Gary Horton | A Chance to Prevent Tragedy

The past two years have seen a relative bloodbath of pedestrian and bicycle accidents in and around the Santa Clarita Valley. Tragic accidents, like high school athletes hit in crosswalks. Homeless folks ran over on Railroad Avenue. Kids struck by wayward cars. It seems nearly weekly we read of an entanglement between pedestrians and cars and bicycles and cars – and the cars always, always win. A crisis of vehicular vs. human accidents appears to be brewing in our town – so much so that sheriff’s deputies have staged focused stakeouts for distracted drivers at high-volume pedestrian intersections.

Recent headlines seen in Santa Clarita:

“SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2019) — A child walking on a sidewalk was injured Monday afternoon after being hit by a vehicle whose driver lost control on Golden Valley Road at Via Princessa in Santa Clarita.” – Accident News

“SANTA CLARITA (March 8, 2019) – A pedestrian was hit and injured after being struck by a car on McBean Parkway near Granary Square Friday afternoon. Police said that this is the fourth accident in a span of a week involving a pedestrian that was hit by a car. Three more pedestrians were involved in separate crashes with different vehicles earlier this week.” – Accident News

“We have had eight pedestrian/cyclist accidents in the last month. Tragically, two of these were fatal. In both incidents, according to witnesses, the pedestrian and cyclist moved into the path of oncoming traffic.” – The Signal

For two decades now, I’ve been a “heavy user” of the paseos and city pathways present throughout our fine city. These are a godsend, as they allow pedestrians and bicyclists to get fresh air, to exercise, without facing the ever more challenging ever-increasing gauntlet of cars moving ever faster on our ever-more-congested roads in town. Thank God for visionary planners, and “thank you” to Newhall Land and our city planners for setting up such a great system of trails.

Yet “thanks” and “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough when our pedestrians and bicyclists must cross our bustling streets or use our ordinary sidewalks. It’s at these times, at these crossings, we read of so many horrific accidents, due to driver error and distraction – and also pedestrians alike. Cars and pedestrians do not mix well and the consequences when they do are terrible.

In my frequent bicycling and walking I cross McBean Parkway intersections and also must walk or ride along McBean to get to where I’m heading. McBean, of course, is the major thoroughfare through mid-town, and is one of our most beautiful streets, running miles through beautifully landscaped neighborhoods. It’s an asset to all of us.

But McBean used to be a sleepy roadway – first a “one-laner,” that stopped at Valencia Boulevard, then pushed through on a small bridge further north, then full on improvements with two lanes in both directions. And then, during the real-estate boom of the early 2000s – McBean was surprisingly widened to three lanes, both ways.

As more and more folks moved in, McBean became less so a “parkway” and much more a “freeway.” Some might say at peak hours, a “raceway.” Indeed, during rush hour traffic, a pedestrian faces three lanes moving at speeds over 50 mph – with outliers running their rigs at 60 mph and above. To pedestrians, it can be a terrifying experience.

When McBean was pushed out to three lanes, older areas of the parkway became exposed to precarious traffic risk. McBean, north and south of Arroyo Park Drive, is a particularly risky walk or bike ride. 

Frankly, it needs to fixed – before we read of some truly horrific, horrific tragedy: The jogger who slipped. A bike that veered. A baby stroller accidently turns. A distracted driver jumping the curb. Any of these – with just 1 or 2 feet of error, will result in fatalities on these stretches of McBean, because the current design leaves no room for error by either driver nor human.

Imagine asking your children to walk along the side of Interstate 5 with buses passing by at high speeds, just 2 or 3 feet from your side! Yet, we do that every day along McBean. Here’s a public bus approaching at 45 – 50 mph, just 8 inches from the gutter, and just 2-3 feet from pedestrian right of way.

And here’s the bus as it rushes by – and everyone can see the dire risk in this. As it passes, the blow-by is so strong I almost lost my balance taking the photo. 

Of course, it’s not just buses. At peak hours, the roadway is full, almost a bumper-to-bumper “train of cars” blowing by at 50 mph and above.

We have a latent tragedy in our midst, right now. A tragedy will happen with this level of pedestrian exposure. Happily, we can prevent it.

But how? It will cost, certainly. But what’s a life worth? A family’s life worth?

Most effective would be to realign the roadway and medians and restripe the lanes to pull traffic a full lane away from the sidewalk.

Another effective approach would also be to switch the planters and the sidewalk, placing the planters next to the curb, and the sidewalk next to the property walls. An effective hedge barrier could be created to prevent pedestrians from accidentally stepping into the street. A raised barrier curb could constrain vehicles.

Many solutions exist. I don’t pretend to design roadways. We do have professionals for that. 

However, as a citizen of our city, I feel obliged to present this pressing pedestrian risk to our city planners – in the hopes of proactive solutions – before we read the next awful, fully preventable, headline.

 Far better than, “Toddler slipping from curb tragically killed…” would be, “City resolves pedestrian risk with new roadway design.”

 Thank you to the city of Santa Clarita for considering this present danger..

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006.

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