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Road Safety – It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Milpas on the Move column by Sharon Byrne as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel.

“Mom, you’re not stressed out…”

My daughter said these words to me as we crawled up the 405 from LAX. That level of traffic and glacial pace would have had me swearing once upon a time. Why not now?

I’d like to point to Zen training, or firm resolutions to control stress reactions, but really it’s because the 405 is so much less stressful than driving on some Santa Barbara streets.

Once you stop laughing, think about it. On the freeway, you’re between concrete barriers with a million other drivers trying to get somewhere at the same time. It’s six lanes of everyone heading in one direction. The job is to avoid the stopped lanes, and the only maneuver required is easing over to the exit ramp.

Contrast that with our morning carpool to Santa Barbara High along Canon Perdido. Pedestrians cross the street midblock, darting out from between parked vehicles. The intersection at the school on Canon Perdido is crowded with students in crosswalks, commuters trying to make it to downtown, and parents seeking to edge across Canon Perdido onto the school grounds. I feel I’ve navigated a dangerous obstacle course, with lives literally hanging in the balance, when we’ve arrived at school without hitting anyone.

THAT’S stressful. Compared to that, the 405 is easy street.

Driving in our quirky city requires more than just regular road safety adherence. It requires hyper-vigilance. You should go slow, even below the speed limit because there is so much going on: pedestrians attempting to cross, sometimes against the lights, or with earbuds in, not bothering to check if a car is coming. You need to watch for bicyclists coming down a hill or off a sidewalk, veering straight into an intersection with cross-traffic.

Speed limits are fairly low in this city. Milpas is 30 mph, Guterriez and Haley are 25 mph. De La Vina has a 20 mph zone. Drivers routinely tailgate on these roads, and zoom around others to get there all of 5 seconds faster, righteous in their rush.

A recent spate of accidents illustrates people not being considerate, or even aware, of others using the road too. A woman was killed on her bicycle on Milpas, riding in the dark, with no lights on, facing into oncoming traffic. Another woman chased her dog onto the freeway at Milpas, and was struck multiple times. A bicyclist was hit as she ran a stoplight, in the dark with earbuds in. And a child was struck on Salinas as he darted out into the road.

In all of these instances, the drivers were found to be not at fault, and alcohol was not involved. We can get indignant over pedestrians and bikes not following road rules for safety. But if we hit someone, even if we were obeying all the rules and they weren’t, we’d likely never get over the resulting trauma. Better to drive slow, look around, make eye contact with pedestrians and bicyclists whenever possible, than insist on being right. Being ‘right’ is cold comfort when someone ends up maimed or dead.

Bicyclists and pedestrians, you need to realize that you are crossing at your own risk, that you are literally taking your life into your own hands. Do you want to be insistent that you too can use the road as you see fit… or do you want to live? Being considerate and aware extends one’s lifespan, and spares others the trauma of preventable accidents.

Our quirky city has some intersections that miscue as well. Haley at De La Vina is a relatively new miscue – the southbound one-way De La Vina turns two-way at that intersection. Northbound drivers trying to turn right on Haley face head-on into southbound drivers who think that their left turn onto Haley is protected because they were driving one-way up to that point. Another miscued intersection is found on Gutierrez at Chapala. Straight-ahead and right-turn drivers would think they could accomplish both tasks from a right lane. But they’d be wrong. A bulb-out obliterated much of the former right turn lane off Gutierrez. Now you need to be in the former left-turn lane to go straight ahead. Weird striping serves as your only guide. You face into oncoming traffic, forced to cut diagonally in front of the car that really should be going straight ahead, but now must turn right.

Warning: CHP loves to bust people who get completely miscued at that intersection.

When you’re out and about, whether walking, riding, or driving, be safe, go slow, obey the rules of the road, make eye contact with drivers, pedestrians and bikes, and yield appropriately.

Above all, arrive alive and in one piece.

14 Responses to “Road Safety – It’s Everyone’s Responsibility”

  1. el_smurfo

    LA is a city that hates cars, but accepts that they are necessary. Santa Barbara is a city that lives in an alternate reality where the leaders believe their beret wearing turtleneck electorate ride their bicycles home from a rewarding day of government service, baguette in the basket and iPod tuned to NPR podcasts. The reason the city is now so stressful to drive in is because every intersection, every lane, every corner is now an obstacle course of anti-car urban planning school, elitist, social engineering nonsense. As a daily pedestrian, I hate bulbouts, traffic calming medians and speed bumps because they make cars less predictable and therefore me, less safe.

    • Wheeling and dealing

      City Hall and the 630 Garden Street annex are about a 10-15 minute walk away from each other. City staff often have to move from place to place for meetings and public hearings.

      Anyone survey how they get between these two locations. Do 100% of them walk, ride, van-pool, Segeway or bike? Do 90% ….80%. What is the productivity value time lost for this potential half hour walk versus other forms of transportation.

      But most importantly when time is money, do city staff walk the walk or just talk the talk.

  2. Sharon Byrne

    Smurfo – we have really got to recruit you as a columnist. Brilliant comment!

