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Walk to School Day draws crowds and attention to LA street safety issues

Students took to the streets in droves Wednesday as part of the annual Walk to School Day, an international effort to get more kids to get to classes on their own power.

Sponsors of the event promote the health and environmental benefits from walking to school, but the effort also draws attention to a glaring fact about Los Angeles: about one in every five pedestrians killed or seriously injured is a child. That statistic is higher than the national average

Traffic safety advocates see events like Walk to School Day as an opportunity to promote awareness and road-related improvements that would make walking and biking less dangerous.

“It’s reminding people of safety responsibilities,” said Margot Ocaña, coordinator for active transportation with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She oversees the Safe Routes to School program.

“We really want to build awareness with our young future citizens there are rules and responsibilities of the road and we similarly are messaging to drivers of how to be aware,” she said.

Cutline: Thousands of students joined Wednesday's Walk to School Day. (Image courtesy of Josef Bray-Ali via Flickr)

Ocaña says L.A. is adding traffic-calming features like curb extensions and more visible crosswalks around schools that see more crashes. The city is using a data-driven approach to address safety concerns at 50 of the most at-risk schools, and tracking the progress over time.

A study of New York schools found injury rates were nearly cut in half where similar measures were installed as part of national Safe Routes to School efforts.

Addressing road safety around schools is also a major component of Vision Zero, L.A.'s plan to eliminate traffic deaths in 10 years through a combination of safer street design, traffic enforcement and safety education.