Skip to content

Posts from the "Pedestrian Safety" Category

2 Comments

Wednesday Wanderings: Mobility in Malawi

A quiet moment on one of the capital's main drags. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A quiet moment at the end of the day on one of Lilongwe’s (the capital of Malawi) main drags. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

We here at Streetsblog have been known to complain about the state of Los Angeles’ transportation infrastructure from time to time.

And while it is true that we do have a ways to go in making the streets more hospitable to those that do not travel by private automobile, I am often reminded that we’ve got it pretty good here, comparatively speaking.

In my previous life as an academic, I spent quite a bit of time traveling in remote areas of developing countries where the obstacles to mobility also constituted major obstacles to economic development, growth, and pretty much everything else you can think of — health, education, communication, relationships, proper governance, and access to resources.

Nowhere did this seem clearer to me than in Malawi, also known (deservedly so) as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” an East African nation of about 16 million people.

Outside major cities, much of Malawi lacks paved roads. In Mchinji, the only paved road served as a highway to Zambia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

While Malawi is a recipient of significant amounts of aid, donors prefer not to fund infrastructure projects, seeing them as opening the door to corruption (if funds go through government agencies) and cultivating dependence, among other things. So, paved roads — limited even within the capital — are scarce in rural areas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

During the three summers I spent doing research on international development aid organizations there, I did my best to travel as the locals did. Which meant that I spent a great deal of time on foot.

I made the choice, in part, because my research budget was quite small, private transport could be exorbitantly expensive, and “public” transit was not always reliable.

Petrol was in extremely short supply (and expensive) during my last visit. People waited 8 hours at gas stations for gas that often never arrived. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Petrol was in extremely short supply (and expensive) during my last visit. People hoping to feed vehicles and generators lost entire days waiting at stations for fuel that often never arrived. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

This was especially true when I was last there, in 2011, and petrol was in extremely short supply.

The shortage hit the economy hard. People lost entire days waiting at filling stations, hoping rumors about the arrival of fuel shipments would not prove baseless. And it slowed agricultural production by causing a decrease in the distribution of fertilizer (via the government subsidy program) and limiting the ability of farmers to get products to markets or mill their maize.

It also sent transportation prices through the roof — a 10-minute taxi ride across town could cost more than 2,000 Malawi Kwacha (about $5, or almost a week and a half’s pay at minimum wage, for a Malawian). And it drastically reduced the ability of people to access transit, as minibuses — the privately-owned vans that serve as public transportation — struggled to keep their vehicles topped off with fuel and on normal schedules.

Privately operated minibuses, serving as de facto public transit,  wait for the end-of-the-day rush in the capital. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Privately operated minibuses, serving as de facto public transit, wait for the end-of-the-day rush in the capital. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A trip into the capital from an outlying district that normally took an hour and a half now took several hours.

If you were lucky. Read more…

3 Comments

Hit-and-Run on Cesar Chavez Sidewalk Kills 66-Year-Old Woman

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Click to enlarge. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Normally, you think of a sidewalk as a relatively safe place to be.

They have their problems, and are often in pretty lousy shape, but they usually manage to provide a sufficient buffer between pedestrians and the cars whizzing by in the adjacent roadway.

Not so in East L.A. last Wednesday, when the driver of a Red Dodge Durango came barreling down the sidewalk at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Eastman, injuring two women, one fatally.

I first heard about the incident from Jon Leibowitz, who was doing outreach for CicLAvia along the October route. He was in shock from having seen a truck slam into people in a busy business district and keep going.

Shop owners in the area confirmed it had been a horrific scene.

The manager of the bakery (the far sign, at left) said she heard a terrible noise and looked up to see a truck flying past her shop’s window, scraping the bricks and damaging the security gates as it went.

It was so violent, she said in Spanish. So violent.

We heard screaming, she continued. My first thought was for my son -- he had just walked out the door. We ran outside and that’s when we saw the women.

