Reviewing the Media Reviews of Los Angeles’ Dangerous Streets

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times got the scoop on all of us with by publishing the findings of a University of Michigan study that showed that both New York and Los Angeles are more dangerous places to walk than an average American city.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Pedestrians in Los Angeles account for about a third of all traffic fatalities – triple the national average of 11.4%,
  • 3% of L.A.’s fatalities are bicyclists, nearly double the 1.7% national average,
  • 36% of all crashes at intersection are fatal versus. “Only” 22% are fatal nationwide,
  • Nearly two-thirds of all crashes at low speed, cars going thirty five miles per hour, cause a fatality. The number is only 21.8% nationwide.
CBS uses this graphic to announce deadly crashes in Los Angeles.

These numbers were even worse in New York City, but of course New York has higher numbers of trips made on foot and on bike than Los Angeles does.

While the study isn’t particularly surprising, it does provide an interesting look at how Los Angeles’ large media organizations cover such a story. In an opinion piece today, Paul Whitfield notes that commenters at the Times split into two camps: “drivers are dangerous,” or “pedestrians are idiots.”

However, the media in general placed the blame largely on Los Angeles’ drivers, following the lead created in the Los Angeles Times’ initial story

L.A. drivers have a high rate of fatal pedestrian, cyclists crashes,” blares the headline in yesterday’s Business Section of the Times. Inside the article, author Jerry Hirsch talks to both the report author and the Bike Coalition’s Eric Bruins. Both clearly state that better investment could create better streets, although Bruins also takes time to tweak Governor Jerry Brown for vetoing the “3 Feet Please” legislation that would mandate safe passing distances between cars and bicycles.

Thanks to a content sharing agreement, KTLA and CBS 2 ran very similar stories, even quoting Bruins although he doesn’t appear on camera. On their websites, KTLA reprinted the Times’ story. Despite rolling out the tired “Nobody Walks in L.A.” line, CBS 2’s story sticks to a “just the facts” report, but the headline of the piece declares, “L.A. Drivers Kill Pedestrians at Triple the National Average.”

NBC 4 had the strangest reaction. First, it briefly reported on the story, but then changed gears to talk about traffic safety measures being taken in Santa Monica. While road conditions are similar in both cities, it seems that maybe it would make more sense to send a reporter to the City of Los Angeles for this particular report.

Fox 11 had the most outrageous report, (video only), with the reporter both warning bicyclists and pedestrians to stay inside for fear of deadly streets and excorciating drivers for being willing to “run you down, just like that.”

KPCC wasn’t satisfied just re-reporting what was in the Times. The radio station asked listeners and readers to tell them where the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles are for a future story. The crowd sourcing project seems a better way to get people involved in the story than just telling them to stay inside or excoriating drivers.

To the best of Streetsblog’s googling and television watching, it appears that ABC 7 did not cover the story at all. The Daily News also declined to cover the story.

Following the lead of the story authors, and later the Times, nearly all print stories used the word “crash” to describe a vehicle violently striking a person or object instead of “accident.” But broadcast news generally slipped back to using the judgement free term accident. The noted acception to this is LAist, which split using accident (7 times) and “crash” (6 times).

Nearly all of the news stories followed Bruins’ lead and criticized Brown for vetoing Senate Bill 1464, which mandated that all drivers need to give cyclists a 3 foot berth when passing from behind. Despite virtually no opposition, even AAA supported the bill, Brown vetoed it citing Caltrans’ objection to allowing cars to pass “double yellow” road lines to make the pass. Brown was concerned this language opened the door to legal action against the state. None of the twenty states with similar laws to the one Brown vetoed have experienced such lawsuits. Brown joins Texas Governor Rick Perry as the only governors to veto safe passing legislation.

  • The study doesn’t say that LA and NYC are more dangerous places to walk / bike than average cities. It shows that pedestrians/ cyclists are disproportionately likely to be victims of car crashes in these two big cities. In other places, almost all victims of car crashes are car drivers or passengers.

    This is an important distinction. It’s not that it is especially unsafe to walk in LA, it’s that we should re-orient street designs, speed limits, transportation investments, safety education etc to protect walkers and cyclists.

    For more on this from a pedestrian perspective, see

    http://www.losangeleswalks.org/la-drivers-have-high-rate-of-fatal-pedestrian-crashes-a-response/

  • Hi all, I recommend that you check out page 17 of this report put out by UCLA and the LA County Department of Public Health. I helped work on this. We tried to get at the question of how much biking and walking is happening, which as others have mentioned here is necessary if you want to understand how dangerous they are. Our analysis (with the limited data available) does show that bicyclists and pedestrians suffer crash rates disproportionate to their mode share in the greater LA area. We also looked at crashes per capita and found that LA had more collisions per capita than both the US and California as a whole.
    Of course, this data isn’t the perfect exposure data you’d really want for an analysis like this. What you’d really want to understand risk would be some knowledge of how many miles are being traveled by foot or bike, and the crash and fatality incidence per mile. But we did the best we could with the best data available.
    Go tohttp://lewis.ucla.edu/content/completestreets-publications
    and click on “Performance Metrics for the City of Los Angeles,” then check out page 17.

  • Juan Matute

    Damien, thanks for this local version of Media Matters.  

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see why they broke down the data like that. If we had no pedestrians at all, then 0% of fatalities would be pedestrian, but it wouldn’t be because it was a safe place to walk. Wouldn’t a much more interesting question be a breakout relative to how much people walk and bike?

    If you read the study, it’s really just a summary of statistics, and people could easily draw poor conclusions. For example, NY had a higher percentage of fatalities that occurred in snow. Therefore, LA drivers are better in snow?

