Crosswalks. There are few things in Los Angeles that create such controversy, yet are part of our everyday lives. In truth, every intersection in Los Angeles is a crosswalk, unless specifically marked otherwise, much to the consternation of the LADOT. When students are rundown in the crosswalk at USC, planners and engineers take a look at the crosswalk. When cities try to figure out the safest way to get students to and from school, a big part of the effort is a look at the crosswalks.
Yet, a lot of our city officials still don’t understand crosswalks. When an intersection has an unacceptable number of crashes, the many LAPD divisions respond by ticketing pedestrians crossing against a flashing hand, even if they get through the intersection before the hand solidifies; while drivers continue to merrily run red lights right in front of them. In 2007, the LAPD gained notoriety nationwide when they ticketed an 82-year old "cane wielding" woman who couldn’t cross the street in the time the pedestrian signal gave her. Amazingly, the LAPD closed ranks around "Officer Kelly" claiming he was saving her life. Who can forget the memorable quote from Kelly’s boss,
"I’d rather not have angry pedestrians," Zaboski said. "But I’d rather have them be alive."
When a group of students tested whether they could cross the street in the time allowed they could, but only if they ran. Maybe next time Officer Kelly could put down his pad and help the elderly?
And last week the LAPD was back in the news concerning crosswalks, this time showing a lack of understanding of the law, not just a lack of common sense. A woman riding her bike in a crosswalk is killed by a collision with a car. The officer on the scene determines the woman is at fault because she was riding on a crosswalk and riding the wrong way, against the flow of traffic.
That would make for sound legal reasoning, except in Los Angeles it is legal to ride on the sidewalk and there is no such thing as crossing the "wrong way" in a crosswalk. When a local cyclist wrote their Councilman, Greg Smith, he received a response from the Chief of Staff, John Dellinger who wrote about his decades of experience with the LAPD and went on to repeat several falsehoods, including the oft repeated myths that cyclists can’t ride in crosswalks or sidewalks.
At the bottom of his excellent post, "Who Teaches the Teachers," Stephen Box notes that nowhere in federal, state or city law does it state that it is illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk. In fact, when the LADOT and Metro design bike trails, such as the Orange Line Bike Path, they actually require people to cross the street at crosswalks at various locations. Yet neither the officers at the scene nor the City Council Office, with its decades of experience as a police officer, seemed to know this.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find out what exactly the LAPD is teaching its beat officers about crosswalks. When directed by the City Council to discuss their training, the LAPD discusses their training of pedestrians and cyclists. When the LADOT is asked about their outreach efforts and why they can’t get the message across they actually take credit for other state’s far more succesful programs, claiming they crib their writing, even while the LAPD continues to add to their laughable track record.