5 small things that could make a big difference
As you know, I spend a lot of my energy fighting for a more equitable use of street space. I don’t believe you should have to risk your life to ride a bike, and I don’t believe buses should have to sit in traffic with private vehicles. These beliefs led me to start Streets For All in 2019, and join full time in 2022. And while infrastructure changes are desperately needed in Los Angeles, there are also many smaller things we could do to restore balance in the way we use our public rights of way.
1. We should add leading pedestrian intervals to every intersection in Los Angeles. An LPI gives pedestrians a 3–7 second head start, as the walk sign will trigger before cars get a green light. This makes pedestrians much more visible to drivers, as they would already be in the crosswalk by the time the light changes green. Additionally, thanks to the passage of AB-1909, cyclists can also legally use LPIs to get a head start at intersections. If you’ve spent any time on a bike in LA, you know how impatient drivers can be, so this is a significant safety benefit.
2. We should revise signal timing to better prioritize those most vulnerable and exposed to the elements — pedestrians and cyclists. Currently, vehicle traffic flow is prioritized above all else, and this can mean that pedestrians or cyclists are waiting up to three minutes to cross a single intersection. If it’s hot, or if it’s raining, it’s pedestrians and cyclists that feel the elements. Why are we prioritizing drivers who are esconded in an enclosed climate controlled vehicle? We should revise light timing (a system in LA called ‘ATSAC’) so pedestrians (and cyclists at the few bike friendly intersections we have) never wait more than 30 seconds for a signal to change.
3. Switch all signals to night mode. During COVID, the city switched all intersections to night mode which meant after a preset amount of time, the signals would switch which traffic could go automatically. They did this because they didn’t want people touching signal request buttons (beg buttons), and to slow drivers speeding down traffic free streets. However, about a year ago, to better prioritize vehicle traffic flow, the city switched this back. The result is that drivers are again free to speed faster down streets with synchronized traffic signals, while everyone else’s safety and convenience suffers. Not every intersection in the city has beg buttons, and for the ones that don’t, they’re already on night mode. That works just fine, and there’s a safety benefit to not having green lights synchronized. We should do away with beg buttons and make night mode permanent at all intersections.
4. We should add more scramble crosswalks. Currently, the threshold to get the city to implement a “scramble” crosswalk (where lights on all sides are red for cars, allowing pedestrians to cross more safely) is very high. We only have a few of these in the entire city — Hollywood and Highland and 7th and Alvarado are two examples. But there are many more intersections where we should have scramble crosswalks. 3rd and Fairfax, for example, doesn’t have the same pedestrian volume as Hollywood and Highland, but it’s close. Yet we continue to deny these proven safety benefits to pedestrians in the name of driver convenience.
5. We should add signals at all pedestrian crossings on major streets. We still have some unprotected crosswalks on major streets in the city — meaning there is a painted crosswalk but no signal slowing down or stopping cars. And even though under the law drivers are supposed to stop when they see someone in the crosswalk, many don’t. Instead of signalizing these crossings, the city (due to budget constraints and wanting to prioritize driver convenience) is actually removing crosswalks! Instead, we should have painted crosswalks at every intersection on a major street, with signals to stop cars when the crosswalk is being used. Enough prioritizing driver convenience over pedestrian safety.
At the end of the day, only changes in the built environment will create real mode shift, but in the mean time we should be doing small things that make a big difference.