on Google Maps, thanks to nonprofit street safety advocacy group Streets For All, which shared the city’s geodata with the company.
Slow Streets covers roughly 50 miles of city streets in about 30 neighborhoods across the city, LADOT previously said, but expansion has been on hold for a while. That’s because the department is working to enhance the existing network with “more durable materials that can be implemented quickly at low cost,” Sweeney told me back in June 2022.
Members of Crosswalk Collective LA say they resorted to guerrilla tactics after trying for years to get crosswalks and other safety improvements on their neighborhood streets.
“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,” the group said in a March statement about its project at Romaine and Serrano. “If our city won’t keep us safe, we will keep us safe.”
Crosswalk Collective LA is has created an online form so L.A. residents can request a crosswalk in their neighborhoods. The group told me it's received nearly 160 requests so far — most through the form and some through social media.
The same morning the city was removing the crosswalks in East Hollywood, group members were fulfilling a resident’s request in Silverlake.
While the city was removing our crosswalks at Romaine & Serrano, we painted one that was requested April 11 by a resident through our request form. The city doesn't keep us safe, so we keep us safe.— Crosswalk Collective LA (@CrosswalksLA) May 20, 2022
New crosswalk installed at Rosemont & Marathon, Silverlake #CrosswalkCollective pic.twitter.com/b8VWBUgUBu
The activists have also published a how-to guide aimed at helping residents safely paint crosswalks on their own.
Crosswalk Collective LA’s unauthorized actions have not gone unchecked. The group said an LADOT crew saw them painting crosswalks in April and called the LAPD, which responded and cited each member $250 for "injury to public property."
Later Friday afternoon, an organizer with the group tweeted video of the city removing other crosswalks they painted in April at San Marino Street and S. Serrano Avenue in Koreatown.
LADOT did not comment further on the crosswalk removals. When I first reported on the crosswalks painted in East Hollywood, I asked LADOT and the city attorney’s office if they could create a liability issue for the city. Both declined to comment.
Amid the group's action and the city's reaction, the number of pedestrians killed by drivers on L.A. streets continues to rise. Based on preliminary city data for the first four months of 2022, 58 people have been killed while walking — up 52% from the first four months last year. More pedestrians are being severely injured by drivers this year, too.
Local response to the DIY crosswalks has been largely positive, according to the group. Several residents I spoke with in March voiced support and said they felt safer walking in their neighborhood since the marked crossings were added.
“People are dying because [the] city council refuses to act,” East Hollywood resident Damien Burke told me. He said while he’s grateful for the community group’s efforts, clearly it’s not enough.
“The fact we have to rely on groups like Crosswalk Collective LA for infrastructure that makes our streets safer is indicative of how the city has let us down,” he said. "[The] City Council and Councilmember O’Farrell have failed us.”
A spokesperson for Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the neighborhood as part of Council District 13, said pedestrian safety “has been a top priority”:
“Since taking office, our district has installed or upgraded more than 500 crosswalks, nearly 100 speed humps, and more than 250 stop signs — including new stop signs at Romaine/Serrano… Any Angeleno seeking upgrades or improvements to our transportation infrastructure is encouraged to submit a formal request through the Department of Transportation.”
But it's unclear how far those formal requests will get right now. LADOT's online portal for service requests notes that the department "has limited safety requests to the most essential needs” due to the pandemic, including "urgent pedestrian crossing issues.” LADOT does not clearly define what qualifies as urgent.
And as I reported recently, LADOT is alarmingly understaffed right now, which one city leader said constitutes “a threat to public safety.”