New speed limits on Los Angeles roads aim to reduce traffic fatalities

File photo: SoCal streets.
File photo: SoCal streets.
Courtesy of L.A. Department of Transportation

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When you're driving on the streets of Los Angeles, it's probably safe to bet you have no idea what the speed limit is.

Well, pay attention. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday new speed limits on 71 streets all around the city as part of an initiative to reduce traffic fatalities. The new speed limits come with increased police enforcement efforts.

Garcetti said Wednesday at press conference near a busy intersection in Mid-City that too often, drivers disregard or aren't at all aware of posted speed limits. "They just drive with the flow of traffic," he said, "and we're telling them look up, find what that is. If you don't you might look back and see one of these [police officers] trailing you."

Traffic fatality rates in Los Angeles are among the highest of any major U.S. city and crashes are the leading cause of death for children under 14. The city's Vision Zero initiative, which launched in 2015, aims to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025.

Traffic fatalities fell 6 percent in 2017, far short of the stated goal to reduce deaths by 25 percent by then. Pedestrian deaths surged more than 80 percent in the first two years of the initiative.

The majority of streets have not changed, but 45 streets will have limits decreased and 26 will have their limits increased. Check out a full list of the streets here.

"In some places, it is about protecting the street and making sure people slow down, but other places, under the state law, we have to access it and we see that there isn't much traffic there and it is safe," said Garcetti.

"It's not so much about the number that's on the street, it's about getting these [police officers] to be able to enforce and they couldn't do that before."


Officials talked about the "three E's" that are the foundation of the Vision Zero plan: education (raising public awareness about traffic safety), engineering (improving the design of roads and crosswalks) and enforcement. These new changes are about boosting that last E. 

In order to set and enforce speed limits, the state requires speed surveys to measure use and capacity on local streets, but many of the surveys expired during the recession. After the new surveys, 68 percent of streets have enforceable speed limits and Garcetti said the rest are expected to have updated speed surveys by the end of the year. 

Some residents have raised concerns that increased enforcement could have a negative impact on some neighborhoods if enforcement unfairly targets people of color. Many of the most dangerous streets are concentrated in low-income communities like South L.A. A coalition of community groups has been providing ongoing feedback on the implementation of the program.

Garcetti contributed the spike in pedestrian deaths the prevalence of phone use by pedestrians and drivers. 

"When you are walking, when you are driving, even when you are cycling, put your phone away," Garcetti. "It could be the difference between someone in this city losing their life and not."

City councilmember Mike Bonin emphasized that enforcement is only a piece of the puzzle and educating the public about the seriousness of the issue is just as important. 

"We have a bigger problem now with traffic fatalities than we do with gang homicides," Bonin said at the press conference. 

Bonin said at a transportation committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, officials would discuss other strategies in education and engineering that can help address the problem. 

Correction: This post has been updated to remove an erroneous quote about homicides in Los Angeles. There was at least one gun-related death in the L.A. city limits over the weekend.