Time to make Santa Maria's streets safer

 This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on January 9, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/time-to-make-santa-maria-s-streets-safer/article_a3cdc261-d20b-5033-951a-b3447929f35c.html

Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino has made pedestrian safety a top priority.

We should all be concerned, because we are all pedestrians at one time or another, even if just walking from our car to our destination. Drivers should be concerned because none of us wants to hit a pedestrian.

There are three main strategies to avoid pedestrians being hit by cars or trucks — attentiveness on the part of the pedestrian, attentiveness on the part of the driver, and the physical design of sidewalks, roads, signals and signs.

In recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to distracted driving, especially regarding cell phone use, which has been outlawed for drivers. Mayor Patino has called for education regarding distracted walking.

Who hasn’t encountered someone walking with earphones or looking down at their phone? You’re walking on the sidewalk and they almost bump into you, or you’re driving and they walk in front of you without looking. It’s frustrating and dangerous.

I walk a lot. In fact, I decided to walk on every street in Santa Maria so I could get to know my city better. In five months, I’m about halfway to achieving my objective.

Have I had any close calls with motor vehicles? No. Have I seen drivers looking at oncoming traffic to their left and then turning right without seeing me when I was already in the crosswalk about to cross? Many times.

But I haven’t had a close call, I think, because I anticipate this, partly because a close friend of mine was killed in a similar situation. A friend of mine who is legally blind has been hit twice by drivers. He should be able to cross in a legal crosswalk without fearing for his life.

Santa Maria caters to the automobile. We have wide roads and few marked crosswalks. While there are hundreds if not a few thousand legal

crosswalks, many motorists may not realize crosswalks are there because they are not marked. Many do not realize each intersection of through streets creates legal crosswalks unless marked otherwise.

A person who steps into that crosswalk has the right of way and motorists must yield if they are able.

Stripes may not be needed on smaller residential streets, but on our major arterials, they are essential.

Right in front of City Hall, Broadway is six lanes wide, plus turn lanes. There is a signal that tells pedestrians when to walk, but no stripes.

I’ve seen drivers turning through the unmarked crosswalks very close to pedestrians, violating the pedestrian’s right of way. In fact, this is one of the places my legally blind friend was hit.

On Miller at Newlove the north leg across Miller has stripes, the south leg does not. A year and a half ago, a young woman pedestrian crossing the south leg was killed. The driver of the car that killed her was acquitted of failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian. Maybe a striped crosswalk would have saved Leticia’s life.

The city of the future is walkable, encouraging people to get out of their cars for their health, while reducing the need to expand the roads. It creates safe places for children to walk to school. It reduces pollution. It is good for business. It is more friendly.

Many cities are improving their striping, making crosswalks more prominent so that motorists will be more aware.

It is time to make the streets of Santa Maria safer. Pedestrians and drivers must watch out for each other. The city must make improvements to make the roads safer.