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Transportation and Mobility

After Years Of Rising Traffic Violence, LA Will Audit Its Vision Zero Program

A severely mangled car rests against a pole near a freeway onramp in Los Angeles. A tent in the background covers a dead victim.
The aftermath of a fatal crash in Los Angeles in April 2020.
(Courtesy LAPD Commander Marc Reina via Twitter)
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The city of Los Angeles will conduct an audit of its flagship street safety program as traffic deaths and injuries continue to rise.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Vision Zero program in 2015 through an executive directive, with the goal to eliminate traffic deaths on city streets by 2025.

To do that, L.A.’s Department of Transportation, along with several other city agencies, are tasked with redesigning streets to be safer, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. That includes improvements to crosswalks, sidewalks, traffic signals and bike lanes — part of an effort to compel drivers to slow down and pay attention.

But as City Councilmember Paul Kortez notes in his motion calling for the audit: “it does not appear that we are on track to achieve the goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2025.”

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That’s putting it mildly. More than six years into the program, L.A.’s streets have become even deadlier, especially for people walking. Last year, someone was killed in a crash in L.A. every 30 hours on average.

In 2015, 186 people were killed in crashes on city streets. Last year, the death toll was 294, according to preliminary city data. Pedestrians make up the largest share of victims, with 132 people killed by drivers while walking last year. That’s up 50% from 2015.

Roughly 1,480 people were seriously injured in crashes last year, up 30% from 2020.

This year is on pace to be even worse. Within the first 15 weeks of 2022, 95 people were killed in crashes, according to preliminary city data.

The number of pedestrians killed by drivers is especially grim — up 53% citywide from the same time period last year. The highest share of those deaths are happening in South L.A., where pedestrian deaths are up 118% from this time last year. Serious injuries are up 22%.

L.A. isn’t an outlier — traffic deaths have surged across the U.S. in recent years.

“But this reality doesn't let the city of L.A. off the hook,” Koretz said during Friday’s council meeting. “This is a safety issue, a public health issue, a quality of life issue. It's a funding and resource issue and it's an issue of priorities for our city.”

The motion directs the City Controller's office to conduct a review the program, which “should identify barriers… such as funding and staff resources, interdepartmental coordination, and political support — and recommendations to overcome them."

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That part about “political support” stood out to John Yi, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks. He’s encouraged by the audit, but said he hopes the city controller’s office will focus less on the program itself and more on the “structural political hurdles” that he and other safety advocates have long pointed to as the root cause of Vision Zero’s shortfalls.

More then a dozen people lie down on the front steps of L.A. City Hall in front of a banner that reads Vision Zero?
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

“Structurally, we have a political system that has not had a unified vision of Vision Zero — it's 15 different approaches to Vision Zero,” Yi told LAist. “How do we give political elected officials the confidence, or the political courage… to get more bike lanes, more bus lanes, flatter sidewalks, [and] slower streets? Because right now, it's just too politically risky for elected officials and they’re not willing to be a leader on this.”

For years, pedestrian and cyclist advocates have called on L.A. leaders to invest more in the program, warning that a “piecemeal” approach would only lead to more deaths.

Back in 2020, City Councilmember Mike Bonin put it this way in an interview with LAist:

The thing that's missing from Vision Zero is the implementation, to be honest. We approved the plan and we talked about the plan, but we have not moved forward with it ... it's gotten a little bit of money every year, but it still is not something that is sort of a living, breathing initiative in Los Angeles.

The motion approved Friday also calls on city agencies that conduct Vision Zero work — which includes LADOT, the Bureau of Engineering, the Bureau of Street Services, the Bureau of Street Lighting, and the police department — to submit a status update on the work they’ve done so far and what they need to actually accomplish the program’s goal.

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