Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CityWatchLA - Death in the Crosswalk

The sign reads: A woman’s life ended here today and many will be changed. God bless her and her family. Let’s all slow down a little here in downtown.

CityWatch, Jan 13, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 4

“Let’s All Slow Down A Little”
By Stephen Box

Time in the cross walk ran out for Gwendolyn Coleman last week.

On Wednesday, January 7th, at 6:30 in the morning, Gwendolyn Coleman stepped into the crosswalk at 5th and Flower Downtown LA and started to cross the street. She never made it. She was hit by a DASH bus and killed. The LAPD later reported that the woman had been crossing the street legally and that the DASH operator did not see the woman because of a blind spot.

The circumstances of this tragic incident are shocking and have resonated not just through the downtown area, as is evidenced by the spontaneous memorial, but throughout the city. Discussions broke out on the danger of LA's streets and the difficulty a pedestrian has in competing with vehicular traffic for the simple right cross the street safely.

This particular intersection is especially tough for pedestrians. The first of the three phases, the "Walk" phase, is only 4 seconds long. There are six lanes to cross and the "Walk" phase is only sufficient for a healthy adult to get to the second lane before the blinking red hand appears.

The debate over signal timing, along with arguments over the speed of motor vehicle traffic on streets with significant pedestrian activity, have long been a point of contention and this intersection is a sad but excellent example of a bias toward moving cars at the expense of the safety and convenience of pedestrians.

The City Planning Commission has just unanimously approved a proposal to make Downtown Los Angeles more walkable and pedestrian-friendly. The proposal has been in the works for two years and consists of two parts, an Urban Design Standards and Guidelines element and a Downtown Street Standards element.

While this significant step is much too late for Ms. Coleman, it's not too late to honor her by working together to make LA a better … and safer … place for pedestrians.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation is appearing before Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting with proposals to raise the speed limits at several locations throughout the Valley.

There's no better time than the present for LA’s citizens, the LADOT and City Planning to begin working together at leveling the safety playing field for those who cross the City’s many crosswalks on foot.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)

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