Hildegard Haskell took the right precautions.

Haskell, 77, who used a metal walker, enlisted the aid of her friend Hazel Selden, 80, in crossing busy Beachwood Drive on Oct. 27. At 7:55 p.m., it was dark and difficult for the drivers of cars speeding through the Hollywood Hills to see people on the street.No doubt, the women waited a while before stepping off the curb.

When they did they were hit, police say, by a car driven by a 40-year-old schoolteacher who sped off as the women were thrown to the pavement. Both died.

The deaths reignited a debate in Los Angeles about crosswalks - now being eliminated by the hundreds in a citywide repaving project.

Neighborhood residents set up a shrine at the intersection and demanded signals and crosswalk markings. But traffic engineers decided white lines on the pavement wouldn't offer a solution. Instead, they installed stop signs.

Experts agree that in some cases, having no crosswalk actually is safer than having the painted lines on the street. Studies show that markings often increase a pedestrian's chance of being hit - especially at intersections with no lights or signs - because of a false sense of security.

"The feeling that you're safe in that crosswalk is definitely a facade," said Sgt. Doug Shur with the Los Angeles Police Department. `It's just one-sixteenth of an inch of raised white paint on the pavement."

A 1987 Federal Highway Administration report found marked crosswalks usually were safer than unmarked ones, but studies of markings at intersections uncontrolled by lights or signs found just the opposite.

In Los Angeles, 42 of the 157 pedestrians killed in 1988 were struck in marked crosswalks compared with 23 in unmarked crossings. The majority of the dead were jaywalking.

In Long Beach, a study of 10 years of accidents found eight times as many pedestrian-involved collisions at marked crosswalks as unmarked crossings.

A 1970 San Diego study of 400 marked and unmarked intersections, all without signals, found twice as many pedestrians were struck in marked crosswalks as in unmarked, said Bruce Herms, author of the study.

"The evidence seemed to indicate that pedestrians tended to be more trusting in the marked crosswalks, trusted the motorist to see," said Herms. "But the motorist said, `The first I knew the pedestrian was there was when I heard the bump on the car."'

His advice: "Don't rely upon the painted lines to stop the automobile."

According to Fred Ranck, head of the pedestrian safety program for the National Safety Council, the trouble is that "many cities have put in crosswalks where they shouldn't have been in the first place," primarily for political reasons.

The painted lines have done nothing to halt injury and death at the intersection of Eighth and Concord streets in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where residents have demanded a traffic light.

In the twilight of Nov. 28, 9-year-old Juanita Martinez was struck by a car and killed as the driver rushed to work. On Jan. 6, two 14-year-old girls walking to school were hit by a car and injured.

Cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles have begun removing crosswalks at such uncontrolled intersections to increase safety. San Diego has removed 700 crosswalks since 1970; Long Beach has eliminated 700 since 1975. Los Angeles has wiped away more than 200 and plans to delete up to 300 more.

Herms said that in San Diego, pedestrian deaths in the six years before the deletions were 157; from 1971 to 1976, 117 pedestrians were killed.

Nationwide, one in six people killed in a traffic accident is a pedestrian. About 8,500 died in 1987, the most recent year counted.

"Pedestrians really are the forgotten stepchild in traffic safety," Ranck said.

"Especially in New York and L.A.," said Richard Retting, New York City's deputy assistant commissioner for safety, "everyone's in a rush and . . . they're just not thinking for that moment."

Authorities eventually caught the woman they say was driving the car that struck Haskell and her friend. Beatrice Margaret Buocz pleaded not guilty to hit-and-run driving and awaits trial. Detective Robert Smith said it appears Buocz was not speeding, but simply didn't see the women.

Experts agree that the pedestrian usually is at fault.

"The majority of pedestrians killed in traffic violated a traffic law or committed an obviously unsafe act," says the American Automobile Association.

No one may ever know who was at fault in the deaths of Haskell and Selden. But police believe the elderly women took care.

"The lesson is, when you cross the street - make sure that the cars are stopping," said Shur. "Regardless of who is right or wrong, the pedestrian always comes out last . . . and they usually come out dead last."