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.
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.
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.