Despite Vision Zero Traffic Deaths in LA Are Soaring

2021 deadliest year in nearly two decades for pedestrians in LA

By Sam Catanzaro

In 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched Vision Zero, intended to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. More than five years after the launch of this program, traffic deaths in the city are soaring, reaching their highest number in nearly 20 years. 

294 people were killed in traffic collisions in 2021, LA List recently reported on Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) data. Not only does this represent a 22 percent increase from 2020, but it is also the highest toll since 2003. Around half of those killed in these collisions were not in vehicles themselves, including 132 pedestrians and 18 cyclists. Furthermore, 1,479 traffic crashes resulting in severe injuries occurred on LA streets in 2021, a 30 percent increase from 2020. 

Traffic fatalities increased across the city in 2021, except for the LAPD Central bureau area, which includes downtown LA and Silverlake. 

Overall, since Garcetti launched Vision Zero, traffic deaths in Los Angeles have increased 58 percent. Since then, traffic deaths have jumped 58%. So how did this get this bad? 

Colin Sweeney, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), told LA List that one common factor is “a deadly combination of dramatic increases in speeding and reckless driving.” Between January 2020 and June 2021, 78 crashes involved a vehicle traveling at unsafe speeds. This is around the same number (80) of unsafe speed crashes occurring in a longer two-year period between 2018 and 2020. Likewise, between January 2020 and June 2021, 50 fatal crashes involved a motorist striking a fixed object, compared that 39 such collisions for all of 2018 and 2019 combined.

In addition, Sweeney cited to LA List “design trends that make cars deadlier than ever before for individuals outside of the vehicle, with heavier frames and the addition of distracting features.”

2021 data shows that while the number of crashes resulting in a death where the driver was under the influence remained the same, the number of DUI crashes resulting in serious injuries increased by 31 percent. 

According to Sweeny, since the launch of Vision Zero, LADOT has completed 5,500 safety improvements on the city’s High Injury Network. This is the 6 percent of city streets that account for 70 percent of deaths and severe injuries for pedestrians. But pedestrian activists say this is not enough and the city’s approach is not working. 

“The formula and the campaign that is being run by the city in terms of reducing traffic fatalities to zero is a failure,” Damian Kevitt, executive director of the nonprofit Streets are for Everyone told LA List. “The biggest factor is there’s not the political will to make the hard decisions to save lives.”

Reflective of this lack of political will is the lack of funding to address to issue. In 2017, LADOT director Seleta Reynolds estimated the department needed around $80 million to reduce traffic deaths by 20 percent by the end of that year. The City Council-approved budget, however for that year only gave LADOT $27 million in funding towards implementing Vision Zero. That year, traffic deaths dropped citywide by only five percent. And since, this number has decreased. The 2021-2022 City budget provides Vision Zero projects around $13.7 million, according to data from Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin

Mayor Garcetti’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

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