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Vision Zero heads to South LA to engage the community in street safety

Vision Zero meets with community members in South LA to figure out the best strategies for improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Vision Zero meets with community members in South LA to figure out the best strategies for improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
LA Department of Transportation and Multicultural Communiites for Mobility

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It’s been two years since LA Mayor Eric Garcetti adopted Vision Zero — a radical plan to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025. It’s no small task. LA has double the traffic fatalities per capita as New York and far fewer funds to combat an issue the LA Department of Transportation now considers a public heath crisis; 260 people died on LA roads in 2016.

The city is now taking action. It’s prioritized 40 corridors for safety improvements where traffic deaths and injuries are most severe for pedestrians and bicyclists. One of them is Crenshaw Blvd. in South LA. Take Two's motor critic Sue Carpenter met with one of Vision Zero’s newest weapons in its war against roadway crashes. Her name is Destiny Thomas.

Officially, Thomas is a transportation planning associate with the LADOT. In other words, "I am sort of the department's champion for effective community engagement," she says.

Thomas lives in South LA, in a neighborhood "affectionately known as the jungles, behind Crenshaw mall," she says. The idea is that because she's a member of the community, she's better able to communicate the message of Vision Zero to the people who stand the most to gain from it. And also to get their input on the changes they’d most like to see to make the streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

"We want this to be a completely participatory process, and we know that that’s not always possible as a government entity, but that’s the ideal situation, so one opportunity that we saw was that really the community is the best advocate for safety enhancements in the neighborhood," she says. "That means the ideas have to come from them."

People like Minister David Price, who, until Tuesday, didn’t even know Vision Zero existed.

Price is a young adult minister at First AME church of South Los Angeles. One of his congregation members told him about Vision Zero and introduced him to Thomas, whom he met just this week to stroll Crenshaw Blvd. and give his ideas on how the street might be improved. 

Central-South LA ranks 14th when it comes to the per-capita number of pedestrians and cyclists who are killed or severely injured in the city each year, according to the LADOT.

"It’s not that characteristically the people in South LA are not safe or that they’re making it unsafe," Thomas says. "Where we’re seeing a lot of fatalities happen is people plain and simply driving too fast. In those instances, we need to reorganize the street so regardless of whether somebody’s obeying the signs, it’s physically not possible for them to make those types of choices, so it’s not that we’re marking South LA as generally unsafe. We’re as a city saying there’s major implications in making South LA safer."

Thomas is a pedestrian. She uses public transportation. She used to be a motorist, but she gave up her car two weeks ago after walking with residents on the corridors she and Vision Zero are hoping to improve.

Price, on the other hand, is a self-identified motorist. He rarely walks or bicycles.

"Just walking down Crenshaw, it always feels like I’m on the freeway," he says. "Cars are moving so fast. Honestly, if I wanted to get from the west side of the road to the east side of the road, I would have to go I don’t know maybe two football fields down the road in order to make a safe crossing. So I think one of the major things we can do is even put intersections where you have crosswalks that are highlighted with lighting, that are clearly marked so that motorists can see exactly where the folks are crossing."

Also, bicycle lanes.

"I don’t see that many cars that are parked on the street so I’m also thinking there might be opportunities for bike lanes to be put on the side of these roads, so that people, like myself who might want to ride a bike to work, will be able to do that and feel safe doing that," Price says.

Thomas says the reason you don't see people walking their dogs or riding their bikes in South LA isn't because they don't want to. "It’s because they don't have an environment that’s conducive to doing that," she says.

Over the next several months, Thomas will continue working with Price and other South LA community members to solicit their ideas on the best ways to make their streets more safe. LADOT will come up with a few action plans. The community will then decide on those plans and the city will construct the winning ideas.

So maybe in 2018, South LA might not have the dubious distinction of ranking no. 14 when it comes to traffic deaths, but it might have more walkers and cyclists.