The two pedestrians, aged 66 and 49, had been knocked into the street.

The driver moved back into the roadway and disappeared. Read more…

2 Comments

Lovely Art Installations Evoking Walking Placed in Hard-to-Walk-to Locations

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes public art installation at the intersection of Jefferson and Rodeo. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes public art installation at the intersection of Jefferson and Rodeo features a bronze replica of Dr. King’s work boots. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

What do someone’s shoes tell us about them?

Some would argue quite a bit.

Others would argue that you need to actually spend some time inhabiting someone else’s shoes in order to really understand who they are and the journey they’ve been on.

Kim Abeles, the artist behind the ”Walk a Mile in My Shoes” public art installations at Jefferson Blvd./Rodeo Rd. and Rodeo Rd./Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., seems to believe both are true.

Walk a mile in my shoes... Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Walk a mile in my shoes… Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Inspired by “the wish to walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who walked in solidarity for the civil rights movement” as a way to know them and their struggles, she began looking for a photograph of King’s shoes.

Instead, she came a cross “a profound collection of shoes belonging to members of the peace marches” that had been collected by Xernona Clayton, a civil rights activist whose foundation was one of the forces behind the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.

Abeles used bronze casts of King’s work boots (above) and shoes worn at marches (below) to anchor her art pieces.

A bronze cast of shoes Dr. King wore to march for civil rights stands at Rodeo Rd. and King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A bronze cast of shoes Dr. King wore to march for civil rights stands at the intersection of Rodeo Rd. and King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

She then used photographs of the shoes of others who played key roles in furthering civil rights to tell a richer story — one of an ongoing movement whose strength lies in diversity, empathy, creativity, and unwavering commitment to forward motion.

Some of the shoes featured at the Rodeo/King site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Some of the shoes featured at the Rodeo/King site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Some of the shoes I spotted at the Rodeo/King site included those of Rosa Parks, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sidney Poitier, and Maya Angelou (for background on their efforts and those of others included in the piece, see here).

More interestingly, Abeles took the themes of inspiration, empathy, and “walking” as forward movement a mile down the road to the Jefferson/Rodeo site, where the featured shoes belong to a diverse set of local activists who have made unique contributions to community building.

It was fun to see the names of people I recognized and admired, like pedestrian advocate Daveed Kapoor or Richard Montoya (below), the co-founder of Culture Clash and man behind Chavez Ravine and Water and Power.

The shoes of Richard Montoya at the Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The shoes of Richard Montoya at the Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The overhaul of the spacious traffic island at the Jefferson/Rodeo site allowed for the shoes to be put on pedestals, as it were, and for the inclusion of a blurb about each of the activists featured. The smaller space at the Rodeo/King site meant that activists’ affiliations had to be listed on a plaque on the structure holding King’s shoes.

Both are lovely sites and great reminders that there are many ways to serve your community.

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My only issue with the installations was their placement.  Read more…

3 Comments

Am I Hallucinating?: Public Art Pieces Appear in South L.A.

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik's Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik’s Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

After a depressing day of photographing South L.A.’s trashed streets, I thought I was hallucinating when I stumbled across a man-sized Rubik’s Cube.

It seemed to have come out of nowhere.

And, it didn’t do anything special besides sit on a corner.

But, it seemed to have had an impact on the atmosphere around it.

In an area where gang activity can be quite intense (the LAPD just arrested over 50 people in a gang sweep a few blocks north of there) and people are often wary about being too open with each other in the streets, the art gave them something neutral they could get goofy with for a moment.

It did cause a bit of a spectacle when they first put that and the kinetic bird sculpture in (around the corner, below), Chris Conant from the design-build company Conant-Moran told me. Read more…

19 Comments

I See London, I See France. I See L.A.’s Dirty Underpass(es).

The burned-out mess along Venice Blvd. under the 110 Freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The burned-out mess along Venice Blvd. under the 110 Freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A few weeks ago, a significant hullabaloo was raised when developer Geoffrey Palmer proposed a walkway over the 110 Freeway that would allow residents of his apartment complex to walk between the buildings without having to traverse the underpass and the homeless encampment there.

