Opinion: WeHo Is Dragging Its Feet on Pedestrian Safety

The safety of its citizens and visitors should be among the top priorities of our local government in West Hollywood, but when it comes to pedestrian safety, events have shown our city leaders have fallen short.

Crosswalk safety is not an issue that has arisen in the last few weeks or months–our West Hollywood government has been in paralysis for more than a decade, and should be held accountable to find solutions.

Lauren Meister
Lauren Meister

With more than a decade of experience serving on the city’s Planning, Public Safety and Transportation commissions, we are aware of the history, debate and possible solutions for crosswalk safety. The solution to the problem is neither creative, nor cheap, but it can be found in the practices of our neighbors next door in the City of Los Angeles.

More than a decade ago, West Hollywood lived up to its title as the “Creative City,” innovating on crosswalk safety by installing some of the first embedded blinking lights in crosswalks on the Sunset Strip.

Unfortunately, these lights could not handle the high traffic volumes along an over-developed Sunset Strip and eventually, stopped working. In an unfortunate but not unfamiliar story, a pedestrian lost her life. Because the lights were not working, her family sued the city. Ever since, the city has been reluctant to install any supplementary warning signals at our crosswalks.

Crosswalk policy has been debated at numerous Transportation and Public Safety commission meetings for years. At one point, City staffers rebuked Transportation commissioners, off the record, for using the word “safety” during their discussions for fear of creating legal liability for the city. But a decade of negligence has left the city liable for its inaction.

 

Scott Schmidt
Scott Schmidt

Although the city adopted a crosswalk policy requiring the removal of crosswalks that are too close to signalized intersections, such as the ones at Palm and Holloway, when it came time for the City Council to actually remove any crosswalks, it refused to follow its own policy.

Improved signage, flashing beacons and other supplementary measures being considered by the city are inadequate solutions. They give pedestrians a false sense of security, and they do nothing to keep a steady stream of people crossing the street from holding up traffic.

West Hollywood should look to Los Angeles and its mid-block stop lights at crosswalks as the preferred solution for pedestrian safety. By making pedestrians wait for the signal to cross the light and forcing drivers to stop for a red light, we will minimize the chances that an inattentive motorist or wayward pedestrian causes an accident.

Some argue that such mid-block stop lights might slow down traffic, but that is not necessarily the case. Pedestrian traffic at some crosswalks can reach more than 100 people per hour–meaning someone is crossing the street every 30 seconds. Requiring pedestrians to wait for a signal will cluster the crossings, thereby minimizing pedestrian impacts on traffic.

To further reduce traffic impacts, the city can adopt Los Angeles’ SignalSync system, linking our traffic lights to computers monitoring real-time conditions.

At around $150,000 for a mid-block stop light, compared to $15,000 for flashing beacons, this solution does not come cheap–but we would not want a jury to decide the cost of city inaction that endangers human life.

We love West Hollywood for its urban village feel, its walkability and its creativity. We hope that the city will take swift and decisive action to maximize pedestrian safety at our crosswalks, regardless of the cost. With the right solutions, pedestrians and motorists can have confidence that West Hollywood is putting pedestrians and their safety first.

Lauren Meister is a former Public Safety and Planning commissioner and candidate for the West Hollywood City Council. Scott Olin Schmidt is a former West Hollywood Transportation Commissioner.


27 Comments
  1. Since WeHo is ranked as the most walkable city in California lets make it safe!

    More lighting on the street for public safety in and out of the crosswalks, but there seems to be some good ideas that people have. Personally like “real” lights, as in red!

    Will be an interesting city council meeting tonight so far its kinda vague, this is copied and pasted for item 4B on the agenda, just hope something is done soon.

    STATEMENT OF THE SUBJECT:
    Direct staff to install signalized crosswalk(s) on Santa Monica Boulevard between La
    Cienega Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard, study all crosswalks citywide to identify
    other potential locations for improvements, and coordinate any physical improvement of
    crosswalks with education and enforcement programs.
    RECOMMENDATIONS:
    1) Direct staff to develop a signalized crosswalk installation plan for Santa Monica
    Boulevard between La Cienega Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard.

  2. Mid block lights were put in place over ten years in NYC around 30 Rock on Sixth Ave. This is on of the most congested areas of the city and clogged with tourists. It was a success. SMB is not even remotely as congested.

