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Pedestrian Safety - Walk at Your Own Risk

Mar 26, 2016 11:02AM ● Published by Deborah Burstyn

BY DEBORAH BURSTYN

Maya Karmanova, 56, died November 8, 2015 when she was hit by a car that had apparently run a red light, police say. The collision happened around 7:50 a.m. on Treat Boulevard. A Walnut Creek resident, Karmanova was hit in the crosswalk. On the day of her funeral, November 12, 90-year-old Ann Rosen was killed in an apparent accident while crossing Tice Valley Boulevard just before 6 p.m. She too died while crossing a street in a marked crosswalk.  
A week later on November 20 at 8:35am, two women in their 60s were hit by a car while using a pedestrian crossing connected to the Ygnacio Canal Trail. Both women were taken to John Muir Medical Center in critical condition. Since this time, the number of pedestrians injured is growing.

Unfortunate coincidence? Or the lethal unintended consequence of more people doing more walking?  Suddenly it seems like pedestrians are everywhere. Although downtown Walnut Creek has the biggest concentration of foot traffic, pedestrians are popping up at intersections all over the city. And drivers seem unprepared. 

A NATIONAL EPIDEMIC

“More people are walking and that’s great,” says Walnut Creek City Council Member Cindy Silva. “It’s healthier and reduces traffic, but a lot of our old neighborhoods are not conducive to walking. Developed in the 1940s and 1950s, they do not have sidewalks.” Silva says creating sidewalks retroactively runs into private property issues because the land bordering residential streets belongs to multiple private homeowners. 

Walnut Creek’s recent pedestrian accidents appear to echo a nationwide trend, according to a group called Smart Growth America.  “American communities are poised for a renaissance in walking. We’re walking more often, for fun and to get to places in our neighborhood,” they state in a recent report. “But we are dealing with a legacy of roadways that fail to account for the safety of people on foot. Pedestrian crashes are more than twice as likely to occur in places without sidewalks; streets with sidewalks on both sides have the fewest crashes.”

ACCIDENT RATES HIGH

Walnut Creek’s Pedestrian Master Plan, a project started in 2013 and currently in a draft form online, does not shy away from the problem. It states, “The most recent findings from the California Office of Traffic Safety data show that for Walnut Creek, pedestrian injuries and fatalities rank higher than total traffic injuries and fatalities for ranking grouped by daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).” When compared to cities with similar daily VMT, Walnut Creek pedestrians are disproportionately impacted by traffic collisions compared to total traffic injuries and fatalities. And collisions with pedestrians over 65 are ranked particularly high. 

The report further states, “Approximately 70 percent of all pedestrian-related collisions between 2004 and 2013 occurred at intersections. Of those, 73 percent were caused by conflicts with pedestrian right of way. This typically occurs when drivers turn left or right into a crosswalk where a pedestrian is also walking.”

Walnut Creek Police Department (WCPD) data finds that overall injury traffic accidents in the city has not increased over the past six years. WCPD data does not differentiate between pedestrian-related injury accidents and those only involving vehicles. However the unofficial perception among local police officers is that pedestrian-related injury accidents are on the rise, according to Lt. Lanny Edwards. “But we do not have the data to back this up,” he says. The lowest number of injury accidents was 186 in 2010. The most occurred in 2013 with 245. In 2014, there were 211; and 211 injury accidents were recorded for 2015 by mid-December. The draft Pedestrian Master Plan’s list of possible solutions by 2020 includes more traffic signals, more pedestrian overpass bridges, improved pavement striping and more pedestrian-activated beacons at crosswalks. Next steps include prioritizing projects and applying for grants to fund them. 

 DANGER ZONES AND NEW HOUSING

 “You take your life in your hands in that crosswalk,” comments Mary Schaaf about the pedestrian crossing on Mt. Diablo Boulevard near Ace Hardware. “Elderly, handicapped – it doesn’t matter. The cars just whiz by people.” Schaaf, who along with her husband Bill owns California Document Preparers across the street, says they have seen people get hit by cars in the crosswalk.  But Mt. Diablo Boulevard had the lowest number of recorded pedestrian collisions of the seven corridors   identified as having the most pedestrian accidents in the Pedestrian Master Plan. It had 11 from 2004 to 2013. Main Street had the most at 33. Other danger zones include Broadway, Ygnacio Valley Road, California Boulevard, Locust Street and Civic Drive. Broadway and Civic Drive, near the entrance to both City Hall and WCPD headquarters, topped the list of 13 dangerous  intersections  with eight pedestrian accidents from 2004 to 2013. 

Although Walnut Creek’s anti-growth advocates feel differently, both the city’s elected officials and staff believe increased residential development is not a factor in pedestrian safety issues. Rather Traffic Engineer Rafat Raie points to the daily influx of workers and shoppers from outside of Walnut Creek. “About a 100 more pedestrians from a new 180 unit apartment building downtown are drop in the bucket compared to the influx of 10,000 people here every day. The downtown intersections already have 150 – 200 pedestrians crossing every hour,” he says.

SPEEDING AND DISTRACTION

Speeding is part of the problem according to Lt. Sean Conley, who heads special projects at WCPD. “People are driving too fast in neighborhoods,” he says. Lt. Conley also noted that both drivers and pedestrians need to take responsibility. Police officers are ticketing for jaywalking as well as failing to yield right of way to pedestrians in an intersection. “Everyone has to be cognizant on our streets and not texting or talking on their phones,” he says. “It’s impossible to have a police officer on every corner,” Lt. Conley says. “There are uncontrolled intersections – crosswalks with no traffic light throughout the city.”

Mayor Loella Haskew, who provides traffic safety tips at every Walnut Creek city council meeting says, “I intend to continue reminding the residents and visitors of our city that they are the largest component of keeping our roads safe.  Without people staying alert and being courteous to one another, no other effort can be successful.”

Walnut Creek Chief of Police Tom Chaplin acknowledges that keeping pedestrians safe is going to be an ongoing challenge. With increases in crime in the city, it’s a matter of trying to balance needs with staff resources.  He understands all too well the seriousness of the problem – in December one of his police officers was struck by a car on Buena Vista Avenue while directing traffic around an accident. Chief Chaplin has hired a crime analyst to explore the issue. “This effort will take a look at where a collision occurred and what caused it. Was it a distracted driver?  Or someone running a red light? We hope to see whether there are any areas where we can work with traffic engineering on this.” He also acknowledges, “There is no finish line when it comes to keeping the community safe.” 

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