Mountain View Voice

News - October 19, 2012

Acrimonious meeting reveals traffic woes

by Daniel DeBolt

Following two collisions that killed pedestrians on California Street this year, the Shoreline West Association of Neighbors held an unusual meeting on street safety Monday night.

The Community Center's lower social hall was packed at the beginning of the meeting with over 80 people, but later thinned to around 40. After the meeting, several bicycle advocates expressed frustration with city officials for what they saw as blaming victims and an unwillingness to consider sacrificing vehicle traffic flow for pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Council member Ronit Bryant had a rosier view after attending the meeting, reporting to council on Tuesday night that "lots of neighborhoods and groups are coming together to worry about bike and pedestrian issues. I think we are facing a year of moving forward on a lot of bicycle safety and traffic issues. I look forward to our goal-setting in January."

Before the discussions began, police Capt. Tony Lopez and public works director Mike Fuller briefly talked about the the problem from their perspectives.

The police view

Lopez took an educational approach towards the issue, pointing out that though pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way, doesn't mean it's always safe. He said his own niece "would stand in front of a train and argue she has the right of way. Don't be my niece. Don't take that chance."

Describing what police believe happened in the deaths of three pedestrians this year, he also pointed out the mistakes made by two of the victims. The exception was William Ware, who was struck by an speeding car while standing at a California Street bus stop, a case he called an "anomaly" because of the driver's extreme recklessness as he swerved to avoid a car making a turn and lost control.

Lopez surprised some by saying that "speed is not a factor in (Ware's) case," but later clarified that "the distinction was being made to highlight the recklessness as well beyond 'speeding.'"

He also pointed out that drivers weren't found to be at fault in the two other pedestrian deaths in the neighborhood, and that both victims were wearing dark clothes at night, including Erik Onorato, who police believe was hit while jogging at night on Shoreline Boulevard, near Wright Avenue.

In the case of Joshua Baker, struck by a car at night while crossing California Street near Pettis Avenue, Lopez said Baker was likely standing among trees on the median before stepping onto the street, hidden from view, and that "his clothing was not the most reflective." He said alcohol was not a factor and speeding was not a factor. "Either way, that poor gentlemen is dead and some poor driver is dealing with the reality of taking someone's life."

Police are launching a public education campaign aimed at cyclists and pedestrians, and are now posting on Facebook where traffic cops are ticketing people in hopes of getting drivers to talk about where to to be careful.

LaFleur said the accidents prove that even at legal speeds, cars are going too fast on California Street and Shoreline Boulevard.

LaFleur and another bicycle advocate, Wendee Crowfoot, said after the meeting that they are both concerned that the police department's efforts will be used as a substitute for substantial changes to the city's roads. "I'm not sure how they will find a way to do that effectively," Crowfoot said of the police's education campaign.

"If we are going to move beyond having people drive cars for every single trip around town so we don't drown in car congestion, the city will need to be more aggressive in supporting people walking and bicycling," LaFleuer said in an email. "And the first step is slowing cars down through better roadway design."

The public works perspective

Director Fuller said the city commonly installs speed bumps and traffic circles on small residential streets when a majority of residents on a street sign a petition. Such measures wouldn't apply to Shoreline Boulevard or California Street, major arterial streets where "speed humps and such generally don't work well," Fuller said.

"Very often, there is not an engineering solution after a traffic accident," Fuller said.

Fuller said the city can't just reduce speed limit on California Street, as some would like, because traffic courts won't enforce speeds slower than that which most drivers are comfortable driving, given the width and design of a street.

Fuller's comments about easing traffic on Highway 101 when he was asked about fixing traffic in North Bayshore spurred complaints from one resident: "Everything for the past 30 years was designed around keeping traffic moving smoothly with no regard for bicycles and pedestrians. I was on the (bicycle pedestrian advocacy committee) and we got nowhere with this."

Fuller said the city is "specifically not focusing on widening more roads and making more room for vehicles. We are looking at the full range of alternate modes of transportation."

