Six people have been killed and fifty-five injured in traffic collisions while walking in Pasadena in the past 11 months.
By Topher Mathers and Wesley Reutimann
These injuries and deaths are unacceptable. Fifty-five people will be fortunate if they fully recover from their injuries. Six families now face the first of many holidays without a loved one, a loss that will also be mourned by their friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
In February, 61-year-old Dennis K. Moore was killed after being hit by two drivers in front of his home while crossing Washington Blvd. One driver fled. In June, 80-year-old Myrian Cascella was killed while crossing Allen Ave. on her morning walk. In October, a 65-year-old man who was struck on Corson between Lake and Hudson Ave. And just last week, 33-year-old Yang Yang Liu was killed by a driver suspected of speeding and running a stop sign at Allen Ave at San Pasqual St. She had been out for a mid-morning jog. We know almost nothing about the other people killed due in part to the lack of media coverage and public notice about those fatal collisions.
Unfortunately pedestrian safety is heading in the wrong direction in Pasadena. According to the Pasadena Department of Transportation, pedestrians were involved in only 5% of all collisions in the City, yet accounted for 38% of traffic deaths between 2011-2020. So far this year pedestrians have been involved in 6% of all collisions and account for 75% of traffic deaths in Pasadena. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) Crash Rankings of similar sized California cities, Pasadena has consistently witnessed some of the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities for pedestrians. Over the last decade (2009-2018); for five out of those ten years Pasadena was ranked 2nd worst, statewide.
One factor is that drivers now choose larger, heavier SUVs and trucks with higher front ends. Even in California, 57% of new vehicle sales in 2017 were SUVs. These vehicles are inherently more dangerous, especially as they are often paired with motors that make accelerating from 0 to 40 mph in 2 seconds deceptively easy. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released findings that “pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup than when struck by a passenger car.”
It doesn’t need to be this way. We can do more to make our streets safer for everyone. In the last 20 years, cities and countries around the world have implemented street safety improvements to reduce the incidence and severity of collisions. This track record of success recognizes that drivers make mistakes, and focuses on adding built-in safeguards to streets.
Let’s not miss this opportunity to reduce speeding through our neighborhoods. The risk to people on foot, especially children and older adults, rises exponentially as vehicle speed increases from 20 mph to 40 mph. NHTSA notes that “27 percent of transportation fatalities in the U.S. were speed related”. Even a 5-mph reduction in average traffic speeds can have a significant, long-term, positive impact for public safety. This is particularly relevant in Los Angeles County, where traffic crashes are the number one cause of premature death for children aged 5-14, and number two cause for children 1-4, young adults 15-24, and adults 25-44.
Increasing safety 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is most effectively accomplished by designing for safety. Speed humps, pedestrian safety islands, shorter crossings, and raised crosswalks reduce vehicle speeds where people cross the street. Traffic diverters facilitated by Waze and other apps help limit cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. Modern roundabouts at stop signs and traffic light controlled intersections make dangerous T-bone collisions impossible. Designated left turn signals reduce collisions in intersections. Reducing posted speed limits — recently legalized in CA by the passage of AB-43 CA for streets with documented safety problems — decreases both vehicle speeds and injury collisions.
Which options are employed along a specific street or intersection can be chosen in a holistic manner. The question is whether we as a community have the collective will to take this issue head on. Are we ready to actually make our streets safe? How many deaths and injuries can we tolerate? Will the City Council commit to improving the safety of the most dangerous streets in Pasadena?
A growing number of cities around the world use low-cost, high-impact safety measures in the short-term while simultaneously pursuing more costly, long-term improvements. Pasadena has taken a few baby steps in this direction in recent years, including the addition of temporary, plastic bollards to provide pedestrians more space at one intersection with a documented safety problem, Colorado Blvd. and Fair Oaks Ave. However, we can do more. Pasadena could restore and improve upon its popular ‘Slow Streets’ program. Such programs utilize low-cost tools to reinforce safer driving and demonstrate potential improvements in a matter of weeks or months, not years. Numerous cities in LA County initiated similar traffic calming programs in response to the pandemic last year, and a growing number of California cities have made or are in the process of making those programs permanent. Pasadena abandoned its program earlier this year, despite new state legislation designed to reduce barriers to ‘Slow Streets’ programs.
The City is in the midst of updating its pedestrian plan for the first time in over a decade, a process that is identifying dozens of potential safety improvements for the City’s most dangerous streets. Improvements such as ‘leading pedestrian intervals’ that give people on foot a few seconds head start to cross an intersection and high-visibility crosswalks can be implemented at relatively low cost. This month the Pasadena City Council will begin its annual budgeting process, providing local elected leaders the opportunity to “walk the walk” on pedestrian safety by dedicating real money for plan implementation.
Making an investment in safer, more vibrant and sustainable streets is the least we can do for the families of the victims and those who have suffered injuries on our streets, and for everyone who wants to walk in Pasadena without fear.
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