Pedestrian safety is a hot (and necessary) topic in West Hollywood. As our city leaders decide what to do with various signalized and un-signalized crosswalks in hopes of creating safer spaces for people to legally cross, I’d like to address an issue that is often the reason for pedestrian accidents: jaywalking.
While on several recent ride-alongs with Sheriff deputies I was astounded to see for myself the brazen manner in which people will take their lives into their hands by running wantonly across the highway. Usually a marked crosswalk was less than 50 yards from where the person or group of people were crossing. I sat at Yogurt Stop recently and watched as one guy ran toward his car, which was parked across Santa Monica Boulevard, less than half a block from the crosswalk at Palm Avenue. As he dashed across the median his straw hat blew off of his head and landed in the eastbound fast lane. He almost stopped to pick it up mid-stride, but cars were quickly approaching and he was forced to finish crossing, waiting for no fewer than 10 cars to run over his hat before he could venture out to grab it from the roadway. Thank God it was only his hat that fell; he could have tripped as he ran, with only seconds before the next car came barreling down the boulevard.
I’ve heard that about half of pedestrian versus auto incidents in West Hollywood occur outside of a marked crosswalk. Even in some of the highly publicized cases there were reports that the pedestrian victim had been jaywalking. And in my chats with Sheriff deputies I’ve been told that in their observation, a significant number of the monthly incidents are the result of people who were not using a marked crosswalk.
I think many of us have been on both sides of this coin. We see someone running brazenly across the street in front of cars and think to ourselves, “Don’t do that!” Then there are other times when we may be the one exhibiting that brazen behavior, thinking, “I’ve only got to go right across the street; I’ll just run when no cars are coming.” It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance from point A to point B. We know it’s wrong, but hey, if no one is watching we won’t be caught, and if we make it across unscathed then no harm-no foul, right?
I completely understand that mindset and the behavior that results. I also know that sometimes we think we are being more careful than is actually the case. And, more dangerously, sometimes we may be under the influence of a liquid bravado that can impair our judgement. It is the latter that most often results in an unpleasant outcome between a pedestrian and a 3,500 pound automobile.
So how do we keep otherwise good, law-abiding folks from engaging in a behavior that most people agree should stop? Enforcement does little to deter the behavior unless police can be everywhere at all times to ensure no one crosses illegally. And while on the one hand many plead for more enforcement, on the other hand every time a deputy tickets a jaywalker in West Hollywood he or she is met with equal or greater opposition and complaints that they should be spending their time catching real criminals. It’s a lose-lose situation that only serves to heighten the tensions between law enforcement officials and the public, and it doesn’t seem to really work as a significant deterrent to people’s natural behavior.
Some cities (like Las Vegas) that have high volumes of pedestrian traffic along a major roadway have dealt with the pedestrian issue by installing fences along the sidewalks and erecting pedestrian bridges across the boulevard, thus keeping pedestrians and autos separate at all times. I’ve heard people say there should be a rainbow bridge over Santa Monica Boulevard. This sounds cute, but in reality it doesn’t seem practical or totally necessary for the area. We don’t experience anywhere near the volume of people on a regular basis to warrant a bridge, and even if we did have some bridges, people would still likely prefer to take the easier ground crossings or jaywalk. Fencing the sidewalks would mean taking out the street parking, and this city can’t afford to lose any parking. Besides, ease of access from the street to the bars and shops is something everyone loves about our urban village.
So what’s the solution? My answer is plants — something that’s easy and would help solve the jaywalking problem and save water at the same time. West Hollywood should replace all landscaping along our medians with low desert plants (one to two feet high maximum), which will create not only a visual impediment for those wishing to easily cross but also will physically prevent easy passage because of the dense (and perhaps thorny?) nature of the landscaping. Not only would this barrier naturally redirect pedestrians to the crosswalks (my next article will be about ideas to create safer crossing spaces) instead of letting them easily jaywalk, but we will beautify our currently brown medians with plants that require very little water as well. This idea was the brainchild of a conversation between a Sheriff deputy and myself during one of my ride-alongs, and I love it.
Desert plants in the medians will require very little maintenance, can be installed quickly and with no structural changes and will go a long way toward showing the world that West Hollywood can creatively tackle two problems with one easy solution. If you like this safety-conscious and water-saving idea, then please email your favorite City Council member and let him or her know that you support my ideas for pedestrian safety. I also welcome hearing your own innovative ideas. Feel free to share them by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always feel free to come and share your ideas in person at the Public Safety Commission meeting this Thursday at 6:30 PM at Fiesta Hall at Plummer Park.
Ben Coleman is a West Hollywood resident and public safety advocate who created Keep Weho Safe. He is a member of the city’s Public Safety Commission.