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Pedestrian Deaths Rose in O.C. in '99, Reversing a Trend

September 29, 2000|RICHARD WINTON and RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After declining for several years, the number of fatal pedestrian accidents in Orange County increased in 1999 from 36 to 45, according to a statewide study by researchers at the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

The jump comes as cities in Central County--notably Santa Ana--are taking steps to improve pedestrian safety through educational programs, installing new traffic signals and cracking down on jaywalking.

Despite the increase, pedestrian deaths are still well below levels of just a few years ago. In 1994, for example, the county recorded 60 fatalities; three years later, that number had dropped to 51.

The study released Thursday ranked Orange County as the sixth most dangerous county for pedestrians in the state.

After adjustments were made for population and numbers of pedestrians, Sacramento County with 1.2 million residents edged out Los Angeles for the top ranking with 30 deaths and 516 injuries, according to researchers at the project.

In Los Angeles County, with a population of 9.7 million, 203 pedestrians were killed in 1999 and an additional 5,377 were injured. Also high on the list were Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Orange County recorded 45 deaths and 909 injuries; it has a population of 2.8 million.

Gloria Ohland, a co-author of the study, attributed some of the increases in fatalities and injuries to sprawling growth.

"The new growth is usually suburban style, and they are anti-pedestrian in design," she said. "Sometimes there are no sidewalks and traffic is moving so fast, (pedestrians) don't even have a chance."

Sacramento County officials expressed dismay at the rating Thursday, noting that the county is working on a pedestrian master plan.

Researchers chose the treacherous intersection of Mott and Wabash streets in Los Angeles to release the study.

"Most of these vehicles are traveling well above the speed limit," said parking meter officer Abel Cervantes. "And see that stop sign hiding behind that tree across the street? Not a good deal. See those kids running across the street? They're running for their lives.

"Forget about turning right or left off Mott onto Wabash," he added. "On the right, you're blinded by trees, on the left by a steel tower."

Across California, 688 pedestrians were killed in 1999, accounting for nearly 20% of all traffic-related fatalities, according to the study.

Statewide, young African-Americans and Latinos are much more likely to be hit by a vehicle. Pedestrians hospitalized in 1999 for their injuries were also found to be more likely to be low-income.

The study says that wider boulevards, more turn lanes, fewer crosswalks and more cars traveling faster are to blame for the high level of fatalities and injuries.

Ventura County also broke into the top 10 counties for the first time, with walkers suffering 13 fatalities and 243 injuries.

Overall the number of pedestrian deaths statewide is slightly down from 698 to 688 statewide, a reflection of a national trend. But study co-author James Corless credits that to a decrease in the number of people walking.

The surface transportation project, based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., is an advocacy group for more environmentally friendly land use and transportation policies.

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