Some were angered by the overt vilification of the homeless — the developer wrote of fears that building residents would be targeted for crime — and the very real squeezing out of the poor as the downtown area becomes more “livable” for those who can afford it.

Others argued that a walkway would harm the vibrancy of urban pedestrian life by preventing the activation of the underpass.

Whatever your take on the need for the walkway, it is hard to argue with the notion that underpasses generally suck for pedestrians.

Dark and neglected, they often feel like filthy, trash-filled no-man’s lands.

And, their isolation from the “eyes on the street” that businesses, residences, and other active structures/spaces offer can give them a creepy aura. The greater the accumulation of trash (and, in particular, human waste and other mysterious fluid trails on the pavement), the greater the sense of invisibility, and, for some, the greater the fear that something could happen to you there and that nobody would ever know.

Even as a cyclist who moves rather quickly through underpasses, I can’t say I love them.

I often fear I am less visible as a driver’s eyes adjust to the darkness from bright sunlight. And, the enclosed nature of an underpass makes me feel (irrationally, I am aware) like I have fewer places to escape to, should a car come at me.

But, few things have made an underpass feel quite so inhospitable as the torched homeless encampments along Venice Blvd., underneath the 110 Freeway (pictured above).

Over the winter, it served as shelter for a number of homeless people.

At some point between then and spring, their encampments appear to have been set on fire. Read more…

6 Comments

Previewing Tonight’s Fig4All Meeting: Cedillo Doubles Down, Activist Step Up

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street northbound across from Nightingale Middle School Image: Flying Pigeon L.A. More renderings and diagrams at SBLA Lite Tumblr

In case you haven’t heard, tonight there will be another big public meeting regarding the future of planned “road diet” bike lanes for North Figueroa Street. The meeting takes place tonight at 6:00 p.m.* at Franklin High School, more information at this Facebook event. Supporters of safe streets and bicycle lane supporters are encouraged to arrive early and to wear green.

(*Corrected: The meeting time is 6 p.m. tonight not 6:30 p.m. as reported earlier. Make of it what you will, there is definitely a meeting tonight, but there’s no public documentation of it on any of Councilmember Cedillo’s website, facebook, etc.)

The host of the meeting is Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who expressed support for the bike lanes during the election, but, since, has promoted an alternative circuitous sharrow-ed bike route instead. Cedillo hosted this earlier meeting, where public safety representatives testified against the bike lanes, which would improve public safety. Then it turned out that the officials didn’t have any documentation to back their assertions.

Cedillo has been going all out to rally opposition to the bike lanes. Northeast Los Angeles residents have been receiving “robo-calls” recorded by Gil Cedillo. Cedillo staff have organized anti-bike lane petition signature-gathering door-to-door targeting North Figueroa area businesses. Activists, including Flying Pigeon and the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, have countered these efforts by door-to-door business signature gathering in favor of the bike lanes. Road diet supporters have printed sashes, organized feeder rides, reached out to media, and are primed to pack the meeting.

What’s up with all this? Why is Cedillo so opposed to this road diet?  Read more…

No Comments

Dangerous by Design: CA Has Second-Highest Fatality Rate for Older Peds

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.27.49 AMSmart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition released their Dangerous by Design 2014 [PDF] report today, showing that California has the nation’s second-highest pedestrian fatality rate for older pedestrians (age 65 and older).

The report highlights the ways car-centric design in US cities makes streets dangerous for walking, and ranks major metropolitan areas using the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the ratio of annual fatality rates to the percentage of people who walk to work. California was ranked 17th on the PDI, with pedestrians deaths making up 19 percent of the state’s total traffic fatalities.

California’s elderly pedestrian fatality rate, at 5.03 fatalities per 100,000 people (compared to 3.19 nationally), is second only to Hawaii, followed by New York. Nationwide, older adults account for 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities, while only making up 12.6 percent of the population.

