What to Do About Fifth and Flower?

1 16 09 fifth and flower_1.jpg

Today in City Watch, Stephen Box talk about the need to improve pedestrian safety for everyone, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. 

On Tuesday, Box and I did a tour of the intersection of 5th and Flower, the intersection where Gwendolyn Coleman had been struck and killed by a DASH bus while legally crossing the street a week earlier.  Noting the extremely short amount of time that pedestrians have a white walk signal, 4 seconds crossing six lanes of traffic going east and west and 5 seconds for crossing seven lanes going north and south, the conflict between pedestrians crossing as quickly as possible and traffic seeking to take left turns into the crosswalk is pretty clear.

Box lays out the problems with the 5th Avenue and Flower Street:

It is especially successful in this endeavor with seven lanes of
one-way traffic moving east on 5th and six lanes of one-traffic moving
south on Flower.

This intersection is also home to the Central Library, to the
Bonaventure Hotel and two huge office buildings, all generating heavy
pedestrian activity which is at odds with the movement of the vehicles.

The problem is that this intersection is designed to simply move either
vehicles or people, with the success of one group coming at the expense
of the other.

Eastbound vehicles stack seven and eight deep in the left turn, waiting
for the pedestrians to clear the intersection. Pedestrians enjoy a
four-second "Walk" phase as they set out to cross six lanes of street,
all with vehicles edging forward into the crosswalk.

Given that there’s nothing that can be done about the existing development in the area, the large buildings and underground malls aren’t going anywhere, what do people think can be done to make this intersection safe and efficient for everyone?  What does the city have to do to end the conflict between those on foot and those in the vehicles?

My thought, given that Coleman was killed crossing the street with a walk signal and the bus that killed her had a green light also, is to install scramble crosswalks at high volume intersections of one way streets.  This way, each mode of transportation will have its own time to cross the intersection while instead of having turning traffic compete with pedestrians for the intersection.

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Photo: The New/Flickr 

  • One of the “soft” benefits of the ped scramble is the significant psychological impact of an intersection that periodically simply belongs to people on foot. It’s such a beautiful image!

  • The LADOT’s most recent internal newsletter brags about the installation of several (5 or 7?) pedestrian scrambles in Los Angeles. This is a huge department, with something like 2,000 employees. There are people who understand pedestrian safety buried in there, somewhere.

    Personally, I am less interested in what specific measures are taken, so long as walking is made immensely safer at this, and just about every other, downtown intersection.

    I grew up in Venice, and I remember when I was in elementary school trying to sprint across Venice Blvd. once the green “Walk” sign lit up. My brother and I tried for years (even when we were in high school), and never got across the whole street before it started flashing a red hand. Maybe we were slow runners, but that also says a lot about how poorly our streets are designed for pedestrians in most parts of town.

  • The purpose of the short “walk” signal is to start the traffic at the beginning of the light cycle, so that the crosswalk will clear so vehicles can turn at the end of the cycle.

    If people start across the intersection after the walk ends, but while the don’t walk is flashing, they will keep the crosswalk active for the entire light cycle leaving no time for vehicles to turn.

    While peds have the right of way in the crosswalk, they commit an infraction if they start after the don’t walk flasher starts. (This does not, however, excuse mowing them down.)

    I note that even at the Westwood/Gayley scramble intersection, impatient peds still cross on the vehicle green against the don’t walk, and that right-turning vehicles still compete to make turns on red during the scramble. The main issue in all of this is people, both peds and drivers, ignoring the rules.

  • Ed, your point is well made but it misses the larger issue.

    If pedestrians on both sides of the street start with the 4 second white phase and continue in both directions across ~70 feet of street, the crosswalk will be full of pedestrians finishing their journey, all the way to the end of the cycle.

    Hence the competitive nature of the intersection. It only works for motor vehicles if there are no peds and it only works for peds at the expense of vehicular turning movements and if cars talr advantage of a break in ped traffic, the peds can’t get control of the crosswalk back.

    In other words, it is engineered to that motorists and peds compete for space and that is never a good scenario.

  • The diagonal crosswalk are definitely a good idea. I use the one on Westwood / LeConte occasionally. I don’t imagine they’ll solve the problem completely, but I’d bet money that the number of pedestrian-related accidents at the intersection will go down if a diagonal crosswalk is installed.

    At least at westwood/LeConte, in addition to the “everybody walk in all directions” time, there are still times for people to cross at the same time that vehicles have a green light in the same direction. But having the “everybody walk” times means that fewer pedestrians build up waiting for the direction-specific walk times, leaving more time for vehicles to turn during those periods since fewer pedestrians means a shorter line of people crossing the street.

