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Seeking More Safety for Pedestrians

Transportation: In response to Times study, councilman calls for effort to stem accidents.


Concerned that pedestrian safety is often sacrificed for improved traffic flow, a Los Angeles city councilman called Tuesday for improvement projects in neighborhoods where there have been many fatal pedestrian accidents.

Councilman Eric Garcetti said his motion was introduced in response to a Los Angeles Times analysis last month that found that pedestrian deaths were clustered in high-density minority communities, including several neighborhoods in his district.

The motion instructs transportation officials to report to the council in 45 days with new pedestrian safety measures for those communities "even if their use may have flow impacts on automotive traffic."

The Times analysis of more than 2,500 pedestrian deaths from 1993 to 2001 found that fatal pedestrian accidents usually occur in densely populated neighborhoods bisected by wide, crowded boulevards that are used as alternatives to congested freeways. Those neighborhoods include Echo Park, Hollywood, Westlake, Boyle Heights and south Los Angeles.

The Times analysis also concluded that pedestrian safety improvements--such as flashing lights, highly visible crosswalks and reflective signs--are often lacking in neighborhoods with the most deaths.

The study found that many of the neighborhoods plagued by fatal pedestrian accidents are in Garcetti's council district. Those neighborhoods include the areas around Vermont Avenue in Hollywood, Alvarado Street near Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, and Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood.

In an interview, Garcetti said he would like the city's Department of Transportation to test new pedestrian safety efforts in what he calls danger zones. Some of these improvements could include adding highly visible crosswalks, imposing new restrictions on right turns and extending curbs to slow down vehicles near intersections, he said.

Garcetti, who lives in Echo Park, also suggested adopting pedestrian overlay districts in some of these neighborhoods. An overlay district would impose zoning rules to encourage the installation of landscaped sidewalks, narrower streets and more sidewalk cafes.

"It does slow traffic but it improves business and gives pedestrians a fighting chance," he said.

Garcetti said his district has long suffered from a disproportionate number of pedestrian accidents. He began to consider some changes after reading The Times' analysis last month.

He decided to push ahead with his plans after an Echo Park resident was struck crossing Glendale Boulevard this weekend.

Pedestrian advocates commended Garcetti for pushing pedestrian safety even though some improvement efforts will mean slowing traffic flow.

"I'm very excited," said Deborah Murphy, founder of L.A. Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group. Murphy is also a member of the city's pedestrian advisory committee.

Murphy and other pedestrian advocates say transportation engineers usually emphasize moving traffic through residential streets, often at the expense of pedestrian safety.

John Fisher, assistant general manager of the Department of Transportation, said many of the ideas proposed by Garcetti are already used throughout the city. Still, he said, his department will study ways to reduce deaths in those neighborhoods.

"We will look in our toolbox to address pedestrian safety," he said.

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