Pedestrian Safety – Student journalists investigate traffic accidents and injuries on and around CSUN campus


View High-risk intersections in a larger map

Cars fly by the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Nordhoff street, one of the ost dangerous local intersections for pedestrians. Photo Credit: Jonathan Pobre / Exectutive Editor
Cars fly by the many intersections around campus which are some of the most dangerous local intersections for pedestrians. Photo Credit: Jonathan Pobre / Exectutive Editor

On a Sunday last November, Chinese exchange student Yao Lu finished a day of shopping and grabbed dinner with friends at the Galleria Market in Northridge.
Her friends dropped her off at the University Shopping Center, about a mile and a half south of the Galleria on Reseda Boulevard at Nordhoff Street not far from CSUN, where Lu was studying in the Intensive English Program (IEP).  Lu then walked back to her off-campus apartment.

As Lu was steps away from reaching the northeast corner of Reseda Boulevard and Vincennes Street, she made eye contact with a man driving what witnesses later described as a gray or silver four-door sedan, the student later told Bessie Karras-Lazaris, academic director of IEP.  The art major, who was using a marked crosswalk, saw the driver long enough to notice his blue eyes, the pattern on his Bluetooth headset and how his hair fell on the sides of his head, all of which Lu was able to later sketch for Karras-Lazaris.

Though their eyes met, the man – who was on his cell phone – hit the student, throwing her three feet into the air, said Karras-Lazaris, who knew Lu well and frequently visited her while she recovered in the hospital.  The camera she was wearing across her body was destroyed (Lu later told her adviser it might have protected her from further injuries), and her purse and its contents were strewn onto the sidewalk and street.  Had it not been for the CSUN ID card in her pocket, Lu’s identity might not have been known in time for her friends to find her at Northridge Hospital, where she would spend eight days in a coma. The unidentified driver left the scene of the crime and despite a police sketch of his face and a $50,000 reward, he has not been found, according to Detective James Deaton of LAPD Devonshire.

Lu is not the only pedestrian who has suffered injuries or faced death in marked crosswalks near the busy 356-acre CSUN campus, where a close to 36,000 students attend and about 4,000 faculty and staff work.

In 2009 alone, 10 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents in the San Fernando Valley – including two in accidents adjacent to the campus. Victoria Santos, 60, died when she was hit by a car as she crossed Zelzah Avenue at Lassen Street in early March.  Another CSUN student, 19-year-old Johoney Lobos, died when she was struck by a vehicle as she crossed Lindley Avenue near Devonshire Boulevard.  The motorist was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in the late afternoon crash.

Research by student journalists found all three of those intersections were among some of the highest accident-prone intersections near the university.  Of the roughly 50 intersections located near the campus, the highest-risk intersections include Reseda Boulevard and Devonshire Street – where 33-year-old Olivia Almalel was left paralyzed after a Christmas day hit-and-run, Lindley Avenue and Devonshire Street (where Lobos was killed), Zelzah Avenue and Lassen Street (where Santos was killed), Reseda and Nordhoff Street, and Reseda and Vincennes Street (where Lu was seriously injured).

Despite statistics that show pedestrian fatalities are decreasing as a whole in the state of California, accidents and deaths are on the rise on the streets near CSUN.  In the San Fernando Valley alone, 1,000 people have reported being hit by a vehicle since 2006, according to the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Bureau.

From 2006 to 2007, national statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) show pedestrian fatalities decreased by roughly 3 percent. The DOT also found 11 percent of motor vehicle fatalities were pedestrians, and that a pedestrian is injured in a traffic accident every eight minutes.

In California, the state’s Office of Traffic Safety found that pedestrian fatalities are at a record low since the federal government began keeping track in 1975.  The accidents dropped by 11 percent from 2006 to 2007 and bicycle fatalities decreased by 23 percent during the same period.

The statewide findings, however, are a sharp contradiction of the rise in fatal pedestrian accidents in the CSUN area, student journalists uncovered.

Though there was a 19 percent overall decrease in pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents in the San Fernando Valley since 2008, accidents in the area near CSUN have increased 47 percent compared to last year, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Traffic Division.  Additionally, their records show a 25 percent increase in the Devonshire division – which encompasses the university – for motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents from January 2008 to January 2009. The Valley Bureau also includes the Van Nuys, West Valley, North Hollywood, Foothill, Mission and Topanga stations.

Student journalists found that of 119 pedestrian and/or bicycle and motor vehicle-related accidents reported to the Devonshire division from 2006 to 2008, 48 percent resulted from drivers who were at fault for not yielding to pedestrians or cyclists, while 26 percent of those accidents were determined to be the fault of bicyclists or pedestrians. Even more alarming is the rise in cyclists getting hit – there was a 66 percent increase from 2007 to 2008.  The rise in accidents could be explained by the increase of people getting out of their cars and commuting by bike as a result of unpredictable and fluctuating gas prices, but the fact remains that cyclists and pedestrians alike face growing risks using the Valley’s streets.  And in spite of the growing number of accidents, the city voted to increase Zelzah Avenue’s speed limits – a street where several pedestrians have died and where two high schools are located.

  • Evelyn Gonzalez

    Im sorry, i ment Reseda and Dearborn .

