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Pedestrians, bicyclists beware: You're a bigger percentage of traffic deaths in New York, Los Angeles

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Santa Monica, Calif., police in October vowed to crack down on pedestrians and motorists who disobey right-of-way laws in an attempt to curb a rash of traffic incidents involving vehicles and Angelenos on foot.

The stepped-up enforcement began just days before a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute revealed that Los Angeles was one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians.

The study released last month investigated crash patterns in the megacities of New York and Los Angeles in comparison with crash patterns for the entire U.S. Data from eight years (2002-2009) were included in the analysis.


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New York and Los Angeles see far more pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities as a percentage of traffic deaths than the national average. In New York, pedestrian fatalities accounted for 49.6 percent of crash deaths, more than four times the national average of 11.4 percent, according to the study. In LA, pedestrian fatalities made up 32.4 percent of all traffic-related deaths.

Fatal crashes involving bicyclists also made up a higher proportion of traffic deaths in the two cities. In New York, that number is 6.1 percent, more than three times the national average of 1.7 percent. In LA, 2.8 percent of fatal crashes involved bicyclists. 

According to the study, more crashes and more fatal crashes also occur at night in New York and Los Angeles than on average in the United States. Particularly in New York, more fatal crashes happen at intersections and on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.

When NBC4 visited Santa Monica on Tuesday, cameras captured several close calls in the coastal city’s intersections.

In one incident, a driver honked his horn to warn pedestrians stepping into the crosswalk that he's not giving them the right of way. They take it in stride and keep walking, but before they can make it to the other side, two more cars race by within inches of them.

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In 2012 alone, 88 pedestrians in Santa Monica were struck by vehicles. Three of them were killed.

"It's distracted driving, not knowing where you're going, being in a rush, and alcohol is always a negative," said Sgt. Richard Lewis.

October sting operations aimed at cracking down on those in cars and on foot who ignore pedestrian laws are an effort to prevent tragedies such as the death of Claire Rose. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver on July 16, her 30th birthday, while in the crosswalk at 21st Street and Wilshire Boulevard.

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Despite offering a reward, police have been unable to find the black Toyota Corolla that fatally struck Rose.

Rose’s death left her boyfriend, Sasha Rasmussen, devastated.

"My life's been turned upside down," he said. "My insides have been crushed. Claire was everything to me."

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Enforcing laws to make streets safer for pedestrians, Rasmussen said, is a step in the right direction, but he’d like to see structural changes, like better lighting for crosswalks and more traffic cameras.

"I would say to drivers be cautious. Be aware. Pay attention to what's going on, because Claire was an amazing person," Rasmussen said.

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