Nobody walks in L.A. – and maybe for good reason.
According to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, cited by the Los Angeles Times, pedestrians and bicyclists in Los Angeles are killed at a significantly higher rate than in other states.
In Los Angeles, pedestrians accounted for about a third of all traffic fatalities, or nearly triple the national average of 11.4%. About 3% of the fatalities were bicyclists, compared with 1.7% nationally.
“This is a matter of exposure,” said Michael Sivak, a professor at the Institute and study co-author along with Shan Bao. “When you look at large urban areas you have a wider mix of road users.”
The numbers are even worse in urban New York, where 49.6% of traffic fatalities were pedestrians and 6.1% were bicyclists.
The study, which compared crash rates in Los Angeles, New York and nationwide, examined data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the California Highway Patrol and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The database included 449,498 crashes within Los Angeles during the eight-year period of 2002 through 2009.
“You can look at the kinds of crashes in which the city is overrepresented and say that those are the areas that safety and traffic officials should pay more attention to,” Sivak said.
About 20% of all trips in Los Angeles County are on foot or by bike, but less than 1% of transportation funding in the county goes to improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists, said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
“If we want to get serious about traffic safety, we need to get serious about funding equity so we can build infrastructure that allows people to walk and bike safely around their communities,” he said. “Our current metrics value automobile throughput over traffic safety.”
California Office of Traffic Safety Spokesman Chris Cochran told the Pasadena Star-News that he has seen a trend in recent years of increased traffic accidents with bicyclists. The rise could partially be connected to the increase in adults riding their bikes to work and for exercise.
South Pasadena resident and retired neurosurgeon Bill Sherman said he was “sideswiped” by a car in Pasadena recently while trying to make a left turn on his bicycle. This was his second crash, he said, and he’s not surprised.
“Drivers don’t look for bikes and we almost are invisible,” Sherman said. “I think when you talk to bike riders, everybody has had an accident or been threatened with an accident.”
And Sherman isn’t alone. Two bikers were injured in car collisions in La Canada Flintridge in September, a man on a bicycle was killed when a train hit him in Norwalk in September and a 70-year-old bicyclist was hit by a bus in Baldwin Park in August.
One measure that bicycle advocates said would improve safety was recently vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown rejected legislation that would require drivers to give bicyclists at least three feet of room while passing, or slow down to 15 MPH – citing concern that it could cause more car accidents.
While both sides tend to blame the other, California Highway Patrol spokesman Saul Gomez said he thinks the responsibility for bike and car collisions goes both ways. Bicyclists need to follow traffic laws more closely, and drivers need to be more considerate of bikers on the road, he said.
“The problem with bicyclists and motorists in general is that we have to have mutual respect for one another,” Gomez said.
In other findings, the University of Michigan researchers found that women who lived in Los Angeles were less likely to be in an accident than men. Other highlights include more fatal crashes at intersections (36% in Los Angeles versus 22% in the U.S.), and more fatal crashes at low speeds (66.5% in Los Angeles versus 21.8% in the U.S.).