William Ware's death spurs call for California Street revamp
Better design could prevent deadly collisions, group says.
The death of William Ware — hit by a speeding car while waiting at a California Street bus stop on June 21 — caused shock in a neighborhood where some are now calling for major traffic calming measures.
"Neighbors were pretty shaken up over the William Ware thing," said Jarrett Mullen, a resident of the neighborhood where Ware was hit at the stop near Escuela Avenue. "We all saw ourselves there too. We could have been the victims. We could have been run over. We could have been killed."
Mullen is now pushing to reduce California Street from four lanes to two in a larger effort to improve the streets in the neighborhood known for rows of apartment buildings and working class residents. He and some of his neighbors have launched the Rengstorff Park Great Streets Initiative "to inspire action to transform the streets in the neighborhood to more livable places."
On Tuesday afternoon, pedestrians at Escuela and California didn't hesitate to express concern about car speeds and show support for slowing cars down.
"People around here feel really bad about this guy," said Ger, a man waiting for the bus, referring to the accident that killed Ware. He looked at California Street and said, "people drive really fast because they got room to do that."
Yolanda Reyes, a yard supervisor at Landels School, was sitting at the bus stop where Ware was killed. "I always see these little crashes right here, all the time," she said of the Escuela and California intersection, where new traffic lights that now include left-turn signals, installed after the accident, have yet to be activated. "It's kind of scary because the school is right there."
Another woman offered her comments about the traffic as she jumped on the bus: "They just need to slow down! We have kids here!"
Mullen says it's unnecessary for California Street to look like an expressway, encouraging drivers to speed in what he calls a "failure of design." The street, along with Shoreline Boulevard, needs to go on a "road diet," he says.
"The traffic counts on California Street are at a level where you don't need four lanes of traffic there," Mullen said. "If it's below a certain threshold, then there's this kind of accepted principle you don't need four lanes and two lanes may actually be more beneficial."
Two lanes would slow traffic, while adding a turn lane in the center would allow a car to pull out of traffic to turn, rather than stop others behind it, Mullen said. And it would mean more room for wider bike lanes, so bicyclists won't have to ride in the "door zone" — that area where bicyclists are sometimes hit by the opening door of a parked car.
California Street isn't the only roadway in the area that could use improvements, according to the Rengstorff Great Streets Initiative website. The site makes suggestions to improve Escuela Avenue, Rengstorff Avenue, Villa Street, Latham Avenue, Ortega Avenue, and Shoreline Boulevard, which could be reduced from six lanes to four, it says.
The website also calls for a paved trail along the Caltrain corridor, like one Palo Alto has built near its University Avenue station. "If Caltrain is expanded to four tracks in Mountain View, there is still plenty of space for this trail," it says.
"The idea is that this neighborhood is one of the densest neighborhoods in Mountain View, if not the densest," Mullen said of the area where Ware was hit. "It should be easy to bicycle and walk to nearby destinations. These streets don't reflect that. You kind of feel terrorized when you are walking down the street because of high car speeds and volumes. And the general aesthetics are not very welcoming."
Installing bike lanes on narrow streets like Escuela and Ortega Avenue is impossible without removing parking on one side of the road, so Mullen proposes that cars be encouraged to slow down and share the road with bicyclists.
"The vision for these streets is to transform the pavement into an attractive space with rain gardens and new landscaping, permeable paving, pedestrian-scale lighting, and traffic-calming devices to keep cars below 20 mph," the website says. "On Ortega where traffic counts are lower, it may be possible to fundamentally transform the street from asphalt plain to public space."
Mullen also imagines more tree shade so pedestrians don't feel "baked" by the sun.
"Our streets are overwhelmingly dedicated to moving cars at high speeds, which stresses people out, leads to injury, and occasionally death," says the group's site. "Moreover, streets are the neighborhood's greatest accumulation of publicly owned space, and present a tremendous opportunity to invest in an asset that touches every person who lives in the area."
Director of Public Works Mike Fuller said that the council's recent approval of the city's 2030 general plan spurred early work to begin on a "California Street Corridor Improvements Study," which could lead to traffic calming on California Street.
Fuller was hesitant to embrace a "road diet" for California Street.
"With the current volumes we have we might be able to go from four to two lanes on California Street," he said. "But with the projected future (traffic) volumes, we may not be able to."
For more, visit the Initiative's website at greatstreetsrp.wordpress.com.
Look for more coverage of the city's efforts to become bicycle friendly in next week's issue.
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org