31 people were killed in car collisions in Long Beach in 2018. Here’s what the city is doing about it.

Car collisions took more lives than the act of homicide did in 2018: 31 people were killed in car collisions in Long Beach. Twenty-four of them were Long Beach residents. Eleven of them were pedestrians and bicyclists.

The cost of these collisions, including those which result in serious injury, between 2013 and 2017? City officials estimate that we’ve lost $1.46 billion thanks to associated costs like medical care, emergency services, property damage and lost productivity.

“Each year in the U.S., more than 40,000 people are needlessly killed in traffic crashes,” said safety expert and Vision Zero Policy & Communications Director Kathleen Ferrier. “Often referred to as ‘accidents,’ the reality is that we can prevent these tragedies by taking a proactive preventative approach that prioritizes traffic safety as a public health issue.”

That’s why the city, over the course of the past year and a half, has been developing its Vision Zero project for safe streets across Long Beach (for which it is also encouraging and soliciting the public’s advice). I was fortunate enough to get a peek into the draft version of the document.

The Vision Zero project is simple: to achieve a highway and arterial system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. It takes conventional wisdom—”Well, safety is just one of the priorities of the roads; cars need to go fast as well”—and inverts it: “No, safety is the priority of any public transit way.”

Graphic courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

It started in Sweden and was approved by its parliament in October 1997. Sweden has since cut its traffic fatalities dramatically even as the number of vehicle miles traveled has increased.

Some ways that cities have created Vision Zero policies are by designing streets for all modes, increasing funding for bicycle and transit projects, focusing law-enforcement at high-risk activities and high-danger corridors and, perhaps most importantly, finding ways to slow car traffic. On that last point, if a pedestrian is stuck by a car traveling 40 mph, they have a 73% chance of dying or sustaining a life-altering injury; there is an almost-guaranteed death if they are struck by a vehicle going 50 mph.

When it comes to pedestrians, there were 1,982 car collisions that involved pedestrians reported to the Long Beach Police Department between Jan. 1, 2013 and July 1, 2018 alone.

Graphic courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

“Mobility is only as safe as the street’s most vulnerable user,” Ferrier said. “Streets aren’t safe until everyone on them is safe.”

When it comes to vulnerability, pedestrians and bicyclists bear the weight: While only being involved in 12% of all collisions, pedestrians and bicyclists account for 46% of all traffic deaths and serious injuries. If we include motorcyclists, that latter number jumps to 65% of all traffic deaths and serious injuries. Serious injuries include broken or fractured bones; dislocated limbs; severe lacerations; skull, spinal or abdominal injuries; unconsciousness; or severe burns.

Graphic courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

Add on top of this other issues, and things become even more convoluted. For example, when it comes to a data collection perspective, figuring out where collisions stem from becomes difficult when police reports often list the reason as “unknown,” especially when it comes to car drivers crashing into bicyclists.

So what, precisely, is the city planning on doing to increase safety on our roads? Six main things to be precise, all in the direct verbiage from city staff’s initial draft:

  • Dedicating resources to Vision Zero Actions
    • “The cost of collisions is directly borne by individuals and their families in the form of foregone wages, medical bills, damage to property, and emotional trauma… Allocating additional City resources to eliminate fatal and serious collisions will save human lives, and it makes financial sense.”
  • Building safe streets
    • “Paramount to achieving Long Beach’s Vision Zero goal is designing streets that promote safe interactions between all people and minimize the severity of collisions when they do occur. The City of Long Beach is committed to designing and operating streets that are safe for all—regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.”
  • Promoting a “safety culture”
    • “We must all partake in a safety culture; one that values human life over expediency, and empathy over self-interest. Everyone must think about their role in contributing to a safe transportation system. This means following the law, looking out for one another, and using good judgment.”
  • Improving data and transparency
    • “Understanding where collisions happen, what factors contribute to collisions, and who was involved is critical to identifying the appropriate design and enforcement solutions… The more complete and accurate the data is, the better we can respond, track and communicate our progress.”
  • Enhancing processes and partnerships
    • “The City of Long Beach will continue its partnerships with local and regional organizations and agencies as well as forge new ones to advance its Vision Zero goal.”
  • Equity
    • “The transportation system must work for everyone. We will prioritize investments in safe infrastructure in disadvantaged communities or where people are disproportionately impacted by traffic collisions. Furthermore, we will ensure that enforcement efforts, which are an important component of Vision Zero, do not have unintended consequences for disadvantaged communities.”

I myself have been a huge proponent of Vision Zero, having encouraged its implementation back in 2014 and inviting its current Executive Director and Founder Leah Shahum a few years back to host a public talk. Most recently, I hosted Ferrier for a discussion last year revolving around the concept of how we, as a city, could help everyone get home safely despite their mode of transportation.

“An average of 115 people die every day in this country using opioids, and leaders have declared a crisis and epidemic,” Ferrier said. “Similarly, an average of 100 people die each day in traffic deaths, but there is no outrage, only complacency. The Vision Zero movement pushes back on this complacency and says we have a moral imperative to keep people safe on our roads and save lives.”

City staff plans on presenting the draft to City Council within the coming months.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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