To see excellent video coverage, please see the report from NBC Los Angeles HERE
Let’s clearly identify two failures of the design of this parking area:
First, the ADA accessible parking spots were pointed nose-in to the building, directly in front of benches where customers were invited to sit and wait for their turn to come inside. The designers of the parking area needed to be aware that nose-in parking is inherently risky, and that combining outdoor customer waiting areas with ADA parking greatly increases the risks due to the frequency of pedal error accidents.
Second, knowing that large numbers of people were going to congregate a few feet in front of cars parking in these spaces, the designers of the parking area failed to offer any meaningful protection for the customers in the event of a driver error. Photos of the scene clearly show that only a concrete wheel stop and a length of decorative fencing separated vehicles from the benches where customers waited.
Let’s be very clear about wheel stops – wheels stops do NOT stop vehicles. Period. If wheel stops actually stopped cars, storefront crashes would be a rare event. If wheel stops actually stopped cars, pedestrian injuries would be way down and the more than sixty storefront crashes per day would be cut by more than half. If wheel stops actually stopped cars, Marissa Malin would be alive today and six others would not be recovering from injuries.
Likewise, let’s be clear about decorative fencing. It is decorative. It is NOT a safety device, it is a decorative device. It may have other functions, and it may help to keep customers from wandering out into the parking area, but decorative function gives an illusion of safety because while it provides a visual separation it does not provide any meaningful resistance when struck by a vehicle. In this case, comments by police and witnesses and photos of the scene clearly show that the length of decorative fencing in front of the parking space simply became a battering ram when the front of the car struck it and propelled it into the customers sitting behind it.
THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY
The use of decorative fencing creates an illusion of safety. If the purpose is only aesthetic and decorative, that would be one thing – but if this architectural feature is also going to be used to provide safety and security to people and property, then when it is installed it has to be combined with steal structure that will provide actual impact resistance. In this case, for about $1000 more in building costs, the restaurant owners and the designers of the parking area could have completely prevented this type of accident. Marissa Malin would not have been struck if ASTM-tested steel posts, properly installed and anchored, had been added when the decorative railing was installed. Same railing, same look – just two or three added vertical members anchored behind the railing capable of withstanding a very predictable vehicle impact.
The failure in this case was two-fold – pointing cars parking in the ADA accessible parking spaces directly at waiting customers in front of the restaurant, and failing to provide any meaningful barrier between the customers and the vehicles in the event of a pedal error or other driver error. Since this situation is repeated so frequently, I will repeat the simple solution; if the owner’s preference or site limitations absolutely require that a given store or restaurant or office building have nose-in parking spaces, it is simple and inexpensive to install any of a variety of different protective devices that will protect customers and employees from a vehicle incursion.
The parking industry, real estate developers, building owners, and store and restaurant owners are on notice that storefront accidents occur, that these accidents are increasing, and that these accidents are preventable. Failure to take steps to prevent such accidents will leave owners liable for not protecting customers, pedestrians and employees in the future.