Read more…

10 Comments

L.A. Weekly Claims the Mantle of Defender of Dangerous Drivers

There was a decent amount of outrage aimed at Hillel Aron at L.A. Weekly for his web-exclusive op/ed boasting about his driving prowess and defending his habit of texting-while-driving. I’ve considered myself something of a Hillel fan since his “Bikeroots” piece in 2011, so I was both surprised and a little dismayed while reading a piece that seemed so wildly tone-deaf.

A sample:

And so when we get a call, we’re forced to go digging through our glove compartments like desperate raccoons, looking for our filthy ear buds, an act infinitely more dangerous than simply holding something up to our ear.

Well I say: nuts to that.

I started a draft criticizing the piece, then scrapped it. I thought I should email him first. We had talked several times before. I’ve been quoted in some of his articles. So, I started an email last night I was going to send to him this morning.

Then, I saw the piece in Media Bistro, a web site that does little more than critique other media, and I realized the problem is bigger than Aron (whom I never emailed). Media Bistro corresponded with Sarah Fenske, the Weekly’s Editor in Chief. Fenske’s defense of the editorial decision to run the piece was even more bizarre than just reading Aron’s piece. From Fenske’s email response published at Media Bistro:

“When Hillel pitched this idea at our news blog meeting, it’s fair to say several jaws dropped. (Personally, as a chronic speeder, I consider any driver meandering along, texting, while I’m trying to get somewhere fast to be a mortal enemy.) But it was very clear to all of us as we chewed it over that he was only admitting to something that a vast majority of LA drivers do with impunity.”

“I suspect that at least half the commenters shaking their fist in his direction will send a text, or check their phones, or Tweet something, on their way home tonight. Everyone’s outraged about it; at least on the roads I’m driving, everyone’s still doing it.”

“And behind all the provocative rhetoric, he does make one good point: Distracted driving has long been illegal. As it should be. Texters are not necessarily any worse than the drivers putting on makeup, or eating breakfast. Yet texting is what we get wound up about (as, yes, this story proves!)”

Yes, this article proves that people get upset when someone brags about how they engage in dangerous behavior which proves your point that…wait, what?

And what’s up with the defense of speeding? Speeding has a long deadly track record; it’s arguably more dangerous than distracted driving or texting. Anyone in Fenske’s way considered a “mortal enemy”? Yes, it’s an email using hyperbole for effect, and I had to double-check the definition to be sure Fenske wrote what I thought she wrote, but Fenske appears to be stating that slower-moving drivers (in the way of her speeding) are actually trying to kill her.

I will give Fenske credit for one thing. I had never thought of texting-while-driving and searching-through-your-glovebox-for-a-filthy-earpiece-while-driving as akin to traffic calming. Kudos for thinking outside the box.

A couple of years ago, I had a story idea to write about why LAist, L.A. Weekly and the Daily News (to name a few) publish the locations of DUI checkpoints. Each organization explained to me that they believed that publishing these locations actually made the roads safer, and a public relations person at the Sheriff’s backed them up. While this seems counter-intuitive to me, I never got around to writing the story.

But now that the Weekly is on the record in favor of texting while driving and driving at unsafe speeds, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that public safety on the roadway is something they take seriously at all.

Hillel Aaron’s piece states: “Let’s face it, we all text in the car some of the time.” Sarah Fenske further states “everyone’s still doing it.”

For the record, I can name a whole group of people who don’t text and drive or drive at unsafe speeds.

They’re known as “people who don’t drive.” Because you are driving around with a suit of armor known as a car, and they are not, you are responsible to pay close attention to them at all times. These people are your grandparents, your weird friend who bikes everywhere, and, most importantly to me, THEY ARE MY CHILDREN. So if I sound mad or outraged, it’s not somehow proving your point. It’s because you’re acting like an asshole.

