When a city refuses to keep its citizens safe, it is up to the citizens to do what needs to be done. That’s the philosophy of the Crosswalk Collective, a secretive group that has been painting zebra stripe sidewalks around the city at dangerous intersections, and they say they won’t stop until something is done to stop the rise in pedestrian and bike rider deaths.
The group posted images of crosswalks newly painted on Twitter. The before and after pictures are remarkable:
NPR caught up with the Collective to find out what drove normal people into this guerrilla city planning. They told the news outlet they had been trying for years to get action with no results:
So far, the group has revealed little about its membership or if there was a particular incident that preceded the safety installation, but it is clear they intend to continue to take matters into their own hands.
“We are a small group of community members who have tried for years to request crosswalks and other safe streets infrastructure the official way,” they told NPR in a statement.
“At every turn, we’ve been met with delays, excuses, and inaction from our city government, as well as active hostility to safe streets projects from sitting councilmembers,” the Collective added.
Pedestrian deaths are certainly a problem in LA. While City Hall tried to enact a Vision Zero plan for the last seven years with the intention of reducing traffic deaths to nil, the deaths have only continued to rise. Last year the number of pedestrians killed in crosswalks jumped six percent. Severe injuries jumped an astonishing 35 percent over 2020, according to the LA Times. It’s not just pedestrians; injuries to bicyclists jumped 24 percent as well. City planners called the increase a public health crisis in its own right.
So what’s the problem? As usual, money:
Vision Zero topped $61 million in this year’s budget, according to the transportation department, while in recent years the program received between $26 million and $47 million. Those figures included money dedicated to other departments such as the Department of Engineering, the Bureau of Street Lighting and the LAPD, Sweeney said.
Seleta Reynolds, the head of the city’s Department of Transportation, said in 2017 that it could take as much as $80 million to achieve a 20% reduction in fatal and severe crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists.
“We need to prioritize Vision Zero, we need to fund Vision Zero,” said Tamika Butler, a transportation consultant whose clients include government agencies. She said the city needs to look for funding for the program from the police and fire departments.
These dramatic increases have spurned action by citizens tired of risking their necks in one of the most famous car-centric cities in our car obsessed country. The Crosswalk Collective painted zebra stripes on each side of the intersection of Romaine & Serrano in east LA. They’re now taking requests for their next project on their Twitter feed.
Naturally, the LA Department of Transportation says the safest way to improve city streets is to go through the proper channels, but that’s not good enough to the people who are at risk or who have lost loved ones. The city isn’t quick to act, and sometimes even refuses to do so:
For LA’s part, an official told NPR that “any unauthorized alteration to a street is subject to removal,” though wasn’t specific about these zebra crossings being washed away.
Citizens taking matters into their own hands is nothing new. In Portland a few years ago, anarchists got together to repair potholes in crumbling city streets. Officials should expect more people to take their safety into their own hands, if they refuse to act.