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In L.A. and N.Y., famous last words: 'I'm walkin' here!'

October 02, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • An LAPD officer at the scene of a fatal auto-versus-pedestrian accident on Beverly Boulevard in June 2011.
An LAPD officer at the scene of a fatal auto-versus-pedestrian accident… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

This just in: Los Angeles and New York are dangerous places to walk or ride a bike.

And in other news, a man was bitten by a dog today.

Not to be cynical, but is anyone surprised by the findings of University of Michigan researchers about L.A. and the Big Apple having higher pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates than, say, Omaha?

As The Times reported Tuesday:

Drivers in Los Angeles kill pedestrians and bicyclists at a significantly higher rate than drivers nationally, according to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

In Los Angeles, pedestrians accounted for about a third of all traffic fatalities, or nearly triple the national average of 11.4%. About 3% of the fatalities were bicyclists. That compares with 1.7% nationally.

The numbers are even worse in urban New York, where 49.6% of traffic fatalities were pedestrians and 6.1% were bicyclists.

In other words, whether it’s cabbies or just plain folks behind the wheel -- well, let’s just say that we have some truly mean streets out there. (Oh, and at least in L.A., you probably don’t want to try the sidewalks either.)

But the higher fatality rates are not exactly news, nor new.  Who can forget, after all, the wonderful scene in the 1969 movie  “Midnight Cowboy” in which Dustin Hoffman’s “Ratso” Rizzo is nearly struck by a New York cab, only to pound his fists on the hood and shout “I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!”   (Hoffman, by the way, insists he ad-libbed the line.)

Interestingly, there appear to be two theories on the cause of all this street mayhem, one from researchers and activists and one from the, umm, common man (or maybe that should be “commenter man”).

First, from academia, we have Michael Sivak, a professor at the institute and a study coauthor along with Shan Bao:

“This is a matter of exposure. When you look at large urban areas you have a wider mix of road users."

And, from the activists, here's Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition:

“If we want to get serious about traffic safety, we need to get serious about funding equity so we can build infrastructure that allows people to walk and bike safely around their communities. Our current metrics value automobile throughput over traffic safety.”

Now, I admit that I’ve never heard it put that way, but yes, I have to agree that “our current metrics” do “value throughput over traffic safety.”  And my guess is that that was true even when the “throughput” was horses and buggies.

The other theory is usually expressed in less learned terms, and it breaks down along two themes: stupid pedestrians and stupid drivers.  (Those “stupid” folks, however, do not include the commenters, who are perfect and all-knowing.)

Here’s “detrichwong” on the first dummies:

yah, but have u seen how LA pedestrians walk???   they are texting, reading, and basically in their own universes.  they take zero responsibility for their own safety.   i'd say other than the cases of total driver negligence/ recklessless, LA pedestrians need to sharpen up or darwin will take care of them.

And here’s “leonaks” on the other idiots:

What about a law that will block cellular communication in a moving automobile. Or more prohivitive will block cell communication when one enters a vehicle. Emergency calls excepted and emergency vehicles excepted. Rear seat passangers will have the ability to make cell phone calls. So a driver will have to sit in the rear of a vehicle to call. Now pass the laws and find a radio engineer to design a system that is functional.

(The common culprit here seems to be the cellphone, whether walking or driving. So, if everyone agrees they are a problem and dangerous, whether walking or driving, why does everyone have one and use it constantly? Just asking.)

Finally, buried deep in the story is this interesting tidbit:

In other findings, the University of Michigan researchers found that women who lived in Los Angeles were less likely to be in an accident than men.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. But at least I think you can (safely?) say that, in Los Angeles at least, it’s not always a man’s world after all.

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