Most of the complaints I hear from friends and neighbors deal with local traffic issues.
I received an e-mail last week from a long-time friend about people in dark clothing riding bicycles without lights or reflectors on the sidewalk at night in Ocean Park.
“I’m going to hit someone driving home,” she e-mailed. “Can you ask your friends in the police department to do something to stop this?”
I’ve personally had similar close calls. While driving to the YMCA before dawn last week, I almost struck a darkly-dressed young rider on a Razor scooter without lights or reflectors in the middle of Sixth Street. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve jammed on my brakes when a Bozo on a bicycle blew a stop sign or red light, cutting me off.
My pet peeve is people who step into the street in front of moving traffic without looking. Senior citizens, kids, women with baby strollers — nobody here has heard of “look left, right and left again” or “look both ways before crossing."
I’d been told Santa Monica had the third highest accident rate in the state involving bicycles, cars and pedestrians. I called Santa Monica police Sgt. Jay Trisler to confirm the statistic and he invited me to come in and talk.
Trisler presented statistics from the California Office of Traffic Safety for both 2008 and 2009. “Santa Monica is in Group C,” Trisler explained, meaning cities of between 50,000 and 100,000 population. COTS estimated Santa Monica’s average population at 92,432 in 2009.
Trisler said: “That year, there were 701 collisions involving victims who were killed or injured. 100 of those involved pedestrians and 116 involved bicyclists which put us in the number one position for 104 Group C cities in both categories.”
COTS estimates that an average of 1,130,451 vehicular miles are driven every day in Santa Monica.
“If you rank the city by daily vehicle miles traveled, Santa Monica ranks third in accidents involving pedestrians and fourth in accidents involving bicycles out of 104 cities,” he added.
Trisler points out that while our resident population may be around 90,000, there are also an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 commuters, tourists and visitors in our city on an average day which explains the high vehicle mileage number.
Trisler mentioned that cities with high numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists usually have more accidents which is why college towns, popular tourist towns and communities with a high percentage of individuals without vehicles generally rank high.
We discussed ways to deter bad behavior on the streets. He disclosed that the SMPD relies heavily on education at senior centers, schools and public gatherings, press releases, public information bulletins and the SMPD’s pedestrian safety video campaign, “Be Safe. Be Seen." He added that enforcement is also a part of the safety equation.
According to Sgt. Trisler, one of the major traffic problems the SMPD deals with is bicycle riding on sidewalks. Trisler displayed a color-coded Los Angles County showing cities or jurisdictions that either allow or prohibit bike riding on the sidewalks. Santa Monica is a small outcropping of red (riding on sidewalks prohibited) surrounded by a vast field of green — Los Angeles — where bicycles can legally be ridden on sidewalks.
The few isolated gray and yellow spots on the map are where rules are unclear or where bicycles are only prohibited on sidewalks in a downtown area. The California Vehicle Code allows jurisdictions to set their own rules.
“It’s all confusing to visitors,” he says although we agree that posting “warning” signs at all streets at Santa Monica’s border is impractical and unsightly.
Trisler attributes some accidents to a “perfect storm” — an unfortunate combination of factors.
“Some collisions are the fault of drivers, the bicyclists, pedestrians or a combination,” he said.
We talked about inattentive and bad drivers, bicyclists who ignore traffic signs/signals or jaywalking pedestrians. Weather, alcohol and street “engineering” can also factor into collisions.
I mentioned my own pet peeve: pedestrians stepping in front of moving traffic. Trisler emphasized that “drivers have accountability in the safety of pedestrians” and then showed me California Vehicle Code, 21950(b) — a rule-of-the road I wasn’t aware of.
21950(b) reads: “A pedestrian has the duty of using due care for his or her own safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk."
Good thing to remember the next time you’re crossing a street. You can be cited, which is preferable to being killed or injured.
As alternate transportation modes increase, accidents involving drivers of motor vehicles, bicyclists and/or pedestrians will also grow unless we become more careful and considerate of each other.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.