  • Evan

    HEY! The scoop actually came from the Metro Library’s Transportation Headlines, which is where the LA Times got a hold of the UMTRI study at Michigan. Those Headlines are the single best source of aggregated local transpo news out there.

  • Ubrayj02

    The question I have: so, what is the LADOT, City Planning, and our elected leadership doing about this? The city council has been busy every year voting in new speed limit increases across the city. The LADOT thinks that rural road standards are appropriate for suburban residential streets and crowded commercial shopping districts. A baseline speed limit of 35 mph comes with a road design for 50 mph driving – in the heart of a crowded metropolis.

    Cities are, since their founding, collections of people. Automobiles have their place, but it isn’t in the heart of the city driving 35 mph or more.

  • abra

    I dispute the claim that “accident” is judgement free, particularly in compare to “crash.” 

    Objectively a car collided with (synonym: crashed into) a pedestrian/cyclist or a cyclist collided with/crashing into a car. That does not imply causation or fault just describes the motion of the vehicles involved. 

    Accident means, not just implies, that there is no one at fault. 

    If I remember correctly, there was push by law enforcement to move away from “accident” with or without pedestrians and cyclists because not all all crashes are accidents.

  • Morgan

    “Accident” is judgement free for exactly the reason that you use, because it means that there is no one at fault.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, anybody here try driving, like on the
    “west side “?      1 week ago
    Sat nite in a 25 min drive from S M to WLA I was scared silly as 3 Separate Sets
    of pedestrians  =ea crossed
    the street on a RED light, looking neither left nor
    right.    I was in dire danger…of running over some fools who
    felt entitled, and did not care, and carry no insurance for Others they my Hurt
    in their casual strolls, and they were not even texting !  

    just Assuming
    the RIGHTs of all ways ? DOES ANYONE CARE ABOUT ANYONE ELSE  ?   [yes, caps are for serious emphasis here ]

    I was in danger of being hurt as a car driver, and I was being
    responsible for their neglect. I was I who had to suddenly stomp on my brakes,
    Stop fast, have everything inside my car fall onto the floor and then in shock
    and fear:  yell out the window only to
    get yelled at back.  No,  I was not speeding thru any yellow lite. But
    driving With the Green Lite that was telling me to go forward. These 3
    differently located pedestrians did
    not care about any lights – but just kept on walking – even when they had a Red
    lite that told them to “Stop”. They did not. Did they even notice ? I don’t
    know.

     

    Same week, different day, on Sta Monica Blvd driving west in
    Right lane, while stopped at red light I watched a man w/satchel riding on
    bicycle –  slow down just slightly  – and ride Thru a RED lite into the
    intersection no longer even turning his head to look again.  He just rode on illegally putting anyone else
    in danger, even himself.   I thought to
    myself “huh ?  That scared me silly”, Had
    I been not stopped there but driving perpendicularly to my agreeing to go with
    the lites, I just stayed shocked and stopped.

     

    What gives ? Then, when as a pedestrian walking on the
    sidewalks,  I am made to be  frightened by the whizzing-by bicyclists – who Assume it is safer for
    THEM on the sidewalk than riding on side of street, even if DMV says they must
    obey vehicular rules.  Bicyclists most
    often assume no rules apply to them but only to others, from the majority seen
    riding the sidewalks for their safety, no one elses.

     

     The person on a bicycle
    comes up from behind  quietly with no
    sound.  They drive at speeds [not slow nor
    careful usually] that unsafe to anyone walking there. Then they try to swerve
    around me w/o a word or advisement. And so they already have –  and can again –  hit me and drive off. They carry no liability
    insurance. So what do they do  instead ?
    Bicyclists  get quickly back on their
    bikes to hit-and-run again – they just drive off and leave me down sprawled on
    the sidewalk.

     

    YES, it has happened. One time  I grabbed the wheel of the bike and this was a
    younger boy who tried to wrest his bike from me to escape unscathed and
    undetected. Luckily I landed in some bushes instead of the glass-plated store
    window, even tho I did hit my head on that hard surface. He wanted to just
    drive away and leave me there, disregarded, hurt.

     

    Oh yes, and the speeding skateboarding mostly-kids on sidewalks who also assume they must
    have the RIGHT of way, and who has not seen them ‘jump off’ their still
    speeding skateboards safely while the board zips on, hitting a child in the
    ankle, an elder person with more fragile bones, or anyone walking on that now
    dangerous sidewalk. No regulations ? Certainly, no fair-sharing. Just scooting
    along assuming they have skills and speed and can outmaneuver anyone walking,
    before or after the Hit they escape from quickly. Yes, this is another LA
    reality that is dangerous, unenforced or regulated for safety of  not the riders of boards but the people whom
    they dismiss as ‘not there’ when they occupy the sidewalks or intersections.

     

    Who cares ? no one but the careful attentive walker. Or the
    cautious safe driver. But people on bicycles claim they are ‘victims’ of car
    drivers, without ever revealing their own ‘entitled’
    assumptions and violations of law and logic too.

    Sidewalks are for side-walkers, and people in wheelchairs,
    baby strollers, and disability-walkers.

     

    Sidewalks are for everyone who wants to move within a civil
    safe society, urbanized but not robotized, vulcanized, and destroyed by those
    who use their bic-vehicles [ bicycles are vehicles or what ? instruments? ] to
    take-over all the legal safe spaces and make it dangerous for others to live,
    walk or even drive cautiously in LA.

     

    Any place else better ?  
    What makes LA have such a ‘bad reputation’ not only for traffic jams
    either ?

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