Los Angeles: the most traffic deaths in USA

Vision Zero, a road traffic safety project pioneered by Sweden in 1997, has since been adopted by the likes of New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin and state of Victoria in Australia. At its best, it focuses on evidence-based interventions around anything from safer vehicles to safer roads, covering engineering, education and enforcement.

Any city can brand its safety projects ‘Vision Zero’. US states that adopted Vision Zero saw fatality rates decline 25% faster than the national average from 1997 to 2014. But reducing road deaths in the long term means redesigning roads to restrict motor traffic – and that’s where things get difficult. New York has had success, while LA has failed.

Los Angeles: the most traffic deaths in the US

While New York has some of the lowest traffic death rates in the country, Los Angeles has the highest number of deaths, with a person killed in traffic every 40 hours.

The scramble crosswalk at Hollywood Blvd and Highland in Los Angeles. Photograph: LADOT

The scramble crosswalk at Hollywood Blvd and Highland in Los Angeles. Photograph: LADOT

In January last year the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced its first Vision Zero strategy, with a goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2025. Work would focus on 40 High Injury Network streets, particularly those near schools. Interventions included pedestrian scrambles, painted kerb extensions protected by bollards, and left turn safety improvements.

Jon Orcutt, who was director of policy at the NYC Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2014 and developed De Blasio’s Vision Zero programme.

He says local council leaders who did back Vision Zero in LA were left isolated and “hung out to dry” in the face of opposition.

Orcutt also expresses his frustration at a lack of ongoing improvement in New York after those initial improvements.

Los Angeles had no safety policy before Vision Zero, it’s pretty common across the United States. There’s nothing to build on and you have established this really ambitious goal and it’s hard for everyone to figure out what’s going on
— Jon Orcutt

“We need leaders to say, ‘This is what we are doing in the city, and you don’t get to say no, and you don’t get to come back on what our technical experts say,’” he says. “That is the power of the mayor – that’s the point of the megaphone you have.”

The fundamental issue in America is that almost anywhere they try to implement Vision Zero, almost everyone in those cities drives. They aren’t willing to be slowed down, they object, and the politicians refuse to do anything that’s going to make drivers angry.

The Spanish city that banned cars

Central Pontevedra after the changes. Photograph: Luis Pereiro Gomez

Central Pontevedra after the changes. Photograph: Luis Pereiro Gomez

In Pontevedra, Spain the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city has been replaced by the tweeting of birds and the chatter of humans. Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores has been mayor of the Galician city since 1999. His philosophy is simple: owning a car doesn’t give you the right to occupy the public space. Lores became mayor after 12 years in opposition, and within a month had pedestrianised all 300,000 sq m of the medieval centre, paving the streets with granite flagstones.

Before I became mayor 14,000 cars passed along this street every day. More cars passed through the city in a day than there are people living here
— Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores

The benefits are numerous. On the same streets where 30 people died in traffic accidents from 1996 to 2006, only three died in the subsequent 10 years, and none since 2009. CO2 emissions are down 70%, nearly three-quarters of what were car journeys are now made on foot or by bicycle, and, while other towns in the region are shrinking, central Pontevedra has gained 12,000 new inhabitants.

Origin of texts and photos from The Guardian