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Hit-and-run accidents spur effort to improve safety in Boyle Heights

Money wiring businesses on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights. As the Mexican peso drops, immigrants in the U.S. hope the dollars they send home will help relatives.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Safety advocates plan a street fair on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights this Saturday to raise awareness about pedestrian safety.

There’s been a spate of deadly hit-and-run crashes in Boyle Heights in recent months, sparking efforts by safety activists to highlight the problem.

On Saturday, they are inviting pedestrians to take over a part of Cesar Chavez Avenue for a community fair aimed at raising awareness about street safety.

Last month, a 24-year-old man was struck and killed while crossing Cesar Chavez. Just weeks earlier, a young mother was killed getting out of her car and, in December, a beloved neighborhood nun was fatally hit walking to church.

"It’s disappointing and it’s saddening. There’s been recent reminders that this is why we’re doing the work," said Erick Huerta, a Boyle Heights resident and organizer with Multicultural Communities for Mobility.

The group's Saturday event, Nuestra Avenida: Cesar Chavez Reimaginada, will promote better safety awareness on Cesar Chavez, a street that Los Angeles city officials rank as among the worstfor pedestrian crashes and are targeting for safety improvements.

"This is why we need bike lanes, why we need bulb-outs, why we need better signage at crosswalks," Huerta said.

The city has already begun installing some safety features through Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Great Streets program. They include temporary curb bulb-outs, which require cars to take a slower, wider turn around corners, new signals that give pedestrians a head start in crossing, and better markings at crosswalks.

However, Huerta noted that many in the Boyle Heights community may not be aware of the features, or may even be suspicious of the improvements given increasing anxieties over gentrification in the neighborhood.

"Folks are seeing the neighborhood changing and they’re wondering if they’re going to benefit from all these improvements," he said. "They wonder: 'Who is this infrastructure for?'"

Huerta hopes the Saturday event, featuring music and mural tours as well as workshops to educate and gather suggestions about new safety improvements on the street, can help ease anxieties and engage members of the community on pedestrian safety issues.

The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will close down part of Cesar Chavez Avenue at Breed Street and turn it over to pedestrians. Funded by a Great Streets grant, the fair is part of the mayor's effort to encourage pop-up events that turn city streets into community-gathering places.