Laguna Beach resident Pamela Burrus took advantage of last Friday’s fortuitous date, 11/11/11, to stage a walk downtown to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and to honor those who have died as result of crossing a street.
The event served to unite her nonprofit, Safer Passages, dedicated to saving pedestrian lives, with other Laguna groups agitating for pedestrian rights, including the Complete Streets project, which aims to make local streets as accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians as to motorists, and the Temple Hills Pedestrian Path Project, which advocates improving access to that neighborhood’s public walkways.
For Burrus, the date 11/11/11 ties into a statistic she cites that an average of 11 pedestrians are killed daily in the United States. Her late husband, Dr. David R. Burrus, was killed in a crosswalk near LAX in 2009.
Of the 40 or so people participating, many were either fellow advocates inspired by Burrus or had personal reasons for attending.
Fernanda Rocha, one of Bravo TV’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” lent the event some star power, speaking and holding a banner as the walk got underway. “I feel very proud of you for taking this step to help others not have to go through what you went through,” she said, addressing Burrus, a client of Laguna Beach’s Art of Fitness, which she co-owns.
Burrus launched Safer Passages earlier this fall. The public walk between City Hall and Main Beach last Friday provided an official stepping off point for her “Look Up!” campaign, which aims to increase awareness about pedestrian safety through art, music, film and storytelling.
Lampposts were festooned with black and white balloons, volunteers held up a Safer Passages banner between two poles, and supporters bore bright blue lapel ribbons indicating solidarity.
Resident Marion Keegan, owner of the Art of Fitness & Spa, befriended Burrus through the gym. Keegan described the aftermath of having been hit by a car in Laguna. She spent a month in the hospital and underwent extensive physical therapy. “The key is to look up and connect, as pedestrians and drivers,” said Keegan, adding that accidents occur due to lack of attention. “Create awareness. Let go of the desensitizing…make peace with each other.”
“This town takes better care of their automobiles than pedestrians,” said Les Miklosy, from a bench that served as a podium. He spoke of the efforts of a Complete Streets Task Force to persuade city officials to pay for structural infrastructure changes such as better crosswalks. He encouraged those gathered to attend City Council meetings and make themselves heard. “I’m embracing what Pamela is doing because we are all on the same page,” he said.
Longtime resident Dorothea Yellott, a member of the Temple Hills path project, joined because the goals of Safer Passages dovetail with her own. “Let’s make the streets safer for pedestrians,” she said.
Laguna Beach residents Georgi Krosi and Jennifer Fenwick were there out of friendship for Burrus and to honor the memory of former Laguna Beach teacher Claudia Flint, killed in 1998 in a downtown crosswalk.
“We’re here to save lives and to support a great woman,” said Burrus’s boyfriend, Redondo Beach resident Kyle Dietrich, also a Safer Passages board member. Dietrich’s grandfather was hit and killed by a car when he was 14.
“We are in it for the long run,” said Burrus, reiterating the essence of the campaign: “Hey, Look Up!” She implored pedestrians and motorists about to enter a crosswalk to find each other’s eyes and smile. It’s that simple.