Thirty-six people were killed in traffic collisions last year in Long Beach, a significant decline from 45 killed in 2022 but still more than were dying pre-pandemic.

Fatal crashes spiked in Long Beach in 2020, with 49 people killed across the city. From 2013 to 2019 the city averaged only 27 traffic deaths per year. Forty-seven people were killed in 2021. Officials have pointed to an increase in speeding as one of the main factors in the spike.

Most of the people killed in crashes were pedestrians — 102 out of 176 since 2020. The Long Beach Police Department has pointed to people walking into lanes of traffic or outside of a marked crosswalk as another major factor in the surge of deaths.

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The drop to 36 deaths last year comes as Long Beach has put an emphasis on building safer streets and slowing down cars.

“We are beginning to see the results of those actions,” said Joy Contreras, spokesperson for the Long Beach Public Works Department said.

Long Beach is aiming to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2026, a lofty goal that drew a laugh from John Yi, executive director of Los Angeles Walks, a nonprofit that helps community members advocate for safer infrastructure on their streets.

“The plans have not worked,” Yi said of Long Beach’s Safe Streets initiative and similar plans — often called “Vision Zero” initiatives — across the country.

Cities like Long Beach and Los Angeles are still too car-centric, he said; they need to shift their focus and build long-term upgrades for pedestrian and public transit infrastructure.

“The state of pedestrian safety is often a measurement of how healthy a community is,” Yi said. “If you have a community where you can’t walk … you have an unhealthy community.”

Long Beach officials say they are focusing on redesigning streets to create more protected bike lanes, reduce vehicle speeds on major roadways and educate people on road safety.

“Public Works is using a two-pronged approach to building a pedestrian, bicyclist, driver safe environment: in the short term, we are streamlining crosswalk evaluation practices, standardizing ‘quick-build’ elements,” said Joy Contreras, spokesperson for the Public Works Department.

“In the longer term, street repair projects are being scoped as holistic efforts, which include roadway safety features in the initial design phase, with priority given to higher-speed arterials where the risk of severe or fatal crashes is the highest.”

Recently, Long Beach redesigned Spring Street between Studebaker and the 605 Freeway to slow cars down by 10 mph. Before the redesign, 62% of drivers in that roadway were moving faster than the posted speed limit, according to the Public Works Department. After the redesign, where new bike lanes were installed, only 4% of all drivers were speeding.

The department also has dozens of roadway safety projects in the works. Some are already under construction, including the makeover of Artesia Boulevard, which will slow down drivers with medians and eliminate some left turn lanes.

The Long Beach Police Department said it’s also partnering with Public Works to identify roadways with a history of serious crashes. Police plan to focus on those areas when enforcing the speed limit, educating people about risks and discouraging driving under the influence.

“Individual decisions are also essential to realizing our goal of safer streets,” Contreras said. “People who have opted to take more transit, drive smaller vehicles, travel at the speed limit, and avoid roadway distractions also deserve credit for the recent decline in fatal crashes.”

One of the deadliest roads in Long Beach, however, remains out of city officials’ control.

Data shows that 29 out of 176 fatal crashes since 2020 happened on Pacific Coast Highway, which is controlled by Caltrans, a state agency.

Caltrans has set a goal of eliminating all traffic-related deaths by 2050, but factors such as speeding, aggressive driving or texting while driving continue to drive up the number of crashes.

Caltrans spokesperson Allison Colburn said the department has made several upgrades to the 8-mile stretch of PCH in Long Beach. They include protected left turns, audible pedestrian signals, pavement delineation, signage and speed feedback devices, she said.

Caltrans also has two safety projects currently under construction in Long Beach that will improve ramp access at crosswalks, they said.

A new bill presented by state Sen. Scott Wiener could also prompt Caltrans to make pedestrian and bicycle safety upgrades to all state roads — including PCH.

The bill would require Caltrans to do things like adding crosswalks and curb extensions on state-owned surface streets, according to a statement from the senator’s office. Another bill, SB 961, could also require carmakers to install new technology in vehicles that would put new limits on how fast a driver can travel.

“The alarming surge in road deaths is unbearable and demands an urgent response,” Wiener said in a statement.

The 36 people who died in Long Beach crashes last year outpaces the number of people killed in homicides: 26.