Barry Sanders is the most recent member of LA’s civic elite to be honored for his contribution to society by having his name attached to a piece of LA’s public infrastructure, in this case the athletic field at Anthony C. Beilenson Park.
There was a time when honors such as these were reserved for those who had retired or moved on, bestowed on the honored party as the community looked back on the public figure’s career and legacy of public service.
Now these awards are doled out to active members of the community by commissions, committees, and councils that are still doing business with the honored party, calling into question the integrity of the award.
Of course, there’s an upside to this scenario. If public officials stand a chance of having ball parks and community centers named in their honor, perhaps they will be motivated to build more facilities. They’ll also have a vested interest in seeing them properly maintained, after all, it has their name on it.
While the debate over naming rights to LA’s infrastructure goes on, challenging the process that litters the landscape of LA’s public space with “tags” that memorialize public officials, another process of memorializing those who have made the ultimate sacrifice quietly slips by.
The City of LA has a charming tradition of honoring dead pedestrians, those who have lost their lives in the simple attempt to cross the street.
Sometimes the honor comes with a traffic signal.
Bill Winograd was crossing Hyperion Avenue when he was hit by a car so hard, he flew 25 feet through the air and skidded on the street, dying soon after. His tragic death motivated a City Councilman to prioritize a traffic signal that now stands in honor of a man who had to die in order to get the City of LA to support pedestrians in a densely populated residential community.
12-year-old Emely Aleman and her 10-year-old cousin Angela Rodriguez were attempting to cross Laurel Canyon Boulevard when they were struck by a Jeep Wrangler and thrown about 50 feet. Angela survived but Emely died, a tragic loss that motivated their City Councilman to prioritize a traffic signal , prompting Gabriel Avila, her uncle, to declare “It shouldn’t take a life to save lives.”
Sometimes the honor comes with a crosswalk.
Demariya Grant was nine when he attempted to cross Rodeo Road, only to be killed by a hit-and-run motorist. His tragic death prompted the City of Los Angeles to memorialize the incident with the “Demariya Grant Memorial Crosswalk."
Jason Quarker was struck and killed while crossing Jefferson on his way to the 6th Avenue Elementary School, prompting the City of Los Angeles to memorialize his sacrifice with the "Jason Quarker Memorial Crosswalk" at 6th and Jefferson.
This past week, 24-year-old Ashley Sandau was struck by a car and killed as she attempted to cross Rowena Avenue. Her death stirred great debate over the need to calm vehicular traffic through Silver Lake and prompting community members to lobby the Councilman for traffic calming.
Two days later, a pedestrian attempted to cross Normandie when he was killed by a hit-and-run motorist. His death failed to cause a ripple in the media, demonstrating the fact that pedestrian deaths are so common, they fail to qualify as news.
The City of LA has a pedestrian death rate of 7.64 deaths per 100,000 residents. This is more than double New York City’s death rate of 3.49.
Now is the time for LA’s leadership to put down the self-awarded honors and to start giving some respect to the people of LA, starting with a commitment to do more than slap traffic signals over crime scenes that have taken the lives of Angelenos.
The only City Officials worthy of naming rights are the ones that are busy calming LA’s deadly traffic, pushing for Safe Routes to School funding, installing bulbouts and refuge islands, slowing cut-through traffic, and moderating flow with speed tables and chicanes.
When the streets of LA are safer and the tradition of naming crosswalks after dead children is a thing of the past, then and only then will LA’s leadership have earned the right to honor themselves by putting their names on our infrastructure.