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Traffic fatalities down across U.S. but up in California

Cyclists and pedestrians are particularly at risk everywhere, federal report finds.

December 18, 2012|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times
  • An Irwindale police officer responds at the scene of a hit-and-run in which an 80-year-old woman was killed. A recent federal transportation report found an increase in traffic fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists.
An Irwindale police officer responds at the scene of a hit-and-run in which… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

The number of people killed in traffic accidents last year dropped to its lowest point in more than six decades elsewhere in the nation but rose in California, according to new federal transportation figures.

Across the country, deaths of cyclists and pedestrians surged in 2011, despite the overall downward trend in fatalities.

According to the recently released report, 32,367 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2011, a decrease of 1.9% from the year before and the lowest number since 1949. But in California, fatalities increased 2.6% in 2011 to 2,791, according to the report.

California had more traffic fatalities than any state except Texas.

Federal officials highlighted the overall decrease in deaths. But at least one traffic safety group said the figures were alarming, particularly a 3% increase in pedestrian deaths and an 8.7% increase in cyclist fatalities from 2010 to 2011.

"We are still concerned about the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians at risk on our roadways," said Paul Oberhauser, co-chairman of the Chicago-based Traffic Safety Coalition, which is partly funded by the traffic safety camera industry. "This new report is a reminder we still need to be cautious and share the road."

In Los Angeles on Monday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the addition of new "highly visible" painted crosswalks at more than 50 of the city's most dangerous intersections. "Los Angeles is in the midst of a transportation renaissance," Villaraigosa said in a news release, referring to new rail and other investments. But pedestrian safety must remain a priority "to create a 21st century transportation network that works for everyone," he said.

The new crosswalks feature 2-foot-wide white or yellow stripes and a new stop line for motorists, to cut down on vehicles encroaching on the paths of pedestrians.

The targeted intersections are scheduled to be painted by March. Officials hope to eventually repaint crosswalks at all of the city's 5,000 intersections. Funded through Measure R, the half-cent transportation sales tax voters approved in 2008, the new crosswalks cost about $2,500 each, more than twice the expense of traditional crosswalks.

Margot OcaƱas of the city's transportation agency said the rate of motorists striking pedestrians in or near intersections fell 5.4% between 2001 and 2010 to 2,522. But the decline has been uneven and had climbed to 2,738 collisions as recently as 2008.

Among the city's worst intersections for pedestrians between 2007 and 2011, according to city officials, were: Alvarado and 7th streets (25 accidents); Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue (21 accidents); and Western and Slauson avenues, Union Avenue and 6th Street, and Spring and 5th streets (19 each).

Intersections with 18 accidents each included Main and 5th streets, Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, Florence Avenue and Broadway, Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue, and Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue.

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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