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LA Recruits Artist to Help Reduce Traffic Deaths

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Sound artist and oral historian Alan Nakagawa wants to explore different cultures and teach people to share the road

The massive Los Angeles Department of Transportation building downtown is certainly big enough to accommodate any number of employees with unusual job titles, and indeed the transit agency is now adding an artist-in-residence to its ranks. As Gizmodo reports, sound artist and oral historian Alan Nakagawa has been hired to assist LADOT with its ambitious plan called Vision Zero to end traffic deaths in LA. General Manager Seleta Reynolds says the agency is "committed to creativity and innovation" and explains that Nakagawa "will continue this tradition, with a focus on how we can infuse art into design to create safer streets."

For his part, Nakagawa says he'll use his skills as an oral historian to learn how different communities and cultures use transportation. Gizmodo says Nakagawa wants to create "messaging about sharing streets that transcends language." His goal is teach etiquette to all users of LA's streets. "Everyone thinks they’re entitled to the road, like no one else should be on it," he says. It's a topic he's passionate about. Apparently, it was his idea to create etiquette trading cards for Metro to teach children how to use their best manners while riding public transit; they feature characters like "Snacker" and the "Blab Sisters."

Los Angeles has a long way to go before traffic deaths begin to approach the agency's goal of zero. In 2014, LA County led the nation with 207 pedestrian deaths—more than twice the number in second-place Maricopa County, Arizona. Still, LADOT is working to improve some of the city's most dangerous intersections. A new scrambled crosswalk at Hollywood and Highland is already producing impressive results.

Another fun idea Nakagawa has already brought to the table: turning the imposing LADOT headquarters into a public gathering place with art exhibits that coincide with the Downtown Art Walk.