  3. The proposal that we install FLASHING LIGHTS at ALL Crosswalks is a good idea and attention needs to be made to the visability of these lights….drivers with sun blinding them or the lights is a complaint by drivers (including me). As a very long term resident of WeHo, I’ve seen us progress wonderfully..we seem to have been DRAGGING OUR FEET on this issue and I don’t understand why. PLEASE MOVE FORWARD..due to my early call time I cannot attend the meeting tonight..but applaud ACTION and curse the dangerous darkness of inactivity.

  4. This is JUST common SENSE, so THEY make sense: “West Hollywood should look to Los Angeles and its mid-block stop lights at crosswalks as the preferred solution for pedestrian safety. By making pedestrians wait for the signal to cross the light and forcing drivers to stop for a red light, we will minimize the chances that an inattentive motorist or wayward pedestrian causes an accident.”

  5. Instead of a new grand staircase, please build pedestrian bridges at the mid street crosswalks, decrease the number of them and keep the traffic moving.

    Also time the major intersection crosswalks with a few extra seconds to cross and stop Right on Red turns at the major intersections as well. Pedestrians, remember what we were taught at 5 years old, look both ways before crossing and put down the damn phone for 30 seconds while you cross 4 lanes of oncoming traffic. Lets do this.

  6. I say we tax all cars driving on Santa Monica Blvd $5, and distribute all the money to 1) paint more crosswalks rainbow colored, 2) add *another* free bus service that moves intoxicated 60 year old men dressed like they are 20 from gay bar to gay bar and call it the Creative Fabulous Line, and 3) lower our rent which is excessively high thanks to greedy landlords!

  7. This is very interesting insight into the reality of inside city hall that the average resident like me does not see. I completely agree with their recommendation to for the traffic light SignalSync system.

    @Chris, I remember when Lauren Meister spoke out in 2010 when a pedestrian was killed crossing San Vicente. Don’t be such a hater. Positive thoughts lead to positive results.
    http://www.wehonews.com/z/wehonews/pedestrian-struck-by-suv-in-critical-condition/

  8. This issue will continue to get worse if we don’t get back to the basics. Im very surprise that more persons haven’t been hit…. I see it everyday in this city ..people walk directly in front of cars eating, texting, headphones etc. and NEVER look both ways at any intersection. We are adults taught as children to look both ways before crossing the street where ever we are city or rural areas. What does it take to become aware of our surrounding and do not walk in front of oncoming traffic with our heads in the air not paying any attention to traffic believing they will stop…On coming traffic and your in the middle of the street pick up the pace and get across the street in an aggressive manner not like a child learning to walk in a serious threatening condition. We do not have the entitlement that its me me me its reality and not a game of Russian Roulette.

  9. Simple solution, like the city of Santa Monica, Lighted crosswalks. Lights in the street. Lights on the signage. Every street intersection, including “T” intersections, On Santa Monica Blvd., Sunset Blvd. and Melrose Ave. that does not have a traffic signal. Those lights need to be RED. NOT YELLOW. People are trained to stop for RED, they push the envelope on YELLOW! They actually speed up to beat the Yellow! Which makes the impact even more serious! If there has been similar issues with the North South boulevards, then the same solution. WeHo is billed as a “walkable city”, so make it more safe for pedestrians. MORE foot patrols and bike patrols by LASD. Lower the speed limits on main streets by 5 miles, and see if that happens. High end very powerful cars speed down these boulevards all the time, as do motorcycles. I am surprised there is not many more prehistorian hit by vehicles. We must live up to being a Pedestrian City by fixing this problem now!

  10. @ Romanoff

    The major problem is that the risks of jaywalking aren’t much different than the risks involved with crossing in the perfectly legal, yet unsignaled crosswalks in their current state.

    If West Hollywood will make those crosswalks safer for pedestrians, we can potentially lessen the temptation to jaywalk in the first place.

    I realize that no solution is perfect, of course, but reasonable, necessary and cost-effective steps can and should be taken; and they should be taken sooner rather than later.

    If painting some warnings on the streets and/or adding a few lights and signs to these intersections can save a single human life, that small expense would be a bargain.

  11. Simple solution: close SM Blvd to traffic between the hours of 10pm and 3am,cut off alcohol sales at 11pm, limit everyone to 2 drinks only, and have some Weho City Hall Staff (Kristin, Cory, Larissa, Lisa, Josh K.) work as crossing guards. Problem solved!

  12. What does this do to address jaywalking, the REAL issue here. This expense does absolutely nothing to address the real problem.