Among several other possible safety measures, Fuller mentioned specially lit crosswalks, such the one on Showers Drive at Latham Street, which alert drivers with flashing lights when pedestrians push a button to cross. "I'm sure we will see more of those through out the city," Fuller said.

Residents discuss the problem

Attendees broke into three groups to discuss either Shoreline Boulevard, California Street or smaller streets within the Shoreline West neighborhood, which is bordered by Central Expressway, El Camino Real, Escuela Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard.

"We fought for that light but it's still not working," said one resident of the new stoplight at California Street and Escuela Avenue, which now has left-turn arrows to prevent collisions caused by unexpected turns — part of what happened in the collision that killed William Ware. Fuller later said he would continue asking PG&E to connect power to the lights, which have been installed for several months.

At the same intersection, resident Jarrett Mullen pointed out that the curb radius is so round it allows cars to "whip around" the corner, while the ramps direct pedestrians diagonally into the intersection. He said the solution would be to extend the curb into the intersection, slowing cars down and reducing the distance pedestrians would have to cross.

An elderly man with a walker complained about bicyclists on sidewalks on and around California Street. Another resident said, "Where I live you can find one every five minutes going the wrong way on the sidewalk."

Bicyclists complained that they didn't feel safe on California Street's narrow bike lanes, considering the speed of traffic and the number of parked cars that could open a door into them.

"California Street is the worst part of my entire commute," said one cyclist, complaining about the number of parked cars. "You never know when one of them is going to pull out."

Many in the group supported the idea of a "road diet" for California Street, possibly narrowing it from four lanes to three and allowing for wider bike lanes. Fuller said the city had California Street on a list of streets that could potentially go on a road diet, but that it was likely years away and would require careful study of future traffic needs and impacts to side streets.

"We really have to study something like that very carefully," Fuller said. "We don't want to create unintended consequences."

Other ideas for California Street included painting more crosswalks and removing trees that might obstruct a driver's view of pedestrians taking refuge on the median.

On Shoreline Boulevard, the group reported: "People have trouble crossing Shoreline, it is a busy street."

"Cars turning from Villa onto Shoreline, making a left, almost hit pedestrians on multiple occasions. It's actually very dangerous." Villa Street was also pointed out as a popular yet problematic place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

A member of the Shoreline Boulevard group also said that it is "not okay for city officials to blame pedestrians for getting hit." Others said the behavior of drivers doesn't change after traffic police give out tickets, but said adding traffic cameras "could actually change behavior." There were also complaints about a truck being parked regularly in the bike lane along Shoreline near El Camino Real.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Cuesta Resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 4:20 pm

We need safe driving and safe biking. People who drive faster than the speed limit should be punished.

But we should not force all the safe, law-abiding drivers to go slower than the speed limit. As just one example, the city stupidly put in 4 consecutive speed bumps on a nearby street that makes it impossible to go the speed limit.

The reality is that the vast majority of people drive cars, and there are many who cannot use bicycles (families, the elderly, disabled, etc.) We should focus on improving bike options that do NOT in any way reduce the driving experience.


Posted by SafetyFirst, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm

The deaths on California Ave all involved automobiles that were traveling greater than the posted limit. The reality is that it is actually legal to drive FASTER than the posted limit in many cases. As the article indicates, the traffic courts will no enforce a speed limit that is unreasonably low given the width of the streets.

So, unless the police can prove that speed was a primary factor in the accident, there really is no issue with going over the posted limit. The other problem with fatal traffic accidents at night on a road like California is that there is likely only one witness available after the accident--and that is the driver. Even if the driver is at fault, as long as they don't incriminate themselves, it is unlikely they will be charged. "He came out of nowhere!"

Personally, I would like to see cheap, brightly colored flags (and holders) posted along California, so people can grab one before crossing and get some instant visibility. Otherwise, I don't think the City is really going to do anything unless a young child, a "pretty woman" or the like gets hit. Then, you will see some action.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields