While traffic deaths continue to rise in the city of Los Angeles, officials are trying to reverse that trend and completely eliminate traffic fatalities with an initiative called Vision Zero.
The city is holding several community events, including this weekend, to promote the safety campaign.
In 2016, traffic deaths in L.A. jumped by 43 percent to 260, and officials say 2017 isn’t looking much better — preliminary numbers show another 30 percent increase for 2017 thus far compared to the same period last year.
The Vision Zero program was launched in 2015 by executive directive from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. It's stated goal: reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2025 and reduce deaths by 20 percent in 2017.
The L.A. Department of Transportation has analyzed city crash data to come up with a list of streets that are most affected by serious and fatal crashes where it will focus its safety efforts.
The department is now rolling out safety improvements on 95 miles of city streets, including more visibly painted crosswalks and curb extensions that force cars to slow down and make wider turns.
The city has teamed up with community organizations to hold a series of creative events in various neighborhoods to educate residents about the changes to the streets, including live telenovela performances, or a visit from a masked pedestrian superhero who originated in Mexico City, known as Peatonito.
"We’re using art and culture as a way to engage people in a conversation," said Lilly O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Department of Transportation Vision Zero program. "It draws people in from off the street and out of their car and off of their bicycles."
Meanwhile, the city is debating how much funding to allocate for Vision Zero in the coming year.
The mayor has proposed $16.7 million in funding – a significant increase over the previous budget of about $3.5 million, but nowhere near the $80 million that Seleta Reynolds, head of the transportation department, said is necessary to achieve the ambitious reductions in traffic deaths.
The city is currently unable to enforce speeding with radar or laser on about two-thirds of streets because state-mandate speed surveys are out of date and the transportation department has not had the personnel to keep up with the work.
The L.A. City Council Transportation Committee chaired by Councilman Mike Bonin has proposed allocating around $34 million for the Vision Zero program. The funds would come out of the local returns from Measure M, a sales tax increase to fund transportation projects that should generate around $56 million for the city of L.A. next year.
Garcetti has proposed using a larger share of the funds to fix badly damaged streets, which he says will help achieve the Vision Zero goals by making roads safer and allowing for the redesign of some of those streets to include safety measures.
The Vision Zero concept originated in Sweden and has been adopted by many major U.S. cities. New York City has seen a steady decline in traffic fatalities since 2014 when it first adopted Vision Zero. The budget for that city's program totals $1.6 billion over the next five years.