  13. NYC has traffic lights at EVERY intersection and has MUCH MORE traffic than what comes through WeHo. I sit on the patio at Trunks every afternoon and the number of close calls I witness is ASTOUNDING. I find it APPALLING that the city can lay out millions for a new library and to redo two parks but can’t cough up any money to save lives. No, it’s not appalling, it’s criminal. Put lights at these two friggin intersections already and be done with it. It’s a no brainier people.

  14. I dont understand why Lauren Meister didn’t speak up before this. She is politicizing the issue for her own personal advantage. (again) ..

  15. I still think the zig zag design of the crosswalks are somewhat to blame too. They are designed so one side of traffic continues to move until the pedestrian gets in the center divide “safe area”. But the problem is pedestrians don’t stop. They continue walking thinking that the cars see them…but they very well may not! Look at this report by KTLA and pay notice to the walkers at :55 into the report. The walkers don’t stop in the center. They proceed to cross. During heavy stop and go traffic…it’s very plausible that drivers just don’t see the people and/or dont stop themselves because their lane might be open thinking the other lane is stopped due to traffic, not people.

    I firmly believe straightening the crosswalks, installing pedestrian stoplights and adding nightime lighting will do a world of good.

    http://ktla.com/2014/09/01/demand-for-safer-crosswalks-increases-after-collisions-involving-pedestrians-in-west-hollywood/

  16. I happen to be of the opinion that a full-fledged traffic light at either, or both, of the unsignaled crosswalks is perhaps a bolder step than the city needs to take in order to make pedestrians safer.

    I’m also willing to acknowledge that no solution is perfect, and accidents will likely continue to happen as long as we have negligence among both drivers and pedestrians with whom the city has little to no control over.

    However, something needs to be done. The problems, as most are aware, are poor visibility, poor lighting, and far too few signs and warnings for commuters to be cautious while driving through the neighborhood.

    I feel as though these problems can be greatly alleviated simply by improving lamination at night, adding caution lights to the crosswalk and to the yield signs and, perhaps including additional painted warnings on the streets themselves before the crossings.

    If the city were to decide to opt for an additional traffic signal, I would recommend that the signal only be activated during peak pedestrian traffic hours. During Monday through Friday rush hour commuting times, the signals should either be inactive, or merely flash red to alert drivers to proceed with caution. This will limit their effects on commuter traffic.

    The lights could then become fully operational after rush hour, during peak club/bar/restaurant hours (Monday through Thursday, 7pm to 5am, then Friday at 7 pm through till Monday morning). I feel this option would have the most minimal effect on commuters but benefit pedestrians when they actually need it most.

    While inadvisable, I fear that Jaywalking will continue to be a terrible burden for West Hollywood’s as long as its pedestrians feel as though it’s not much less safe than actually crossing at the unsafe crosswalks in their current form.

    My two cents, for what it’s worth.

  17. I agree that we need stop lights at heavily pedestrian trafficked intersections. The problems lie with both drivers and those on foot. Many drivers never really completely stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. They roll up on them until they are out of the way, and then zip past. And pedestrians hurl themselves into traffic with entitlement, thinking everyone will come to a halt. The crosswalk at Starbucks by 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Monica is a perfect example of where a traffic light should be installed. The foot traffic there is ridiculously heavy, and for what, a spiced pumpkin latte?? That would be my suggestion for where the first real traffic light should come, even though there isn’t any vehicular crosstraffic.

  18. @Ron that was well put. I knew Clint for 20+ years and I know if there had been a signal he would have pushed the button always did every time we walked together for years but you seem to have more knowledge of the politics involved.

    I can’t comment much on the public safety board as I don’t have the same knowledge but so far the only response is the day after the rally sheriffs were out in full force giving tickets for people not stopping however during the day and what does one day of that accomplish?

    There needs to be a solution and action and the rally was a great start.

    NOW can the city respond?

  19. Important characteristics of a leader include having sharp antennae to anticipate likely problems and articulate preventative measures and solutions accordingly. This debacle has occurred after numerous commissioners, advisory board members and the like didn’t foresee the exponential results of their decision making and speak truth to power. Many of the decisions involving the development and glorification of WEHO as a party, hotel, entertainment and tourist mecca must have appeared benign on paper but countless individuals were actively involved in the process right on up to our current Mayor. Most move through planning and these benign decisions have become a blueprint for disaster.