3 Comments

If Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, Surely it Should Also be a Component of “Complete”-ness, No?

Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, trash grows... Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Bus stop, bus goes, trash stays, trash grows on Olympic Blvd.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As folks were preparing to cut the cake in honor of the Complete Streets Day motion put forth by Councilmember Jose Huizar at City Hall last week, I was getting geared up to volunteer at a high school located in his district, around which many of the streets are decidedly incomplete.

I had run into Roosevelt High School teacher extraordinaire Jorge Lopez a couple of weeks prior; students from his food justice class were helping give a tour of two corner markets that had received healthy makeovers courtesy of Public Matters. When he heard I was interested in interviewing the students involved in the project, he suggested I stop in his classroom instead and assist the students in reworking their own interviews with food activists and workers in the area into articles.

Hell, yes! I thought.

Teens — besides being inspiring to work with — are often incredible, unfiltered informants about the unique dynamics of their communities and how those dynamics impact mobility, health, and access to opportunity.

When I first worked with his English class two years ago, students were writing speeches about things they would like to see improved in their neighborhood. Given the myriad challenging circumstances that the youth came from, immigrant rights, living wages, affordable housing, protection from gang activity, and access to healthy food and other health resources unsurprisingly figured prominently into their discussions.

But, I was also struck that one of the recurring themes was an inferiority complex many expressed with regard to East L.A.

It was so much cleaner, they complained.

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When we think of “Complete Streets,” we tend to focus on ways to facilitate mobility by “design[ing] and operat[ing streets] to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

But, for these students, it was clear that having streets that looked clean, inviting, and safe was important for mobility and access, too.

In comparing their neighborhoods to East L.A., many voiced a belief that people in East L.A. took more pride in their community because the sidewalks and streets there were well taken care of. Boyle Heights streets’, they said, felt run down and forgotten.

It was something that bothered them a lot. Read more…

7 Comments

LAPD Crackdowns and Complete Streets: City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Puts its Foot Down

The city' pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendence is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

The city’ pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendance is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

Thursday afternoon, in a fluorescent-lit conference room on the third floor of the east building of City Hall, Sean Karmody, a police sergeant, addressed over 20 people at the Los Angeles City Pedestrian Advisory Committee about jaywalking tickets. He stressed that police traffic enforcement’s “biggest priority is to reduce hit and runs.” He also said of the 500,000 or so tickets issued each year, only five percent are given to pedestrians.

PAC- and just outside--LAPD car parks on bike lane--of course

As LAPD representatives talked the importance of safety for all transportation modes, an LAPD car blocked the bike lane outside of the meeting. Photo: Roger Rudick

But Brigham Yen, pedestrian advocate and editor of “DTLA Rising,” wasn’t having it. “Cops in LA grew up driving. They look at crowds of people crossing the street in downtown and all they think is: `they’re stopping those cars from making a right turn!’” he said. “Instead, they should be celebrating the rebirth of a pedestrian environment.” Miguel Luna, representative for CD #13, complained that pedestrian tickets target minorities.

Another attendee remarked that LAPD isn’t part of the solution to better pedestrian and cycling access; it’s part of the problem. Just outside the conference room, there were police and LADOT cars on the bike lane on Los Angeles street. Karmody said its good to make the department aware of such infractions.

Jennifer Charles, a 43-year-old architect from Sherman Oaks, represents CD-4, which includes parts of Hollywood and the Valley. Originally from Virginia, she lived in New York City for five years. “I loved not having a car,” she said. In 1997, she came to LA to study architecture. “LA doesn’t have to be New York, but there’s no excuse for it not being more walkable and bikeable.

Despite their advocacy, half of the attendees drove to the meeting; City Hall is only a few hundred feet from the Civic Center subway station. City Planner Claire Bowin gave a presentation on the mobility plan and the “Complete Streets” initiative. She said some streets will be re-designed to promote pedestrians, bikes or buses, but many will remain primarily for “vehicles.” Read more…