Californians should be able to walk or ride bicycles safely in cities across the state. However, the roads in most of the state's cities are woefully inadequate, endangering pedestrians and cyclists. Many state roads that run through cities are congested with vehicle traffic, and many do not have the right infrastructure to allow cyclists to share them with cars or pedestrians to safely cross them. The lack of adequate infrastructure on state roads that double as streets in cities in California has contributed to the high injury and fatality rates of bicyclists and pedestrians.
One bill, SB 127, that was passed in the legislature would have helped to solve some of the issues by requiring Caltrans to add safety infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians when state roads that double as streets in cities are repaired. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently vetoed this bill instead of signing it into law. His action potentially threatens the safety of many Californians when they ride bicycles or choose to walk to reach their destinations.
Pedestrian and bicycle injury and fatality statistics
The California Department of Public Health compiled statistics from 2007 to 2013 for bicycle accidents in which motor vehicles were involved. The data does not include single bicycle collisions, collisions between bicycles and pedestrians, or collisions involving two or more bicycles. According to the CDPH, 86,927 bicyclists were injured in collisions with motor vehicles from 2007 to 2013, and 918 were killed. Among the non-fatal injuries, 86,630 occurred in urban areas. Out of the people who were killed, 892 died in bicycle crashes in cities.
The statistics for pedestrian injuries and fatalities are similarly problematic. From 2008 to 2017, pedestrian deaths reportedly increased by 38.4% in California. During those nine years, 7,127 Californians were killed while they were walking. While it is clear that something should be done to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, little has been accomplished to make the streets safer for people who share the roads with cars.
Research has shown that bicycle facilities that keep bicyclists separated from motor vehicles help to prevent accidents and save lives. Bicycle lanes and separated bicycle routes help to prevent accidents with adjacent traffic and doorings from cars that are parked along the sides of the streets. Similarly, well-marked crosswalks and pedestrian walkways help to prevent pedestrian injuries and fatalities. However, many streets in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state do not have a good bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Some streets do not have any infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians at all. This places bicyclists and pedestrians at a heightened risk of injuries and increases the likelihood of serious bicycle and pedestrian accidents.
Some state roads double as streets when they run through cities. For example, Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles is a state road. These roads are maintained by Caltrans instead of by the cities. While some cities like Los Angeles have detailed plans to add bicycle infrastructure, Caltrans has stated that it can only add infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians when it is feasible to do so. In nearly every case, Caltrans has found that it is not feasible and has refused to add safety features for bicyclists and pedestrians to the streets and roads that it maintains. SB 127 would have solved that problem by requiring Caltrans to add bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure whenever it repairs roads that double as city streets.
Veto of SB 127
Senate Bill 127 was proposed by Senator Scott Wiener (D) and enjoyed bipartisan support. The bill, called the Complete Streets for Active Living Bill, was passed by the California legislature and sent to Gov. Newsom to be signed into law. SB 127 would have required Caltrans to consider safety improvements to state roads that are streets in cities. However, Newsom vetoed it on Oct. 11 despite the dangerous conditions of the state's roads for bicyclists and pedestrians. In his veto statement, Newsom said that he supports safety for bicyclists and pedestrians but thought that the cost of the law would be too high. Caltrans estimated that it would cost $1 billion per year to implement the law, an argument that others have called absurd. Wiener estimated that it would cost from $20,000 to $600,000 for each mile of roadwork as compared to Caltrans's estimate of $4.5 million per mile.
Pedestrian accidents more common in urban areas
As we have previously discussed, pedestrian accidents are much more frequent in urban centers like Los Angeles. This is because the city streets are congested with traffic. When pedestrians do not have safe sidewalks and crosswalks to walk on, they are much likelier to be involved in a serious accident with a motor vehicle. Some of the problems that can lead to pedestrian accidents include the following:
- Distracted driving
- Running red lights
- Inattentive driving
- Failing to stop at stop signs
- Failing to yield to pedestrians who are crossing in crosswalks or at unmarked intersections
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
If pedestrians had safer sidewalks and crosswalks, and more pedestrian walkways were installed over major streets, they would be much less likely to be injured or killed in accidents with motor vehicles on the streets of Los Angeles.
A lack of good bicycle infrastructure for cyclists has also led to significant safety concerns. Many of the most common bicycle accident scenarios could be avoided with good infrastructure. The common bicycle accident scenarios that we regularly see include the following:
- Dooring accidents
- Lefthand turn accidents
- Unexpected reversals
- Merging and lane changes
- Not providing enough distance when passing bicyclists
- Unsafe road conditions
- Intersection accidents
Even adding bicycle lanes on streets that allow cars to park alongside the roads is not enough. Many accidents occur in these scenarios when people open their car doors into the bicycle lanes and in the paths of oncoming cyclists. Separate bicycle facilities would prevent many types of bicycle accidents involving cars and help to save lives.
Get help from an experienced bicycle and pedestrian accident lawyer
While Gov. Newsom has stated that the Safe Streets bill was too cost-prohibitive, his veto threatens the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in Los Angeles and other major cities in the state. If you have suffered serious injuries in a bicycle or pedestrian accident, you should talk to one of the experienced attorneys at the Steven M. Sweat Personal Injury Lawyers about your rights and legal options. Schedule a free consultation today by calling 866.966.5240.