Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CityWatchLA - Zero Deaths, Everyone Counts

CityWatch, Apr 21, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 32

California's Office of Traffic Safety, the department that administers traffic safety grants, recently convened a statewide Summit and, for the first time, invited bike activists to participate. I was honored to receive a "scholarship" to the conference in San Francisco.

Given the recent spike in pedestrians deaths in Los Angeles coupled with the City's current financial woes, I fully expected to encounter a full contingent of City Council and DOT representatives, all with grant proposals in hand and all asking "What can we do?" But such was not the case.

What I encountered was 750 people from around the state, ranging from law enforcement officers to traffic engineers to public health advocates, all marching under the banner of "Toward zero deaths, every 1 counts" and all committed to working together to not just lowering the number of deaths on our streets but to eliminating them altogether.

The uniqueness of this conference was apparent at registration when I was handed a flyer that reminded guests "do not leave service revolvers unattended in the guest rooms." It continued at the opening session when the call to order included a moment of silence for those law enforcement officers and road maintenance workers who had been killed this past year while working to make our streets and highways safer for everybody.

During the conference I had breakfast with a Police Officer from Vernon, population 100, who wanted to know how he could address the safety of the "workforce" cyclists who work in Vernon and ride the sidewalks, often after dark, and who don't know the rules of the road.

I had lunch with a Police Officer from San Francisco and heard first hand how they were able to establish a working relationship with the cycling community, all while making safety a priority and somehow accommodating a Critical Mass ride that regularly draws thousands of cyclists to the streets.

I had dinner with traffic engineers who punched holes in the "crosswalk removal" studies and the "false sense of security" mythology that is so often referenced as the LADOT reevaluates and removes our crosswalks.

Through it all we heard of the current trend in traffic safety which is to focus on surviving the collision, a scenario that leaves the pedestrians and cyclists on the street as vulnerable or more vulnerable than ever. While the mileage death rate is at its lowest point since it began being measured, speed-related fatalities are on the rise.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), drove home the point that our greatest opportunity for improving safety lies in modifying motorist behavior in order to prevent the collisions, not in simply engineering to survive them.

As the conference progressed and the speakers offered solutions from all directions it became apparent that there is no simple answer but that there are a multitude of approaches and our greatest opportunity is to simply lay down some priorities and to work together to make them happen.

To that end I am pleased to announce that pedestrian and cyclist safety is one of the eight areas of focus for the Office of Traffic Safety, that the OTS is keeping track of the numbers and that the OTS mission is to effectively and efficiently administer traffic safety grants that reduce traffic deaths, injuries, and economic losses.

The hard questions for the City of Los Angeles is these:
  • What are LA's priorities for safety on the streets?
  • Does LA evaluate pedestrian, cyclist and motorist safety?
  • Is LA going after the funding that will support efforts to make our streets safer for everybody?
(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)

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