Car-pedestrian crashes have West Hollywood weighing safety vs. speed

A man runs across Santa Monica Boulevard at San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood. Since 2011, there have been 84 vehicle and pedestrian collisions in West Hollywood crosswalks.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Keith Cohn has seen so many pedestrians nearly run over trying to cross the streets of West Hollywood that he’s starting to get gun-shy.

He’s had to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit while walking his dog and once had to pull an injured jogger out of the street after the man was hit by a driver who didn’t notice him in the crosswalk.


West Hollywood crosswalks: An article in the Sept. 20 LATExtra section about concerns over pedestrian safety in West Hollywood said that three pedestrians had been killed in city crosswalks since 2011, and that sheriff’s Lt. David Smith said the vehicle was at fault in all of the incidents. After the article was published, Smith told The Times that the most recent pedestrian death, which occurred last month, was still under investigation. —
Cohn even gave up his ritual of sipping coffee outside the Starbucks at Santa Monica Boulevard and Westmount Drive because “all you hear is screeching of tires, people cussing each other out and people hitting cars that almost hit them.”


He finally took to videotaping drivers running stop signs near his home on Kings Road and handed over the footage to city and sheriff’s officials to show how bad the problem had become.

“I’ve seen too many close deaths,” Cohn said. “As a resident of West Hollywood, I am scared to walk my street.”

Now West Hollywood residents are urging city officials to make their crosswalks safer for pedestrians. Their efforts were heightened last month after a 62-year-old man was killed by a car while trying to cross Santa Monica Boulevard. Dozens of people later staged a demonstration in the nearby crosswalks, holding signs that read: “Unsafe.”

City officials are now considering several options for improving crosswalk safety, including removing some crosswalks and installing signals on those that remain.

Since the beginning of 2011, there have been 84 vehicle and pedestrian collisions in West Hollywood crosswalks, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station.

Of those, 47 were on Santa Monica Boulevard, which has presented a conundrum for city officials.


The street’s 2.8-mile stretch that runs through West Hollywood carries a heavy flow of traffic, typically more than 45,000 vehicles daily, according to city officials. That’s forced the City Council to weigh options for both speeding up rush-hour traffic and slowing it down for pedestrians.

Distracted driving seems to be at its worst when cars are moving slowly because that’s when people start looking at their cellphones, resident Steve Martin said during a joint meeting of the city’s public safety and transportation commissions this week.

“Nobody’s paying attention, and during heavy traffic it’s even worse because people are late, and they’re bored and they’re frustrated,” Martin said.

Martin, a former councilman, said officials need to carefully weigh whether adding signals to all of the crosswalks will actually make them safer or just create more congestion. Santa Monica Boulevard has numerous mid-block crosswalks between intersections — many of which have no lights or signals.

“When you create gridlock on Santa Monica, you may be calming traffic, but you’re not calming drivers.... When drivers are frustrated, they act out,” Martin said.

Some residents said drivers trying to avoid the gridlocked stretch turn onto side streets, speeding and running stop signs as they go.


Most collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in the city happen during the evening rush hour, according to the sheriff’s department. That’s also when the setting sun can blind westbound drivers.

Sheriff’s deputies will be increasing operations targeting drivers who fail to yield for pedestrians, and aiming to reduce distracted driving and jaywalking, said Lt. David Smith of the West Hollywood station.

During one operation last week, deputies gave 81 citations for failure to yield for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, Smith said. In most collisions in recent years, the vehicle has been at fault, but both drivers and pedestrians have become increasingly distracted by cellphones, he said.

Three pedestrians have been killed in West Hollywood crosswalks since 2011; the vehicle was determined to be at fault in all of those incidents, Smith said.

The city is developing plans to add more signals to crosswalks on Santa Monica between San Vicente and La Cienega boulevards.

Among options being considered is the elimination of some crosswalks and the installation of signals on those that remain. Another option includes keeping all the crosswalks and adding signals at each one — which could create more delays for drivers, officials said.


The city’s senior transportation planner, Bob Cheung, said several short-term measures also are being considered, including reducing travel lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard during weekend evenings and adding crossing guards at key intersections.
Twitter: @haileybranson