Making streets safer from traffic hazards is a top priority in South Los Angeles, which has recently seen an increase in serious injuries and fatalities, according to the LAPD.
Faith and community leaders are teaming up to figure out what they can do to make streets safer for everyone.
“I had to take what happened to me and use it to save others,” began Damian Kevitt, the executive director of Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE).
Kevitt said he was riding his bike near Griffith Park when he was involved in a serious traffic accident in 2013. He was dragged a quarter of a mile down the street and onto the freeway. The hit-and-run survivor said he lost part of his leg but miraculously survived and is now passionate about creating safer roads in Los Angeles County.
“Faith for Safer Streets” is a group of civic and faith leaders who are concerned about protecting their community and congregations from traffic violence, which they feel is a growing public health crisis in LA. The group’s latest virtual welcome event was held on July 26, where they introduced the topic to other church leaders.
“I call it a movement because we’re going to make changes,” said Pastor Patricia Strong-Fargus of Mt. Salem New Wave Christian Fellowship Church. “We’re going to make things safer and better for our community.”
“Faith for Safer Streets is really a passion,” said Kevitt. “It was birthed before the pandemic.
“Those who are affected the most are people of color.”
Black church leaders in South Los Angeles said they are excited about the project.
“We’re all in this together,” said Rev. K.W. Tulloss, the president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Southern California.
Traffic safety is a life-or-death issue, especially in South LA and/ West LA.
“More people die from traffic deaths in the second district, compared to any other district (in Los Angeles County),” said Lilly O-Brien, representing the Office of Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
An LAPD officer joined the conversation and offered actionable information to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.
“Simple things, crossing where you’re supposed to cross, not wearing dark clothing… stuff like that will help tremendously,” said Sgt. John Aufdemberg, with LAPD’s South Traffic Division.
According to LAPD statistics, Los Angeles has 56,000 traffic collisions every year. Additionally, traffic collisions are the number one killer of children between the ages of 4-14 in LA, according to the LA Department of Transportation.
LAPD statistics revealed that 48 percent of all collisions in Los Angeles are hit and runs. Advocates said speed is the primary factor in 33 percent of traffic collisions.
Kevitt said traffic violence actually discriminates and it affects people who are walking and biking more than people driving in vehicles.
“Who are the people who are walking and cycling more… it’s the people who can’t afford a car,” Kevitt continued.
“The crashes are happening in marginalized communities like South LA,” Kevitt said. “You don’t see this in Brentwood.”
The panel event also discussed actual solutions, like educating local congregations.
“Prayer is the key, but before we pray we need to unite,” Strong-Fargus shared. “But we also want to be educated… knowledge is the basis.”
The movement is also centered around advocating for safer streets to city, county, and state government agencies. “The power is in the numbers,” Kevitt continued. “We need speed humps on residential streets. We have people drag racing down residential streets.”
The group will also encourage community members with a Safer Streets Awareness Campaign in South LA. Strong-Fargus believes signs of encouragement can change the hearts and minds of drivers.
“It is an incredibly traumatic thing to be involved in a traffic accident. I know. I almost lost my life,” Kevitt concluded.