Self-described social artist Pamela Burrus relies on different forms of media to advocate for various concerns. Two years ago, her mission took on greater urgency after her husband, Dr. David R. Burrus, was hit by a motorist in a crosswalk near Los Angeles International Airport and died 33 minutes later.
The accident that ended the couple’s 20-year love affair propelled the widow to become a proponent for pedestrian and motorist safety. She established Safer Passages, whose nonprofit status is pending, to honor her husband and 47,702 other pedestrians who died in the last nine years nationwide.
Burrus aims to reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and deaths with a catchy campaign to instill greater awareness in those hoofing it and behind the wheel alike. Safer Passages’ “Look Up!” campaign, which will be formally rolled out next month, was developed with the help of public relations professional Jessica Cohen in Beverly Hills.
Personal trauma often provides the catalyst for campaigns for social change.
The 1996 abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas led her parents to push for issuing bulletins commonly known as an “Amber Alert” when a child goes missing. And Candy Lightner in 1980 founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in California after her daughter, Cari, was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender.
Like her predecessors, Burros envisions a positive change emerging from her tragedy and enlisted seven board members for Safer Passages with natural empathy because they too were involved in a crosswalk incident either as a pedestrian or a motorist. Los Angeles film producer and board member Jeff Most has witnessed five collisions involving pedestrians and motorists.
People who have suffered personal tragedy are often the best advocates for a cause because they “are so committed emotionally to try to make an improvement,” said USC professor Doe Mayer, an expert in campaign strategies for social issues and health-related organizations.
Describing what she sees as an epidemic of pedestrian deaths and injuries, Burrus is not searching for a scapegoat. “If we work together, we can change the numbers,” she insists.
Safer Passages’ “Look Up!” campaign serves as a reminder to pedestrians and motorists alike to pay attention at crosswalks and make eye contact before proceeding, and a catchy jingle is planned to reinforce the message.
“Being aware as a driver and a pedestrian is really the key to moving around the city safely,” said Laguna police Lt. Jeff Calvert. In Laguna Beach, police department records since June 2007 show 91 accidents involved pedestrians, including four fatalities. After Coast Highway, Glenneyre Street proved the most dangerous thoroughfare for those on foot, records show.
It is just as important for drivers to slow down and drive cautiously as it is for pedestrians to take the time to use the marked crosswalks and to make sure oncoming drivers see them before they step into the crosswalk, said Calvert.
Even so, behavior changes can be agonizingly slow. Just ask Les Miklosy, chair of Laguna’s complete streets task force. For three years he’s tried to build support for the Complete Streets project, which aims to make local streets as accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians as they are to motorists.
Miklosy’s efforts finally saw some results last week when the City Council approved the installation of sharrows on Cypress and Monterey Drives to establish a non-Coast Highway bike route. “I could sure use some help,” he said, adding that “this is a community effort, you’ve got to get buy-ins from everybody.”
Burrus envisions a campaign that will do just that, by taking an upbeat approach rather than relying on scare tactics with horrific images of collisions. It is important to “put some sugar in the message,” she said.
Finding a positive way to frame the issue is “a really good idea,” agreed Mayer. “For the most part, fear messages don’t work well,” she said.
Today, a successful marketing drive for a commercial product or a cause taps an array of media sources to deliver a message in different ways, Mayer said. Even if funds are limited, you need to mix it up, she says.
The nonprofit Ad Council, standard-bearer for public service advertisements, claims their campaigns – even without social media — persuade people to change behavior. For example, seat belt usage rose to 79 percent from 14 percent as a result of a 1985 safety belt campaign, according to the Ad Council.
Burrus hopes that with a music video in the works, a catchy jingle and her own story telling, her public service message will win time slots on television and radio and in webcasts.
Besides a media push, Burrus expects to become a more visible advocate, speaking to groups to raise awareness and pushing authorities to address problem intersections. Laguna’s Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee will consider Burrus’ request to install speed limit and pedestrian crossing signs at the intersections of Nyes Place, Highland Way and Victoria Place at their next meeting. She also is pressing for a lighted crosswalk at the intersection of Brooks Street and Coast Highway, among others.
“I really feel positive about this,” said Burrus. “I think we can make a huge difference.”
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