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West Hollywood has witnessed another tragic death of a pedestrian after a 21 year old woman was hit by a car on the Sunset Strip overnight. But as Weho Daily readers know, pedestrians and bike riders being hit by vehicles is a fairly common occurrence on our streets and those of neighboring areas. Numerous accidents occur every month.  In fact, during the time this article was being written, a bike rider was hit on Melrose Avenue at Detroit (at 1PM).

While many people lament these tragedies, we also complain loudly about being slowed down by traffic on our streets. It seems natural to complain about something getting in your way. Isn’t it an obvious problem that needs to be solved when people are slowing down your drive? Maybe not. It’s certainly a worthwhile goal to reduce the amount of gridlock on our streets and situations when traffic is hardly moving. But we are much safer when we are moving on congested streets at about 20 to 25 miles per hour than we are when streets are wide open, and people are speeding around us even when we are not.

Deputies on the scene of fatal hit and run accident on the Sunset Strip. (photo: KTLA)

People are much more likely to be injured or killed in accidents at higher speeds. Some witnesses reported that the car that left a woman dead overnight was speeding down Sunset Blvd, and may also have ran a red light. Traffic wasn’t heavy, so higher speeds were possible. Another recent accident that left a pedestrian dead occurred on San Vicente, which is also a street that usually provides the possibility of driving over the speed limit.

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, of pedestrians killed in 2007 and 2008, more than 50% died on arterial roadways (like San Vicente, Sunset Blvd and Fountain) that are designed to be wide and fast. They also state that eighty percent of pedestrians struck by a car going 40 mph will die; at 30 mph the likelihood of death is 40 percent. At 20 mph, the fatality rate drops to just 5 percent.

It’s not hard to see reckless speeding in action, especially on streets like Fountain, which is prized specifically because it is a fast moving corridor through West Hollywood. The speeding becomes especially alarming at night and on weekends, when taxi cabs zoom east and then back west to try to squeeze in extra fares, and relaxed and possibly inebriated drivers weave between lanes to rush to their next nightlife destination.

Our city is only two square miles in size… we can get anywhere in town in just a few minutes, even driving at 20 to 25 miles per hour.  There really isn’t any good reason to have streets like Fountain and San Vicente make it feel safe to drive substantially faster.  Our streets should be designed to serve the needs of people and residents for whom our city is an origin and a destination, not to speed along those who are merely crossing through to jobs in Santa Monica or Burbank, or to other destinations.

There are a wide number of options we can use to slow down the speeding traffic on our streets while still providing for getting around town at reasonable speeds. Improved safety might even come from something as simple as making people hit more red lights during times of light traffic when they might be inclined to speed.  If we wanted to get fancy, perhaps we could connect radar detectors to traffic signals so that lights ahead of speeding drivers start to turn red more often. But there are also many things we can do without putting more red lights in front of people.

An intersection before and after Complete Streets design changes. A new crosswalk was added, existing crosswalks shortened, traffic lanes are more orderly, and bike lanes were also introduced. (source: Complete Streets)

The Complete Streets movement provides a wide range of additional ideas that cities and states can use to make streets safer while also keeping the traffic moving. These “complete streets” are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.

Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have adopted some form of Complete Streets policy. While West Hollywood has some initiatives related to safety on our streets, and has even recently formed a Bicycle Task Force, we don’t have a wide ranging, high profile initiative and policy of prominence and significance such as Complete Streets.

Perhaps it is time that we adopt a Complete Streets policy of our own. We can have safer streets that improve the quality of life in West Hollywood while we also keep traffic moving in ways that make sense.

There was an outcry for safer streets after a pedestrian was killed on San Vicente some months ago, but those calls faded away as emotions subsided.  Will things be different this time around?  Will the City of West Hollywood start to take serious steps towards fundamental changes to our transportation policy before then?  The clock is ticking towards that next death. It will come. Who will it be?

West Hollywood cannot eliminate all of these accidents, but there is no question that we can eliminate some of them.  And we can improve our everyday quality of life in the process.  It’s time to get busy toward that goal.

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