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Unnecessary Danger


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Driving through Old Town Goleta the other night, I came up to a crosswalk with the flashing pedestrian lights activated. Was anybody crossing? I could hardly tell. In the glare of the opposing headlights, the pedestrians crossing the street were all but invisible save for a vague movement of shadows. What a dangerous situation, I thought to myself.

That foreboding sadly came to fruition on my return trip a few minutes later. There, at the very same crosswalk, was a knot of people surrounding an unresponsive form. There, sticking out from the crowd, were two feet, clad only in socks, the shoes apparently having been knocked off somehow and somewhere, the socks both signifying and magnifying the vulnerability of the fragile human versus the unyielding machine stopped to the side. There, incongruously strewn across the pavement, was a bag of French fries, a poignant reminder of the small, commonplace joy this pedestrian was presumably looking forward to. I read later that the injured was a 14-year-old girl.

I didn’t witness the accident itself, so can’t address cause or fault. Perhaps the pedestrian was a little hasty or foolish; perhaps the driver was not fully attentive; perhaps some combination of the two. I argue, though, that it doesn’t matter. Given the large number of people that cross Hollister in Old Town Goleta, and the larger number of cars passing through, it is inevitable that such collisions will happen. Indeed, per the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, a dozen pedestrian collisions have occurred on that stretch of road in as many years. It is simply inevitable, and will remain inevitable, unless something is done to change the situation.

And this is where the City of Goleta is failing its residents, for the City has known of this situation in Old Town Goleta but has done nothing to address it. Meanwhile, pedestrians are left to fend for themselves, and woe the pedestrian who loses focus or picks an inopportune time to cross.

We insulate the wiring in our homes so we don’t have to rely on constant personal vigilance to avoid being electrocuted. So, too, must our streets be designed so that the less-than-fully-cautious pedestrian and the less-than-fully-attentive driver can coexist.

Residents have pushed the City for improvements to make Hollister safer for pedestrians, with nothing to show for it. And there are numerous ways the existing crosswalks could be improved. Better lighting, for starters. Or curb extensions. Or mid-street pedestrian refuges. Or all of the above. Yet the City, by giving priority to preserving maximum traffic throughput on Hollister and to preserving the entirety of the center lane for left turns, has essentially declared that no changes are possible.

Will the City ever act to improve the safety of Old Town Goleta residents? Or are we all just supposed to inure ourselves to the inevitable, to the socks and French fries lying in the roadway?

Greg Janée, S.B. is vice president of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation

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