The City Council is being asked to spend $455,000 to make sure crosswalks like this one on Fifth Street are highly visible. (Kevin Herrera

Five people killed one month after City adopts pedestrian plan

By the time Steven White got a City response about the broken walk signal near his apartment someone had been killed.

Police have not said whether they believe the woman was in the crosswalk when a driver hit her, but there is a pedestrian crossing at the intersection where the crash happened in the early morning hours last week.

To White, the timing of the news seemed surreal: Monday: a woman killed at 18th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. Tuesday: a notification from the “Go SM Gov” App – five days after White had submitted a complaint – saying the signal had died.

“The system that runs this crosswalk has reached the end of its useful life,” read the message in part, “and is no longer supported by the original vendor.”

In the few months White has lived on 19th Street, he’s gotten to know the busy ways of Santa Monica Boulevard pretty well. He crosses the street daily on his walk to the Expo Line, which he takes to and from work in Los Angeles.

To safely cross the four lanes of traffic, White usually walks the extra block to 17th Street, where there is a traffic signal.

“The other night for whatever reason I decided to go to 18th street,” White said, where there is a pedestrian crossing with yellow yield signs warning cars to wait for pedestrians. “I stood there for like 3 minutes pushing the button and nothing was beeping and nothing was flashing and no one was stopping.”

White immediately filed a complaint on the City app and moved on. On Monday, he noticed the police activity at the intersection but didn’t realize someone had died – a 60-year-old woman who was running across the street – until the next day.

“My reaction was essentially anger and frustration,” White said. “I would say, to be very clear, the City is not responsible for any one particular crash or death no matter how bad it may be. This particular incident is not the City’s fault. It’s still the driver’s responsibility to drive safely, but it’s clear that this section of the street is unsafe.”

On Friday morning, the police department was back out at the intersection conducting a further investigation.

“Given that this tragic collision just occurred three days ago and the City’s investigation into it is ongoing, we are not able to comment further on this specific intersection or the fatal collision at this time,” Santa Monica’s administrative services officer Kathy LePrevost wrote in statement to the Daily Press Friday. “However, our investigation will be including the existing and planned crosswalk enhancement systems there and in other locations in the City.”

Police have not released the identity of the woman who became the fifth pedestrian killed by a car in Santa Monica this year. In both 2016 and 2015 just one pedestrian over the course of the entire year.

The sudden spike in deaths came just one month after the Council approved a Pedestrian Plan in February that included Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the City.

Part of the plan dictates City staff should “continue to explore designs to increase the probability that drivers will yield the right-of-way in crosswalks.”

For the City’s mobility manager Francie Stefan the number of deaths this year is more than just frustrating, it’s painful.

“We’re just incredibly sad for the families of anyone who’s been lost and want to extend our sympathy and respect to the families,” Stefan said in an interview with the Daily Press.

“We are a community that has made a commitment to take care of each other and ourselves.”

The series of deaths started March 4, when a pedestrian was hit on the stretch of Pico Boulevard between Santa Monica College and Woodlawn Cemetery. The very next day a man was found lying in the middle of Neilson Way near the Santa Monica Community Garden around 1 o’clock in the morning. Police have still not found the driver of the car that hit him but believe it was a silver Toyota Camry.

Two weeks later, on March 16, a car hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk at Lincoln and Hill at about 6:15 a.m. The victim later died at the hospital.

Just five days after that incident another person was killed by a car. This time, a 40-year-old man was buying his parking ticket at the Civic Center parking lot when an alleged drunk driver plowed directly into him. Police have charged Absadi Tewelde Kidane with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, vehicular manslaughter and resisting an officer.   The judge at Kidane’s arraignment suggested the crash may have been intentional – in fact, possibly an act of terrorism, citing a passport that indicated Kidane had traveled on two occasions to the Middle East. Kidane’s lawyer disputes the allegations.

The incidents are all unrelated, at different intersections and times. The City is drafting a report on the collisions that will go before the City Council May 9, seeking to pinpoint how the crashes fit into a larger pattern. In a statement, LeProvost wrote the solution is complex and will require resources, enforcement and community participation.

“There are no magic answers, but Santa Monica is part of a national movement committed to no longer tolerate senseless and tragic loss of life and life-altering injuries as tragic ‘accidents,’” the statement said in part. Multiple City agencies are involved in solving the problem. For its part, as of April 1, the Santa Monica Police Department had cracked down on drunk driving, screening more than 6,5000 drivers this year through six DUI Checkpoints alone.

An education campaign in K-12 schools is also part of the Vision Zero plan.

“Every year we work with the schools on Safe Routes to Schools and we do events and encouragement to raise awareness on how to cross the street safely,” Stefan said, adding a high school program teaches older students roadway safety. “We reach both students and parents.”

Most of the people interviewed for this story expressed a concern about distractions – citing drivers, walkers and bicyclists who are on their smartphones while navigating Santa Monica’s busy streets.

“In the month that most of this happened, L.A. reported that its pedestrian fatalities were up 15 percent,” Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said. “I think this is an urban problem that requires us to change the behavior of drivers, pedestrians and bikers.”

The SMPD Traffic Enforcement Unit has conducted five distracted driving operations, stopping 149 cars and writing 122 citations for violations related to cell phone use. Bicyclists have not been immune from the crackdown either – the department has focused on violations on Lincoln, Pico Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard and scrambled intersections, writing 227 tickets.

“It’s very important for us to always remember on the roads whether we are driving or walking or running or biking that we are all people and we all need to look out for each other,” Stefan said.