At the recent Fourth of July parade in Sunland-Tujunga a group walked the route raising awareness of traffic safety along Foothill Boulevard. Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE) and Finish the Ride supporters wanted to remind parade viewers and participants of the need to increase street safety for drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Finish the Ride is a self-described movement under SAFE. SAFE is a nonprofit organization founded by Damian Kevitt (above, center) with the goal of bringing awareness, updated engineering and safety to streets around Los Angeles and beyond.
“The original idea for Finish the Ride was [planted] when I was in intensive care,” Kevitt said.
He was in intensive care after an accident on Feb. 17, 2013. A minivan struck Kevitt as he was bicycling with his wife along the LA River Bike path toward the LA Zoo. The driver of the minivan did not stop; instead it sped up in an apparent effort to flee the scene. Kevitt was pinned underneath the minivan as the driver accelerated onto the 5 Freeway. He was dragged about 600 feet until he freed himself.
“This was after two days [in intensive care], after I lost my right leg and thought I would lose my left leg,” he said. Kevitt had a “philosophical” discussion with his doctors and they were able to save his left leg.
“I turned to my mom and wife and said when I am out of the hospital I am going to finish the ride,” he recalled.
And so the movement was born. Since its inception, not only was he able to finish the bike ride but he also has dedicated his time and effort into making sure that road safety is put at the forefront of discussions with elected officials and community members.
“In terms of cycling, it has been a slow process,” he said.
He added that he does see some changes as more people are biking as an alternative transportation. The mode is “green” and is becoming more acceptable.
But there is much to do to spread the word.
“Education is one factor of how to make streets safer,” he said.
He added education is one of the five “e’s” that includes engineering, encouragement, evaluation and enforcement.
For education, Kevitt and his core volunteers have worked with Safe Routes to Schools and educational programs for fourth and fifth graders that focus on pedestrian safety. They joined the voices of families near La Tuna Canyon Road to get safety improvements, including removal of a passing lane and road re-striping, he added.
Kevitt said that while education is an important component, it is not enough. That’s where engineering can help by working with lines of visibility and speed control.
The SAFE organization has grown over the years and has become an influential voice concerning road safety. According to its website, accomplishments include the first ever hit and run alert system implemented in LA, the first standing rewards program in LA to help locate hit and run drivers, the passing of two state laws specifically addressing hit and run crimes and the installation of a billboard campaign to raise awareness of hit and run crimes.
“Most importantly, per LA Police Dept. statistics, hit and run crimes have dropped by 16% in the last year,” state the website.
The organization has support services for those who end up in the hospital or need legal resources after an accident. In the last two years, efforts have been focused on the stretch of Foothill Boulevard that runs through Tujunga to Sunland.
“SAFE works on all aspects of road safety,” Kevitt said, “for elderly, for kids and everyone who is on the road.”