Everyone deserves a safe street

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Michael Clemson, the vice chair of the Long Beach Transit board of directors, and the energy program manager for the California State University Chancellor’s Office. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Traffic violence is constant on our streets. Every day in California 10 people, both in and out of cars, die from fatal vehicle collisions. Anaheim Street, Seventh Street and Long Beach Boulevard are part of the problem. These streets are designed to move cars through as fast as possible; they don’t serve the people who live there.

Many high-income residential neighborhoods manage to argue that their streets are “not appropriate” for high speeds and high traffic volumes. The implication is that other streets are appropriate for high car speed and volume. This is a system of haves and have nots, where some must put up with constant traffic, congestion and death while others are spared and protected.

Many streets are designed to be dangerous

Dangerous streets are not natural or unavoidable. The city made some streets fast and dangerous in the choice to prioritize traffic. The city continues to keep streets dangerous.

Drivers are told how to drive by a street’s design. Wide lanes encourage drivers to break speed laws and drive dangerously through neighborhoods. The city chooses the width of streets and lanes. Narrow sidewalks and lack of biking lanes force pedestrians and cyclists into space occupied by cars. The city chooses how little space cyclists and pedestrians get.

On Anaheim, it’s not uncommon for a driver to lose control and literally drive through a building. Drivers are going fast enough that their cars flip from the force of the crashes. This isn’t just a problem of drivers making a single unsafe decision. Fundamentally, drivers are driving too fast because the street is built that way. That puts everyone at risk.

Slowing traffic is critical to making neighborhoods safer. When hit by a car going 20 mph, a pedestrian has a 90 percent chance of survival. When hit by a car going 40 mph, a pedestrian has only a 10 percent chance.

People living on unsafe streets deserve better

High-speed streets are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, but projects to slow traffic have been focused in wealthier neighborhoods. People living on streets like Bellflower Boulevard and Broadway have gotten projects to slow traffic and reduce the number of cars driving through their neighborhoods. People living on streets like Anaheim or Pacific Coast Highway, which are among the deadliest streets in the city, are expected to deal with it.

Even projects meant to improve safety in low-income neighborhoods are still primarily used to improve the safety of drivers passing through over the pedestrians living in the community. The city’s Anaheim Corridor project basically installs medians that will prevent crashes by preventing drivers from making dangerous left turns. It won’t slow traffic because it doesn’t narrow lanes or add any traffic calming. Pedestrians will still have to dodge traffic to cross the street.

Narrowing lanes works. To the west of Clark Avenue on Atherton Street, where the city completed a lane narrowing project, drivers have slowed and follow speeding laws. To the east of Clark, the city abandoned that project and drivers continue to break speeding laws there. Long Beach has many other examples of successful safety projects.

On Anaheim Street, we could follow successful examples by expanding sidewalks or including bike lanes. Instead, current city plans will trap public space in the center of a still-dangerous road.

With wider sidewalks the city could install street trees that would shade pedestrians and improve the neighborhood. With a safer street, businesses could build parklets—like the ones you see on Fourth Street—without fear of a dangerously speeding driver crashing into them. A narrower street would let people cross the street quicker and encourage more local residents to walk to nearby  businesses.

A better project could significantly improve the street, be a benefit to businesses and save lives. For that to happen, Long Beach would have to prioritize people over cars.

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