Time to slow down on California StreetOften it takes a traumatic event to bring an otherwise ignored problem to light, and that is certainly the case in the tragic death of William Ware, who was hit and killed by a speeding car June 21 while waiting for a bus on California Street near Escuela Avenue.
Ware, 50, was a friend to numerous city workers and residents. He was well-known at the police department and the library, where he would relish performing the small tasks he was given. He spoke to virtually everyone he met, and had friends all over town. His neighbors saw him often, walking to and from his home and to the bus stop.
So it was a shock to all to hear of his untimely death, caused when the driver of a speeding gray sedan allegedly ran a red light, swerved to avoid a truck and lost control of the vehicle. His car jumped the curb, ran over a pole and hit Ware, who was waiting at a bus stop about 9:30 a.m. When it came to rest, the car was found near the intersection of California Street and Escuela Avenue. It was an event that has not been forgotten by many in the mostly working class neighborhood, who continue to leave flowers and gifts at the park bench that marks the spot of Ware's death.
But despite the terrible loss caused by the accident, something good might yet come from it. Neighborhood residents believe it is time to scrap what many consider a four-lane speedway on California Street and replace it with a much more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street with two lanes, improved bike lanes and sidewalks, and a center turn lane, a configuration that would be much less inviting to those who drive over the speed limit.
The effort is led by activist Jarrett Mullen, who has rolled out a website, showing new street designs for some of the city's busiest streets, including California, Shoreline Boulevard, Escuela, Rengstorff and many others. The idea is to force traffic to slow down, providing much safer ways for pedestrians and cyclists to get around their neighborhood. Mullen calls it putting the streets on "road diets," by slimming them down and making them more attractive.
It is a sensible approach that first the Public Works Department and ultimately the City Council should seriously consider. The benefits are well understood. Castro Street is an example of the traffic calming effect of narrowing a street from four lanes to two. On California Street there's even more room to allow a center turn lane and a bike lane in each direction.
Like water, traffic always finds the path of least resistance. The city's goal should be to encourage more north-south drivers to use El Camino Real and Central Expressway, and discourage cross-town traffic on residential streets like California, which is surrounded by dense housing structures. East-west streets could also go on a "road diet" for the same reason.
In its recent rewrite of the 2030 General Plan, the City Council endorsed adding pockets of extremely dense housing, including some buildings of up to six stories. The council must be sure to examine the flip-side of that decision — a giant bump in traffic impact — when they make the final call on many of these mega projects. We already have seen the unfortunate consequence of an errant motorist on a "speedway" arterial street. Let's make sure we do not inadvertently approve another one.