The West Hollywood City Council addressed the controversial issue of pedestrian safety tonight by asking city staffers to develop a plan for installing stop lights at pedestrian crosswalks on Santa Monica Boulevard between San Vicente and La Cienega that would be synchronized with traffic lights.
The Council also asked the staff to study all of the city’s crosswalks to determine whether improvements were needed elsewhere, to study the usefulness and feasibility of reducing the speed limit on Santa Monica Boulevard, to consider improvements in the painting or marking of crosswalks and to collect more detailed information on pedestrian accidents.
The city staff study will be presented on Sept. 15 to a joint meeting of the city’s Transportation and Public Safety commissions. Information from that meeting will go back to the Council on Oct. 6, when it will consider what action to take on the issue.
“Tonight West Hollywood took a big step toward improving our walkability and pedestrian safety,’ said Mayor John D’Amico. “Cities across the nation are struggling with the ways that new technologies, such as smart phones impact how we share public space. Distracted driving and, now, ‘distracted walking’ are very real concerns. Tonight’s decision will help us engineer better crosswalk solutions and educate community members about stepping up awareness when it comes to driving and walking on our city’s streets and crosswalks.”
Councilmember John Heilman, who joined D’Amico in asking the Council to consider installing synchronized crosswalk lights, said: “We are constantly looking for ways to make West Hollywood safe and accessible. This is just one option that we think can help with pedestrian safety without increasing traffic and gridlock.”
Crosswalk safety emerged as an issue in June, when a pedestrian was hit by a car while in a crosswalk on Santa Monica Boulevard near Westmount. Anger about pedestrian safety escalated late last month when Clinton Bounds, a well-known figure in West Hollywood’s gay bar community, was hit by a car and killed while trying to cross Santa Monica Boulevard at around 11 p.m. on a Saturday. While Bounds apparently was jaywalking when he was hit, residents staged a demonstration in a nearby crosswalk on Santa Monica Boulevard at Hancock to demand the city take action to improve crosswalk safety.
According to data from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, there have been 16 pedestrian crosswalk accidents so far this year. There were 28 in 2012 and 22 last year. The majority of accidents occur in crosswalks with traffic stoplights, which was questioned by some speakers at tonight’s meeting. Steve Green, vice chair of the city’s Transportation Commission, noted that those crosswalks are at intersections with more pedestrian and automobile traffic, which likely explains why there are more accidents there.
The Council’s decision to ask for a study of pedestrian safety improvements and its decision to ask the Transportation and Public Safety commissions to study the matter was praised by some residents at the meeting. Ben Coleman of Keep WeHo Safe, a citizen safety group, said such a study was needed to make clear which of many options would be most effective.
But Larry Block, a candidate for City Council in the March 2015 election and an organizer of the citizen protest about the crosswalk accidents, complained that the city failed tonight to take immediate steps to improve safety.
“Now we’re going to do the same exact thing — no temporary measures until someone else gets hit,” Block said. “This is a do-nothing City Council. All they do is study for two years. They haven’t done a thing for crosswalk safety.
“Put the special event signs up,” he said, referring to lighted temporary signs that the city erects to warn drivers of street closing or traffic congestion related to special events. “Put a temporary monitor there until the study is done. Now they want to address the entire city’s problems when 45 percent of the accidents occur on Santa Monica Boulevard. Shouuldn’t they address that first?”
In a press release, the city noted that it has taken a number of steps to address the crosswalk safety issue. In 2012, the city installed rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFB) at the crosswalk on Santa Monica Boulevard near Westmount Drive. RRFB devices also were tested at two other unsignalized crosswalks: Santa Monica Boulevard at Orange Grove Avenue and Crescent Heights Boulevard at Norton Avenue. The city conducted before-and-after studies for the RRFB devices and improvements in safety were measured.
In February, the Council approved a staff recommendation to keep RRFB devices at the three test locations and voted to install additional RRFB devices on Santa Monica Boulevard. But city staff members decided to hold off on installation plans pending review of additional strategies for pedestrian safety. That decision was criticized tonight by Mayor D’Amico, who complained that City Manager Paul Arevalo failed to inform the Council of the decision to delay installation of the RRFB devices.
“As a Council, we were never told,” D’Amico said, adding that he was upset that a staff person would make a decision to delay an installation requested by the Council. “I think that’s a failure of this city to communicate with this Council. We are a part time body, and we can only do what we can do in a part time way. From my mouth, from my sense, that didn’t go right.”
Arevalo acknowledged that the city staff should have come back to the Council after receiving information that raised questions about whether the rapid beacon lights were the best solution. That solution was discussed at a mobility workshop in March attended by Council members and the Transportation Commission. Following that meeting, the city contracted with Fehr & Peers, transportation planning specialists, to evaluate options for improving pedestrian safety. The complete Fehr & Peers study will be presented at the Sept 15 joint meeting of the Transportation and Public Safety commissions.