How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Bound by freeways, Chinatown pedestrians face heightened danger

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As a retiree without a car, Grace Yin walks the streets of Chinatown every day, and never lets her guard down. Everywhere, she said, there are careless drivers. A relative was hit crossing Broadway and Cesar Chavez Avenue several years ago.

"You have to look to the east, look to the west," Yin said in Mandarin. "You have to be very careful."

Los Angeles isn’t known as the friendliest place for pedestrians and bicyclists. But a new analysis by the Asian & Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance shows that they face an elevated risk of injury from reckless driving in Chinatown. (The APIOPA used the UC Berkeley's Traffic Injury Mapping Systems, which relies on data from the California Highway Patrol).

Drivers were at fault in 76 percent of collisions with pedestrians in Chinatown, compared to 66 percent for Los Angeles County, according to the alliance's analysis. This worries the alliance’s Jeffrey Kho, given that elderly residents make up about a quarter of Chinatown's population.
"If you’re a young person, you see a car coming at you, you can run, you can jump," Kho said. "If you’re an elderly person with a walker, or even limping across, it’s a lot harder to get out of the way."

Chinatown gets a lot of traffic because it’s triangulated by freeways — the 110, the 5, and the 101.
"There are so many off-ramps that people enter the streets of Chinatown at freeway speeds," said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
"Because the streets are wide enough to accommodate the commute hour when there’s not the volume of traffic, people can move quickly throughout Chinatown, so you have the worst of both worlds," Bruins said.  

Policymakers are planning improvements. Metro wants to make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to get between Union Station and neighboring communities such as Chinatown. As the Connect US project moves forward, advocates for the Chinatown pedestrians are hopeful planners will make the effort to seek input from the residents, many of whom can't speak English. 

"We want to see conversations be not just about, say, bicycles, but also about the very heavy pedestrian presence in Chinatown," Kho said. "Be sensitive to the people already in the community when you think about ways you can modernize and develop."

The alliance's staff and interns have been going to Chinatown to survey residents about what improvements they would like to see. What they’re hearing from older residents: less traffic, wider sidewalks, and shady places where they can rest their tired feet. 

They also want safer intersections. The obesity prevention alliance found that most of the 168 vehicle-pedestrian collisions that took place between 2003 and 2001 occurred at intersections.

It's not just elderly residents with concerns. Tommy Lo, an 18-year-old Chinatown resident and avid bicyclist, would like to see more bike lanes. Lo said he's had several near-misses with cars. He bikes to nearby Lincoln Heights because he prefers it to the buses taken by older residents. He knows of few people in Chinatown who are cyclists.

"Other people are too afraid of cars and the traffic," Lo said.

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