Mountain View Voice

Opinion - April 19, 2013

Making streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists

Riding a bike or walking in Mountain View can be dangerous, or even fatal, as becomes graphically clear when looking over a map of collisions published in last week's Voice.

Who can forget the tragic death of William Ware, who was hit by an out-of-control car while he sat on a bench waiting for a bus?

Although a concerted effort by police is beginning to affect the number of collisions, it was discouraging that two pedestrians were killed by cars within the last six weeks — one at Phyllis Avenue on March 5 and the other on a Central Expressway sidewalk on April 3 causing injuries that led to the victim's death April 6.

These deaths, and William Ware's, did not need to happen. A motorist ran onto the sidewalk in the Central Expressway death and the pedestrian was crossing Phyllis in a crosswalk when she was hit. Incidents like this can devastate families, who are left with few explanations, while perpetrators often receive a slap on the wrist.

And when you look at the compilation of five years of collisions published last week and see the symbols cluttering many intersections of the map it becomes clear that much more needs to be done to make our streets safer for bikes and pedestrians. This is especially true at the most dangerous intersections, like Sylvan Avenue and El Camino Real, where 12 collisions with bikes and pedestrians occurred over five years. Castro Street between Central Expressway and El Camino had at least a dozen collisions and there were an equal number at El Monte and El Camino. Grant Road and El Camino is also extremely dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

The City Council has already sent a message to the police and public works departments to step up enforcement to combat reckless driving. The effort appears to be responsible for a substantial drop in car versus car and car versus bike and pedestrian collisions in the last 12 months, from 55 last year to 26 in the last 12 months. No one can be certain, but the reduction could be the result of a major jump in the number of traffic tickets, up to 3,068 from 1,138 in the prior year.

A recent police priority is nabbing motorists who ignore pedestrians in a crosswalk, an extremely dangerous oversight that can greatly increase the chances of a serious injury.

While the city can't stop every reckless driver, it can modify its streets to discourage speeding and alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists.

The council already is getting the message and member Jac Siegel said the goal, whenever possible, is to "put in as safe a bike path as possible and as many pedestrian paths as possible."

That could be a big help in bringing down the collision rate, which from 2007 to 2012 meant that a pedestrian or cyclist was hit every five days. Cyclists were twice as likely to be hit as pedestrians.

Now the council is thinking more pro-actively, especially backing better designs of California Street and Escuela Avenue, an area highly prone to pedestrian and bicycle collisions. Castro Street in front of Graham Middle School is a very good candidate for narrowing, with bike lanes. Several students were hit by cars as they were crossing the street last year.

Publication of maps and statistics are just the first step in making Mountain View a community that makes sure its pedestrians and cyclists have a safe sidewalk or bike lane, and that motorists respect their space.

We are happy to see the city taking the lead to make safety the highest priority on local streets by taking measures that will benefit pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as drivers, who will be involved in fewer collisions as city streets become calmer places.

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