  • Scramble seems like best solution. Dedicated signal for vehicles (“No turn on red”), dedicated signal for pedestrians (“Walk on signal only”).

  • Ed said:

    “If people start across the intersection after the walk ends, but while the don’t walk is flashing, they will keep the crosswalk active for the entire light cycle leaving no time for vehicles to turn.”

    Pardon me for sounding off on this, but what the heck does it matter whether or not cars turn faster at a very, very, busy pedestrian intersection?

    More people will be served, at busy intersections like this, with a focus on pedestrian comfort, safety, and convenience.

    Further, if one is a small child, older adult, or disabled in some way – don’t they deserve a fair chance at making it across an intersection without the worry of being run over?

    I know that the default in this country is to say, “Well, no, pedestrians don’t matter. We time the lights to aid cars.”

    I’m asking, “Why this is the default? Are we really such a bunch of lousy bastards that we want to design our cities to be unfriendly and dangerous to humanity’s oldest form of locomotion?”

  • I understand the appeal to planners of the scramble crosswalk, but I hate them because of the delay effect they have on pedestrian mobility. The wait times to cross are far longer, which does not make up for the longer time allotted to cross. One important factor in encouraging pedestrian mobility is the ability to not be delayed beyond reason when trying to get from point A to point B. To have to wait multiple light cycles to be given a long minute to cross at any angle is not an urban solution. It’s caving to the preference to cars. I might see the logic at intersections that have 5 roads converging, but not at a standard perpendicular intersection.

    When I am waking in the city, I really don’t care if the cars can get through an intersection. It’s funny, because you can always spot the drivers who happen to be walking, they cower in fear and defer to cars when crossing the street.

    Unfortunately in Downtown LA the emphasis on enforcement is against the pedestrian, and not the motorists who break every law at every intersection all day long. Try this some time: stand on any street corner and count how many motorists run the lights, block the crosswalks, make illegal turns on red, etc.

  • I like the idea of a scramble crosswalk there, but I agree with Bert about the cycle. I know this is about safety, but the scramble crosswalks are way too long to wait for when you wait through two sets of traffic.

  • If the leadership of LA, those who are working to change DT street designations to “Ped Oriented” Streets, are serious about changing the nature of the DT neighborhood, it would include using Ped Scramble cycles that give peds rapid access, rather than having them wait two cycles.

    This will change the nature of the streets and no longer will 5th simply be an on ramp to the 110. No longer will these streets be cut-through opportunities. Anyone bringing a car downtown will begin to think twice about the impact. Kinda like lot’s of other world-class large cities!

  • 5th and Flower is like a freeway intersection anchored by the most hostile of anti-pedestrian fortresses: the Bonaventure. On the other side is the friendlier Bunker Hill steps. The city’s traffic planners see 5th only as a feeder into the freeways. I understand their reasoning for one-way streets particularly if you think like a car. But it’s a scarey place to walk.

    Another issue: the intersection is a possible future Gold and Blue light rail station for Metro’s Regional Connector.

  • I have been told by an LAPD insider that a scramble crosswalk might be tried out somewhere round L.A. Live in the near future.

    Ubrayj02 stated: “The LADOT’s most recent internal newsletter brags about the installation of several (5 or 7?) pedestrian scrambles in Los Angeles.” Was the stretch along Fig near Olympic mentioned among the places mentioned (if any places were mentioned)?

  • Mario

    There’s one simple thing that could be done: when the light turns green for a particular street, don’t allow turns to be made at first, and then after several seconds, finally give them the green arrow. Even if you hold off turning traffic for just 5 seconds, that should be enough time for anybody who was waiting to cross at the crosswalk to have entered the intersection enough that the turning traffic will wait for them to cross (assuming they’re reasonable drivers of course, in any case at least they should have no problem seeing the pedestrian at that point). One thing that would have to change for this to work is that there’s one lane on Flower that allows vehicle to go either straight or right onto 5th. This would need to be changed to either a right turn lane or a through lane so that a turn signal can be installed for traffic on Flower turning right.

  • I threw down and put together a post that collects all the info about the death of Ms. Coleman that I could find. I also put together a Google Map of diagonal crosswalks in L.A.:


    If there is some justification that the LADOT needed to install these crosswalks, what was it? Or was it mostly political winds blowing in pedestrian’s direction?

  • Fabiana Pigna

    I was driving yesterday, going up 5th to make that left turn on Flower, but it seemed like that entire lane was closed and fearing that the left turn was blocked I turned on Grand….Did they close the access to Flower do to this accident maybe? anybody knows??

    It is SUCH a scary intersection, I hate it, I do it because I absolutely have to! Such a tragedy what happened to Mrs. Coleman


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