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Driver Killing Koreatown 4-Year-Old Sparks Protest Push for Vision Zero

Two days ago, a driver took the life of a four-year-old girl named Alessa.

Alessa's mother was walking her daughter to preschool. A left-turning driver crashed into them as they walked across Olympic Boulevard at Normandie Avenue in the city of Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood. Alessa was pronounced dead at Childrens Hospital. Her mother was also taken to a hospital, though with injuries that were non-life-threatening.

TV news media accounts of the crash strive to cast the driver in a positive light. The driver stayed at the scene; she was "upset" and "distraught." CBS2's story emphasizes that both the pedestrians and the driver had the green light (if this is the case, then it means that the driver broke the law by failing to yield to the pedestrians.) KTLA5 and Fox11 appear to assign blame to the absence of a crossing guard (as if streets can only be made safe with a guard, and ignoring the reality that just last month an L.A. hit-and-run driver killed a crossing guard at work helping people cross a San Fernando Valley street.) Fox's story title omits the presence of a driver or car, and uses a misleadingly passive voice: "Four-year-old girl dies walking to preschool with Mom in Koreatown."

The newscasters emphasize that Olympic has been re-opened to car traffic, as if availability for drivers is what should really concern viewers when a child has been killed. Just keep driving.

(As horrible as that was, Alessa wasn't even the only person killed in L.A. traffic violence that day. A later-apprehended hit-and-run driver killed another pedestrian at the intersection of Pico and Sepulveda in West Los Angeles.)

This morning's Vision Zero rally at City Hall. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Alessa's death sparked three L.A. bike commuters - Andres Quinche, Bob Frederick, and Tom Carroll - to call for safe streets supporters to rally at Los Angeles City Hall this morning. The trio issued a press statement that includes:

Enough is enough!

We estimate over a hundred people have died walking or biking in our city [in] 2019 at the hands of motorists. On Wednesday, [Alessa], a 4-year old girl, was killed in the crosswalk while walking to preschool with her mother.

In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti committed to the popular Vision Zero initiative, aimed at ending all traffic deaths by increasing safe and equitable mobility for all. The ultimate goal is to reduce traffic related deaths to zero by 2025. Yet rather than decline, fatal traffic collisions have risen by more than 32 percent in Los Angeles (L.A. Times) despite reported measures taken by LADOT and the Mayor’s office.

The sad reality is that in Los Angeles County, the leading cause of death for children ages 5-14 is traffic collisions - with poor neighborhoods being disproportionately affected. Nationwide, vulnerable road users die every ninety minutes (L.A. Times). Therefore, we ask Mayor Garcetti, City Council, and other responsible parties for safe streets now.

This morning's protest was attended by about thirty people, the majority of whom arrived by bicycle. Attendees spoke of planning to work with Alessa's family and friends to organize a vigil at the site of the crash.

Vision Zero is an international effort to end all traffic deaths. The city of Los Angeles has a Vision Zero initiative, which debuted as an Eric Garcetti mayoral directive in 2015 and was later that year adopted as an official city policy in the city's Mobility Plan. Vision Zero was to be a multi-departmental initiative, led by the department of Transportation (LADOT) in collaboration with the LAPD, Cultural Affairs, Public Works, and others. Initial city Vision Zero efforts were spotty, poorly funded, and blocked by several pro-car councilmembers, including Gil Cedillo, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Mitch O'Farrell, Curren Price, and David Ryu. After Playa Del Rey safety improvements sparked a driver backlash in 2017, the city further watered down its already-weak efforts, shelving numerous planned life-saving improvements. As traffic deaths rise, the program survives in name, but as a hollow shell robbed of its early promise.

The Koreatown location where Alessa was killed is located in L.A.'s Council District 10, represented by Councilmember Herb Wesson. This portion of both Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue were identified as part of the Vision Zero priority High Injury Network in 2015, and remain on it today. Elected officials and city staff failed to make the safety improvements there that would have ensured that Alessa and her mother could cross the street safely to get to preschool this week.

The Olympic/Normandie crash location shown on L.A.'s Vision Zero High Injury Network
The Olympic/Normandie crash location shown on L.A.'s Vision Zero High Injury Network

(Corrected 10/20: Initial reports stated the girl's name as "Alexa" though it was actually Alessa.)

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