  • Evelyn Gonzalez

    I too was a victim of a pedestrian v.s vehicle accident Sept 2008
    Reseda/ Devonshire cross streets
    if you guys need any info

    email- evelyn.gonzalez.0@my.csun.edu

  • I had no idea there has been so many accidents in that area. That you for bringing attention to this. Hopefully with all the fatalities something will be done to make this area safer.

  • This was supposed to be studied prior to implementation new routes. which could have saved lives.

  • The article I mentioned in the previous comment can be found at:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-bombs-vision28-2009oct28,0,36980.story

    GCJ

    • Dr. Jackson, thanks for the link to the LAT story…I think that’s a perfect example of how we as drivers (and pedestrians) begin to ignore our peripheral senses when we become too wrapped up in getting from Point A to Point B.

  • I’m providing an L.A. Times article on the subject of certain unique traits that enable certain U.S. army personnel in Afghanistan to detect the likelihood of the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

    In this article, a specific comment regarding the inability of “gamers” to demonstrate the success of G.I.s from both urban and rural backgrounds. I think that the “gamers” tendency to focus “on the screen” and not the peripheral areas would be an interesting article to research. Consider the opinions of the psychology faculty and the comments and reactions to this topic by students, specifically gamers.

    Dr. Greg Jackson
    Dept. of Educational Psychology & Counseling

  • Shannon

    Oh man, so true. I don’t know how many times I’ve nearly been hit. David is right that there are a lot of discourteous pedestrians, but some of us do have manners! If there are a lot of cars backed up and I don’t get to the intersection before the last group of pedestrians are half way across, I wait and let the next set of cars go by.

    I think drivers making turns, especially left turns, are some of the most dangerous to pedestrians at intersections with traffic lights or stop signs. Last month I watched a cable van trying to turn left at Prairie and Darby almost take out a pedestrian.

    When I moved here and started crossing to go to the bank at Reseda and Nordhoff, man did I learn quick to watch my step because drivers trying to beat the left turn arrow going red often end up running the red arrow after the pedestrian signal says to walk! With how dangerous even crosswalks at signals are, I wouldn’t dare use the any of the crosswalks that aren’t at a light on Reseda. Especially at night.

    Last year, I think it was, a driver seriously tried to take out my husband one evening when he was rollerblading with our dog. My husband was crossing Darby at Prairie. Considering the street lights, the red light he had on, and that the dog’s leash had a bright blue light the entire length of it… The driver had to have seen them and was being a jerk. But fate smiled that day and I’m sure the police officer who pulled the guy over had some choice words for him.

  • Well researched and thought out presentation. As someone who writes a lot about the dangers of auto collisions, I admire the effort that went into this article. I hope it spurs change.

    As a California personal injury attorney, I see the devastation of texting and cell phone use when driving an auto first hand. Most drivers do not think that an accident will happen to them. Of course they do, and the consequences are troubling for the victim, and in one Costa Mesa man’s case, he was told he will be facing vehicular manslaughter charges for killing a pedestrian yesterday. I used your article today to support my opinions.

    Please contact me via email if any of the writers on this article are interested in writing projects for my office.

  • The retro reflective bike accessories work just as well on pedestrians
    as well as bikers. Check out my blog and the web site http://www.seeandbesafe.com

  • David

    I’d like to see the Sundial do an article on the clueless and discourteous pedestrians who traverse the crosswalks on and near the campus. Drivers are forced to wait at length while one person after another–many on cell phones–take their own sweet time crossing the street. Just watch: It’s all about them!

    I’m surprised that there aren’t more pedestrians mowed down since so many of them are too engrossed in their cell-phone conversations to note the approaching traffic. Watch all the students who cross Darby Avenue at Nordhoff Street and you’ll see what I mean. Add to that the bicyclists who ride full-speed off the sidewalks and into the streets and the potential for disaster is palpable.

    Of course, drivers have the responsiblity to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks–and of course they rarely do. I saw LAPD on Reseda Blvd a few months back doing a “crosswalk sting” and they cited one driver after another for failing to yield to those in the crosswalk.

    Bottom line: Don’t step in front of a moving vehicle expecting it to stop and show a little courtesy to drivers when crossing.

    • Sam

      WAGGGHHH

      I’m sorry these “discourteous pedestrians” are forcing you to sit in your air-conditioned car for a few extra seconds.

      Last time I checked, CSUN wasn’t a highway, it was a University. You aren’t entitled to a speedy getaway. If you’re looking for shortcuts, go around the campus, not through it.

      However, I agree that (especially at night) pedestrians have the responsibility (especially on bikes) to make sure they are seen by vehicles.

      I took witnessed the sting, and I’m glad they caught so many reckless drivers. Personally if a car speeds by me I will not hesitate to throw something at it!

  • Steve

    Nice article. It will be interesting to see if anyone in the administration or public safety does anything other than pass the buck onto the LAPD and city. I’ve been on many campuses and this one is perhaps most dangerous for pedestrians. Many pedestrian areas around the Valley have fewer pedestrians, but better crosswalk safety measures. Even Reseda, just south of Nordhoff, has a signaled mid-block crosswalk…but only a fraction of the pedestrians that the campus area has. I saw a student dodge a car in front of Chili’s/Subway on Monday. That’s dangerous there.