Crossed swords over crosswalks

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July 17, 2014

By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

The 2015 West Hollywood election campaign is heating up earlier than ever before, with announced candidates establishing positions on the issue de jure – crosswalk safety.

The issue arose again in earnest in the days after June 28 when a 59 year old man crossing at Santa Monica Boulevard at Westmount was struck by a car.

This woman is receiving treatment  for minor injuries suffered in 2008 when she ran out into the intersection of Fairfax Ave. and Santa Monica Boulevard to catch a bus.

This woman is receiving treatment for minor injuries suffered in 2008 when she ran out into the intersection of Fairfax Ave. and Santa Monica Boulevard to catch a bus.

In late January, 2013, two men were struck by a bus as they maneuvered through a crosswalk at Palm Avenue. Both men died.

After council candidate Larry Block formed Cross Safe WeHo, a group of citizens organized to enhance crosswalk safety, a wave of interest in pedestrian safety has washed over the city.

He has complained that the commitment made by council earlier this year to buy flashing lights for certain intersections had not been fulfilled.

As he has raised attention, more neighborhood activists and candidates for city council have jumped on the bandwagon, including Cathy Blaivis, Stephanie Harker and Lauren Meister.

According to Melisa Antol, the city’s Long Range and Mobility Planning Manager, that order had not been placed because of concerns that the lights might not be the best solution, but more on that later.

This week, the residents were treated to finger pointing and back biting between the Public Safety Commission and the Transportation Commission.

On Monday night, Public Safety Commissioners claimed to have been attempting to make positive change, but have been hampered by Transportation Commission’s foot dragging.

Wednesday night, Transportation Commissioners, clearly caught off guard, reacted defensively, promising to step up attention and calling for staff to provide data concerning pedestrian accidents in the city.

The commission’s chair, Lindsey Horvath, once appointed to council and likely to run again, claimed that pedestrian issues had been brought up nearly four in five meetings, besides the commission’s taking a field trip.

Gladys Ryan, at the time 96 and a working actress, was struck by a car on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2009.

Gladys Ryan, at the time 96 and a working actress, was struck by a car on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2009.

Perhaps recalling her passivity from five years ago, an unidentified person from the audience, it is reported, demanded to know from her why the commission had taken no action.

In December, 2009, then-council member Lindsey Horvath said that she was wishing “for a policy of patience.

“I’d hope that drivers would have a little more patience with pedestrians and pedestrians have a little more patience with drivers. It’s an opportune time to remind people to exercise patience while they’re on the road,” Ms. Horvath said then.

The city began a pedestrian task force on the Transportation Commission in 2004, submitting reports on an irregular basis.

In a 2009 report, that task force returned to council with a staff report that said, in essence, that little could be done without upsetting a balance.  “Overall, the task of balancing the convenience against the hazards of midblock crossing in crosswalks is a difficult one with no clear or easy answers.”

The report came in the wake of a pedestrian accident in a controlled intersection that left Gladys Ryan, age 96 and a working actress, with leg injuries.“I had a terrific bang, was bleeding from my head, you know,” she said. “Was knocked back into last week, as they say.”

According to the police report, Ms. Ryan was not at fault; the driver, Nilly Shamszadeh, allegedly had a handheld phone on the car seat when deputies spoke with her.

Controlled intersections in combination with a heightened awareness is adequate to prevent all but the most egregiously inattentive from being in an accident.

Controlled intersections in combination with a heightened awareness is adequate to prevent all but the most egregiously inattentive from being in an accident.

Regardless of whose fault the accidents are, any injury or any death of a pedestrian is too many, and the civic leaders would like to reach a total of zero per year. And they just might make it.

One of the pieces of data residing in city hall that no one seems to have looked at is a  Pedestrian & Bike Accident Data report that shows sum totals for the years 2007-2012 (the information the Transportation Commission requested on Wednesday night).

The big news in that report was that pedestrian accidents in West Hollywood are down almost 40 percent from 51 in 2010 to 32. There have been six fatalities stemming from five accidents.

edestrian accidents in West Hollywood are down almost 40 percent from 51 in 2010 to 32.

Pedestrian accidents in West Hollywood are down almost 40 percent from 51 in 2010 to 32.

And three intersections in Boystown comprise 27 of the 32 pedestrian accidents in 2012, where Santa Monica Boulevard meets San Vicente Boulevard, Palm Avenue or Robertson Boulevard.

In another, separate report put together by staff five years ago, the researchers conducting a San Diego pedestrian accident study that showed a conclusive correlation between marked, flashing crosswalks and pedestrian accidents.

The study showed that a person using a marked crosswalk was twice as likely as to get hit than those using unmarked crosswalks.

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These people are giving their eyewitness accounts of a pedestrian accident.

The markings, flashing lights and other helpmates to pedestrians give them a greater sense of security than they ought to feel and makes them less likely to watch oncoming traffic closely.

They say also that pedestrians sometimes feel they have the right of way, so they drop their guard, placing themselves in hazardous positions with the mistaken belief that a vehicle can or will stop for them in all cases – even when it may be impossible to do so.

By contrast, the researchers said, a pedestrian crossing without a marked crosswalk and/or jaywalking will feel less secure and pay more attention to finding appropriate gaps in traffic before crossing the street.

The study found that unmarked intersections had far fewer pedestrian accidents, a counterintuitive outcome, but the San Diego researchers said came from pedestrians exercising sufficient caution.

Experts say that pedestrians must watch drivers carefully, trying to meet their eyes or find other discernible methods of their slowing to a stop before casting off into the lane.

Car drivers’ view of crosswalks is limited when the driver is at the safe stopping sight distance due to the effects of foreshortening and distance diminishment. Factors such as road alignment, irregularities in the pavement and other variables like cell phone use, weather, dirty windshield, and glare add to the difficulties drivers’ face.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, which tracks injuries and deaths from traffic incidents, says that those most at risk are older adults (20 percent), drivers and pedestrians who are alcohol-impaired (47 percent) and children.

For additional information on this issue, see

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