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L.A. City Council members vent over distracted drivers and pedestrians

L.A. City Council members vent over distracted drivers and pedestrians
In discussing the dangerous habits of drivers and pedestrians, City Council members were told Wednesday that 225 people a year die on Los Angeles streets -- half of them cyclists and pedestrians. Above, the scene of a fatal crash in El Sereno. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council members have a message for drivers and pedestrians more focused on sipping lattes, texting friends and reapplying mascara than on getting home safely: Knock it off.

A routine vote Wednesday on whether to accept a $500,000 grant to promote Vision Zero turned into a passionate discussion of the dangerous habits of drivers and pedestrians. Vision Zero is a citywide campaign to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2025.

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Under the program, the city has installed new pedestrian traffic signals and a scramble crosswalk, which requires all vehicles to stop so that walkers can move freely corner to corner, including through the middle of the intersection, at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

About 225 people die on Los Angeles city streets every year, said Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Department of Transportation. Half of those killed are cyclists and pedestrians.

The grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety will be used to develop a Vision Zero awareness campaign.

Reynolds said that the city's major thoroughfares were designed to handle heavy traffic volume, but that drivers often speed through neighborhoods at up to 70 mph when streets are not congested.

Council members, however, said wide boulevards that can be conducive to speeding are just part of the problem.

"You can only design around so much stupidity," said Councilman Paul Krekorian.

"As long as I'm on my soapbox, this is another attribute of disruptive technologies," he said, noting that traffic apps such as Waze often distract drivers and send them through unfamiliar neighborhoods where they'll encounter stop signs and blind curves.

"It's outrageous that people, to save 45 seconds of commute time, are putting our children's lives at risk," Krekorian said.

Councilman Gil Cedillo took aim at pedestrians who wear headphones, text in crosswalks and often don't look at signals to see if they can safely cross before the light turns red. Their safety depends on an observant driver, Cedillo said.

But behind the wheel, "sometimes people are reading books," he said. "Give me a break. Who is reading a book while they're driving?"

A report released last year by the Department of Transportation found police officers cannot use radars or lasers to catch speeders on most city streets because those streets lack up-to-date current engineering surveys.

"People are dying because of it," said Councilman Mitch Englander.

After a 30-minute discussion, the City Council vote 13 to 0 to accept the grant.

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Twitter: @TheCityMaven 

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