Disputing a consultant's study that says marked crosswalks should continue to be paved over because they give pedestrians a false sense of safety, the City Council has voted unanimously to remove only those crosswalks proven to be dangerous.
The vote ends the city's practice of routinely removing crosswalks during street repaving, which has resulted in a 72% decrease in the number of marked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections--those without traffic signals--in Long Beach since 1976. In the past year, the practice has stirred controversy among some residents, who have argued that marked crosswalks are safer.
The council's action Tuesday contrasts with a trend in other cities such as San Diego, where crosswalks are disappearing at many intersections. Numerous studies in the past decade throughout Southern California have shown that more people are struck by vehicles when using a marked crossing than when using an unmarked crossing.
Under the new policy, the Long Beach traffic engineer will be allowed to remove a crosswalk at an uncontrolled intersection only after a special study of the location and upon approval of the City Council.
Councilman Warren Harwood, chairman of the council's transportation and infrastructure committee, criticized the $20,000 study by Willdan Associates, saying it failed to consider problems such as poor street lighting, high vehicle speeds, blind corners or heavy pedestrian traffic "that can make a marked crosswalk look unsafe on paper."
"The study is flawed because it looked at broad statistics, and I think they missed the point," Harwood said. "The question of whether a crosswalk is actually causing accidents is extremely complicated, so we will deal with it on a case-by-case basis."
Willdan consultants noted that they did not attempt to survey how many people use the city's 2,243 marked crosswalks compared to those who use the city's estimated 10,000 unmarked crosswalks.
However, based on figures developed in an extensive San Diego study in the 1970s, the consultants concluded that marked crosswalks in Long Beach are more likely to be the scene of pedestrian accidents by a ratio of 2.6 to 1.
According to the local study, which analyzed Long Beach pedestrian accidents from 1976 through 1985, 28 people have died in marked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections, and 412 have been injured. At unmarked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections, no deaths have occurred and 59 people have been injured.
Harwood said such statistics "don't address what happens in individual cases." He said that during public hearings on the issue, dozens of examples were cited by residents who believed a crosswalk would help, not hinder, safety.
Councilman Ray Grabinski said he and other council members initially agreed to reexamine the city's crosswalk policy because of public pressure, but decided that residents' fears about losing crosswalks were well-founded.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton noted that residents can now challenge the city when crosswalks in their area are considered for removal, because the action will require a council vote.
CROSSWALK CASUALTIES Pedestrian accidents at marked crosswalks in Long Beach over the last 10 years.
Injury Fatal 1976 120 5 1977 149 7 1978 155 14 1979 119 8 1980 153 6 1981 117 2 1982 113 4 1983 127 3 1984 150 1 1985 125 6
Source: Willdan Associates