    On paper WEHO looks to be a great financial success but at what cost. We are a magnet for many obvious bright and shiny issues that have come with significant risk. Our 1.9 square mile city will always be in the flight path to and from the Westside, Eastside and all access points. Our narrowness presents a natural choking point exacerbated by overscaled development on the main corridors. To avoid traffic on the main arteries folks will continue to access neighborhood streets increasing the hazards regardless of traffic islands, stop signs, speed bumps and cul de sacs. We can’t have or nor would we want law enforcement on every street corner with a radar gun and spike strips. Actually, we could use theoretical spike strips in the path of architect of this giant financial windfall because he or she obviously did not have good antennae yet they have redesigned our city.

  20. The reason nothing is getting done is pretty clear to me. There’s no benefit for the council members. Political figures are always looking for something shiny to add to their dossier. Saying they added street lights to an already packed street isn’t very snazzy, especially since these crosswalks were created by council 15 years ago when they redeveloped the blvd. But saying they approved an 85 million park revitalization, a new library, two new gateway shopping centers is certainly more flashy. I can’t for the life of me figure out what other reason they have. In the big picture…$150k for each traffic signal is nothing when they just approved 100 million on some grass. But someone suggests to paint a crosswalk rainbow colors and they have no problem dishing out 80k for that. Why? Cause it brings them favorable publicity.

  21. Wehoville…you could have done a better job by asking the current chairs of the Transportation or Public Safety to write an op-ed of what they plan to do or perhaps what they have been doing. Neither of these writers offered any insight into why WeHo is dragging their feet. Both served on these commissions and it would appear that perhaps they were the ones dragging their feet. We need today’s news and not yesterday’s report card.. I would have liked to hear that they offered these ideas and were voted down but instead they just finger point and copy the ideas that are already on the table at our commission meetings.

  22. Please sign the change.org petition on Facebook, Cross Safe WeHo page which went up over a week ago with the same thoughts above about the mid block crossing lights. These ideas were discussed at our very first Cross Safe WeHo meeting that Meister attended. No other candidates have participated at all.

    The above article is a lot of information but it does not take into account any work the current Transportation/Public Safety or the Disability Board have done in the past 2years. We all approved a pilot program of 3 rapid flashing beacon lights that was sent to council in february and approved. That program has not been sent out to bid even 7 months later. So this article seems to ignore the progress we expected back in February when council approved the pilot program for 3 of our most dangerous crosswalks.

  23. I agree. This stretch of Santa Monica Blvd has long been treated as if it were a thoroughfare. I realize much of this traffic is just passing through and many drivers speed through like they were on the freeway. I am in the neighborhood all day every day & I know what I see. But not only is West Hollywood a destination city, this is a destination neighborhood with many popular & highly patronized businesses, especially between La Cienega & Robertson, including the library & WeHo Park. It is also a highly populated residential neighborhood with residents trying to get on & off their streets all day, both in cars & on foot. The first consideration for traffic lights is for everyone’s safety, to slow down the traffic in this stretch & to make both drivers & walkers more cautious. To be sure there are greater consequences for drivers to speed through a red light than through small blinking lights. There are 2 major new developments soon coming in on Santa Monica & West Knoll, one on each side north & south, which are only going to add to the congestion. It can only get worse unless those responsible step up to the plate & see that the appropriate red/green traffic lights are installed now, especially before any more people are injured or die..

  24. So does candidate Lauren Meister need an ex-transportation commissioner to help her frame her thoughts on pedestrian safety? This debate is going on too long. Why didn’t they step up to the plate before the crosswalk deaths? What did either of them do while they were on Public Safety or Transportation to get any results? It’s a big yawn. Void of new ideas. Perhaps if they did something Clint would still be alive.

  25. It continues to amaze me just how tone-deaf our city leaders are; not just Council but those who have the power of implementation. The problem is so obvious and the solutions so available that it is astounding that nothing is done. The solutions proposed are exactly what is needed. We could also go one step further and include lights in the street like they have in Glendale.

    As for syncing the lights with LA, this is another solution crying for attention. Drive along Sunset eastbound at rush hour and see just how backed up traffic is in West Hollywood. It moves smoothly from Westwood to Beverly Hills then comes to an abrupt stop at Weho. It opens up again at Crescent Heights in LA. Do we really want to bog down traffic moving through our little burg, or do we want to get it through as quickly as possible so those of us who live here can actually drive on our streets. It’s no wonder that traffic is diverting to Cynthia, Palm, Ashcroft, Rosewood, etc.

    And then there are the continuing bottlenecks on Holloway and Fountain.

    If we really are the creative city why can’t we be creative when it comes to traffic movement.

  26. We have been told about the great deal of $$$ in our Coffers. So spending 10 times more to save lives seems like a mandate. We must do whatever we can to make this Urban Village work and work safely.

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