Time to End Deadly Crashes on Arlington

The intersection I live on – Arlington Ave at 24th Street – sees car crashes frequently. They range in types: a driver who doesn’t realize that the driver in front is braking for a child in the crosswalk and rear-ends the car that stopped. An impatient driver waiting to turn off Arlington guns it into a small window between cars, not seeing a driver or motorcyclist approaching quickly in the far lane and gets broadsided. A driver speeding up the hill at Adams Blvd. loses control, jumping the curb and striking whatever is nearby. Street trees, houses, property walls, fire hydrants, bike riders, and children crossing to play at the park… they’ve all been hit in tragic and dramatic fashions. 

APR17arlingtonThere isn’t just one problem in the configuration of Arlington, there are probably 6 or so. But in every case, we hear the sound, all the neighbors run out, fire trucks arrive, then an ambulance or ambulances, and then police officers take a report from the drivers, victims, and witnesses. The scraps get swept to the side. Rinse, repeat.

In the early morning hours of May 18th, 2015, I woke up suddenly and uneasily. It was an eerie sensation. I asked my girlfriend if she had heard something. She assured me I was having a bad dream and told me to go back to bed. I wasn’t sure. I had woken in a similar manner before: once in February of 2010, and again in April of 2013. Each time had been a loud bang. A vibration seemed to shake the whole house. In each case, I had wandered sleepily downstairs to find a driver had crashed into the concrete wall that surrounds my back yard on Arlington.

I wanted to check. I wandered downstairs and immediately smelled smoke. Gun powder. Something was wrong. I darted back upstairs, put on shoes, and called 9-1-1. As I ran into the back yard, I could see the headlights of a car in the back yard. Someone had crashed again. It was bad.

I found Leon Walker slumped over the steering wheel of a car whose front end had crumpled in from the impact with the wall. Other neighbors and I rushed out and tried to check on him. Mr. Walker’s two teenage boys sat in shock on my neighbor’s steps, occupied with their own injuries. As we checked on Mr. Walker, we realized that he was deceased. I felt my stomach turn with anguish. I worried about the mental state of the boys.

When you hear about someone getting into a high-speed crash in the middle of the night on the news, you tend to think of the decisions they must have made for it to happen. ‘Why were they speeding?’ ‘Were they drinking?’ ‘Did they have no sense of responsibility?’ ‘L.A. drivers can be so crazy!’ When you witness it first hand, those thoughts are pushed aside with the reality: this was a person. A father. Children are orphaned. A family is forever changed. Why do we accept this as normal?

Even before Mr. Walker’s death, the crashes were becoming so regular that I was determined to make sure the City knew just how dangerous Arlington was. We collected notes on crashes we witnessed and combined those with data I was able to get from a contact at the City. Over 5 years, in the quarter-mile stretch of Arlington between Adams and the 10 Freeway saw at least 93 crashes. The street was dangerous all times of the day with crashes related to turning, speeding, pedestrians, changing lanes, drunk driving, and inattentive drivers.

Those that predate me in the neighborhood likely remember Arlington as a more residential and walkable street. Around 1984, the Department of Transportation decided to widen the street in hopes of increasing the number of cars driving up it to the 10 Freeway by reducing the sidewalk to speed cars along. Later they smoothed the ‘double-dip’ that occurred just South of Adams. At one point, the City had intended to bulldoze many of the historic houses – including the beautiful South Seas House – in order perform a road widening that would have turned Arlington into a corridor more like Crenshaw or Western. Courageous neighbors stood in the way of the demolition of the historic homes. The full road widening never happened. Instead, we have a residential street mimicking a commercial corridor. I try to avoid walking on Arlington like I try to avoid dental surgery. The sidewalks are too slender, the cars are too fast, and the street trees provide no shade because they all seem to get run over within months of being planted.

There’s really no reason at this point in 2016 that Arlington needs to be this crash magnet of a street. Its excessive width and rush hour parking restrictions don’t solve bumper-to-bumper traffic. The drivers who choose to cut across Arlington to speed through Kinney Heights and West Adams Avenues – whether guided by Waze or their own instinctual navigation – aren’t saving more than 30 seconds of their driving time. At night and in the middle of the day Arlington is so empty that you’d swear you saw tumbleweeds rolling by. When you are driving on Arlington at those times, you can find yourself easily going 40-50mph. Nutcases race at down it at 60-70mph. A grade level freeway through a residential community is a recipe for disaster.

Our street is not alone as a deadly stain that hurts livability of neighborhoods and harms property values. Last year, the City started working towards coming to terms with the 230+ yearly traffic deaths it sees by adopting a new policy, “Vision Zero” (http://visionzero.lacity.org/). Los Angeles’ Vision Zero sets as a goal the elimination of traffic deaths on L.A. streets by 2025. It’s a lofty goal, of course, but the policy is actually a well-tested concept developed in Sweden in the 1990s. The concept was such a success, in fact, that Chicago, New York, Boston, Austin, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, and Washington D.C. have all also enacted Vision Zero policies. Vision Zero’s premise is simple: that no loss of life is acceptable, that all traffic deaths should be approached as preventable, and that roads should be designed to accommodate the mistakes that drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists will inevitably make. Reducing speeding is a central component. When a pedestrian is hit by a driver traveling at 40 MPH, the chance that they will be killed is 80%. When that driver’s speed is reduced to 30 MPH, that chance of causing a death is cut to 40%. At 20 MPH, the chance of a crash causing a death is 10%.

For years, the City refused to address our concerns over the crashes on Arlington. Service requests were closed without even a field visit. Sternly worded letters we sent were met with explanations of staffing shortages. When community members took the lack of action to propose possible solutions, the Department of Transportation discounted them as infeasible.

It shouldn’t be up to community members to act as traffic engineers in place of a Department that has failed to act. With crashes increasing, and a new vision at the Department of Transportation, it is time to solve the crashes on Arlington before another father, mother, neighbor, or child dies.

It is time for the Department of Transportation to 1) review the crashes happening on Arlington, 2) study why they are happening, and 3) propose solutions to our community in roadway design, signage, and enforcement that will stop the cycle of tragedies.  I don’t pretend to know what those solutions are, but I refuse to believe that no solution exists to end deadly crashes in a City who has already taken on the challenge of doing so citywide.

If you would like to see Arlington made safer, contact Council President Herb Wesson, Jr. by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone: (323) 733-8233 to demand that the Department of Transportation provide a solution to curb deadly crashes on Arlington.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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