While the number of accidents involving bikes/pedestrians and vehicles has decreased recently, the severity of the injuries suffered by bikers and pedestrians has increased as have fatalities. Courtesy image

The number of pedestrians and cyclists who were killed or severely injured on Santa Monica streets has slightly increased since City Hall set out to eliminate traffic fatalities in 2016, but the overall number of injury collisions has trended downward.

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are on the rise nationally even as dozens of cities across the country have redesigned streets and launched public awareness campaigns under the banner of Vision Zero. In Santa Monica, traffic collisions that result in death for people walking or biking have remained relatively uncommon — the rolling-five year average of fatalities in 2018 was 2.2 for pedestrians and 0.4 for cyclists — but collisions causing severe injury have risen, according to a report the city of Santa Monica released earlier this year.

Although the rolling five-year average of all cyclist and pedestrian collisions fell to 105 and 86, respectively, pedestrian collisions causing severe injury have gradually trended up since 2012. The five-year rolling average of pedestrian injuries in 2018 was nine.

The rolling five-year average of cyclist collisions causing severe injury trended down between 2012 and 2017, reaching a low of just under four, and rose to five in 2018.

The city uses rolling averages to evaluate each year’s data to account for “the potential for outlier years to give false impressions of either better or worse conditions,” according to the report.

Jason Kligier, a principal transportation planner with the city, said speeding drivers and drivers who fail to yield cause the majority of collisions, so much of the city’s Vision Zero efforts have centered on reducing vehicle speed and minimizing the time amount of time pedestrians are exposed to traffic.

The city has given pedestrians a head start on traffic at 53 traffic signals, distributed more than 1,700 lawn signs around the city to encourage drivers to slow down under its “Take the Friendly Road” public awareness campaign and is planning up to $22 million in safety improvements to Wilshire Boulevard, which has been the site of six fatalities and 29 severe injuries over the past 11 years.

The plans include measures to reduce speed, including pedestrian warnings and traffic lights, and infrastructure that prevents collisions, such as right-turn only restrictions, curb bulb-outs and bicycle crossings. In the future, Kligier said, the city might apply similar safety improvements to Pico Boulevard.

Lowering Santa Monica’s speed limits would also help eliminate traffic fatalities, he said. A pedestrian hit by a driver going 20 miles per hour has a 90% chance of survival, while a pedestrian hit by a driver going 40 miles per hour has a 90% chance of dying, according to Federal Highway Administration Data.

But under California’s speed trap law, cities have to set speed limits based on how fast people already drive.

“If you have a roadway where everyone is speeding, they over time will force our hands to create a higher speed limit on that roadway and we have very little agency in that process,” Kligier said. “If it were up to me, we would do what New York City and Portland have done and set speed limits to 20 or 25 miles per hour.”

Kligier said the city is considering adding protected bike lanes to portions of Ocean Park Boulevard, 23rd Street, Main Street and other corridors. Depending on funding, the lanes will be protected by flexible posts or separated bike tracks similar to the Colorado Esplanade.

The city is also planning to add protective posts to a four-block stretch of Broadway when the street is resurfaced, Kligier said.

“It will be a proof of concept for what we hope will be a larger bikeway,” he said. “It makes sense to focus our efforts on a corridor so many people are already using, so existing users feel safer and curious users who are concerned about their safety might be more willing to try it.”


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