L.A. Times Editorial Raises Double Standards on Traffic Deaths vs. Gun Deaths

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell responding to traffic violence concerns: "Nice try" Screenshot via Twitter
L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell responding to traffic violence concerns: "Nice try" Screenshot via Twitter

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In an excellent editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times, architect Michael MacDonald draws attention to the double standard under which L.A. politicians rally against gun violence, but allow pervasive traffic violence to persist essentially unchecked. MacDonald rightly takes L.A. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to task for killing the planned Temple Street road diet safety improvements.

MacDonald stresses the importance of using actual data. For Los Angeles, MacDonald points out that, overall traffic death totals are greater than gun death totals. In 2017, in the city of L.A., there were 244 traffic deaths – a few more than L.A.’s 239 gun homicides. For decades, fewer people have died from firearms in the U.S. than from cars, though the totals are similar in recent years.

But data means little to traffic safety deniers:

L.A.’s anti-traffic-safety lobby, meanwhile, vocally questions the accuracy of data collected on traffic injuries and deaths.

…invoking a distinctly Trump-like paranoia and embrace of alternative facts — anti-safety activists routinely contend that these national studies are wrong: that road diets make streets more dangerous and are part of a nefarious plot of social engineering “meant to force citizens of L.A. into public transit under the guise of safety,”

This backlash has been playing out in deadly streets from Playa Del Rey to Pasadena, but the double standard is particularly galling in the example of how Councilmember O’Farrell has rightly championed ending gun deaths while cavalierly dismissing work to end traffic violence. As MacDonald outlines:

Consider Councilman O’Farrell’s L.A. district, where five Angelenos have been killed and twenty-one seriously injured on a small 2.3 mile stretch of Temple Street in the past eight years. The street holds the dubious distinction of being one of the 6% of streets that account for nearly two-thirds of all L.A. traffic deaths. To rectify this nightmare, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation proposed a road diet along with other safety improvements on Temple. Throughout 2017, it organized multiple community meetings and informational events to present the plan. But an anti-safety zealot from Manhattan Beach caught wind of the effort and mobilized to attack the project.

In the face of this blowback, O’Farrell — who had previously voted in favor of the city’s Vision Zero policy — killed the Temple road diet, saying he opposed a safety reconfiguration “unless there is significant, widespread outreach and support from immediate residents and businesses.” He gave no explanation of what he would do as the elected representative of the area to help perform that outreach or to build consensus for a Vision Zero project on Temple.

When pressed about the difference between his response to traffic violence and gun violence, O’Farrell only had two words: “Nice try.”

MacDonald concludes urging O’Farrell and other leaders to “show courage” to “make tough political choices in the interest of public safety” by doing something to make dangerous streets safer.

Read the full editorial at the Los Angeles Times.

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