The City Council is pushing for new ways to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety in Santa Monica after a spate of pedestrian deaths.
“When a fatality happens it is a burden that rests on the shoulders of the leaders of the city,” Councilmember Terry O’Day said at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting where staff addressed pedestrian safety.
While many speculated distracted driving might be the cause of the fatality spike – five pedestrians have been hit and killed by cars so far this year – statistics from the Santa Monica Police Department point to a separate cause: unsafe turning.
Ten years of crash data shows most pedestrians hit by a car were walking legally in the right-of way when hit. When pedestrians are at fault, Lt. Candice Cobarrubias told the City Council the pedestrians were not necessarily distracted by their phones either. She said pedestrians who were at fault were either jay walking or failed to yield to a bike or car.
“There is a false sense of security when it comes to pedestrians doing that, and they feel if they just walk in front of a car, the car is going to have enough time to stop and then sadly that’s not the case,” Lt. Cobarrubias said. However, she added the department is looking into ways to encourage pedestrians to pay more attention to their surroundings when they are crossing the street.
“We’re trying to address with pedestrians: what’s the best way to get them to look up,” Cobarrubias said.
Out of an average of 1,400 crashes reported every year, SMPD estimates about 82 percent only involve cars. However, 62 percent of the crashes that are fatal involve someone on foot. Most crashes happened on major streets with the highest volume of traffic during the evening rush (4 to 7 p.m.).
The problem is not unique to this city, nationwide the number of pedestrian-involved crashes has grown to 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2006.
After a lengthy study session Tuesday night, the City Council directed staff to look into more way to improve road safety for those traveling on foot and on bike, even if the proposals may be politically unpopular.
“There are no quick, simple, easy or popular ways to make our streets safe,” City Manager Rick Cole said. “Our streets were designed to speed automobiles for 50 years.”
Santa Monica Forward presented the Council with more than 200 signatures on a petition asking for a “Safer Streets Coordinator” in next year’s budget. The coordinator would work across city departments to advocate for pedestrians and implement better lighting and safer crosswalks across the city, among other tactics. City staff will now look into the feasibility of creating the new position.
The Council, lead by Councilmember Kevin McKeown created a lengthy list of items for staff members to look into implementing in the city, including parking protected bike lanes, discouraging left turns, pedestrian and bicycle corridors and reducing speed limits.
“Here I go, (jumping) in with both feet and a pair of handlebars and sometimes a steering wheel,” McKeown said.
The City will also increase outreach between local schools and Santa Monica College to implement education campaigns.
“These are not radical idea,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said. “It’s working from the margins into the middle but these are not radical ideas. These are things other communities are doing successfully.”
The City Bike Action Plan marked its 5-year anniversary this year.