  3. bluntblunt

    Odd how in this piece there is not a scintilla of discussion of shortcomings of drivers in cars… those drivers who text, punch radio buttons, are on the cell phone, eating a hamburger, or fries, etc.

    You’d think Eric Okerblom was at fault. Or Kendra Payne. Or Jim Hamlin. The list goes on.

    Freeways? Once a year or so a wrong-way driver gets going on our local 101. Death and destruction are caused.

    • el_smurfo

      Would be fun, but Ray would just moderate all my comments to oblivion… Besides I have a real job and someone has to pay for all the nonsense these guys dream up in their Visioning Committees.
      Editor’s Note: Every good site needs a great commentator or three and Santa Barbara View has the best! The writers don’t have access to moderation, however any comment mentioning a site contributor, including misspellings, will be auto-moderated. That and a few foul words.

      • Sharon Byrne

        Smurf – you could do it. I work fulltime too. You just carve out some time to write, focus on a topic, and go. You could do really short pieces – call ‘em Smurfo Shorts, from your comments, and just make them into short pieces. I certainly enjoy your insights and witty, succinct remarks. Blunt – I am all for constructive criticism, but is that really fair? I ask drivers in this piece to slow down, look all around, make eye contact with pedestrians, and stop tailgating as a way of urging others to speed, all in the service of reducing distraction and increasing safety.

        • bluntblunt

          I think my comment is fair… the principal reason you ask drivers to slow down is not because of their own faults (like talking on their cell phones, punching buttons on their radio, eating fries, drinking their lattes), but because, as you say… “pedestrians attempting to cross, sometimes against the lights, or with earbuds in, not bothering to check if a car is coming. You need to watch for bicyclists coming down a hill or off a sidewalk, veering straight into an intersection with cross-traffic.”

          Not a single mention of all the carelessness of *CAR DRIVERS*. Every heard of Jake Boysel? Remember that he was doing everything right as he rode up the bikepath on Calle Real on Sept. 6, 2006. He was 12 years old. A driver named Ernesto Botello was speeding and driving distracted. He swerved into the bike path and hit poor Jake so hard he was blown out of his tennis shoes and died. But instances of gross negligence like Botello’ don’t warrant a single nod in your article.

          Yes, pedestrians and cyclists can be careless, and they pay a ferocious price for their carelessness from time to time; you have mentioned some particularly glaring cases.

          But remember: instances of distracted and careless driving are far more frequent, simply because there are far more car drivers than pedestrians or cyclists.

          As I mentioned… there is also Katelin Ann Edwards, who was texting just before she hit cyclist Eric Okerblom and killed him, while she was driving 60 mph.

          And Marcos Almaguer, who was driving a truck up Gibraltar Road, decided to pass cyclist Kendra Payne, and swerved into her, crushing her against the rocks… she then went under the truck’s wheels and died. He didn’t even know he had done it, and drove on, leaving her crushed body and bike on the rode.

          And Jim Hamlin, a cycling enthusiast killed by an 84 year-old driver on Highway 1… the driver swerved on to the road shoulder and killed Hamlin.

          That you fail to mention the death and destruction caused by careless drivers, and only mention unsafe situations caused by cyclists and pedestrians is the real unfairness. It certainly appears that you don’t care a bit about preventing the deaths of careful, legal cyclists by Jake Boysel, Kendra Payne, Jim Hamlin, and Eric Okerblom.

          Sure, it is a terrible weight on the psyche of a driver if they kill or injure a careless cyclist or pedestrian. But didn’t Jake, Kendra, Jim and Eric pay a much higher price for the carelessness of the drivers who killed them? Why not encourage car drivers to stop eating, texting, talking on their cell phones, eating, drinking, and punching radio buttons while driving?

          • Sharon Byrne

            Blunt, your ax to grind is that I call out pedestrians and cyclists, and yet don’t take drivers to task to the extent you feel is warranted. If you feel so strongly about errant driver behavior on those roads, by all means, submit your own article on the subject.

          • Blunt brings up a point to think about. It is far too easy for a driver to injure or kill a pedestrian or bike rider. I have had close calls with cars when I was doing nothing wrong or dangerous as both a walker and a bicyclist. I think it usually takes a close call for a driver to be reminded of this.

          • bluntblunt

            Sharon, you entitled your article `Road Safety – It’s Everyone’s Responsibility’. I think it is fair and reasonable that car drivers are included among `everyone’. Perhaps a more accurate title for your article would have been, `Road Safety – It’s Bicyclist’s and Pedestrian’s Responsibility, not Car Driver’s Responsibility’.

  4. Dopey drivers

    There are fewer wrong-way freeway mishaps now that south coast out of towers are not flooding to our town to pick up their “medical” marijuana at our former retail storefronts, lighting up in the parking lot and then navigating their way haplessly out of our town.

    Any pedestrian who does not walk defensively and assume 100% of all drivers are distracted and irresponsible is not doing themselves any favors.

    Ironic that this town who claims to favor the pedestrian does so little to protect their actual safety. From letting vagrants harass us on the streets, to ignoring the cell-phone drivers, failing to curtail the speeders and putting up traffic impediments that only increase danger to those who choose to walk instead of decreasing it.

    Failure to maintain city infrastructure means sidewalk cracks, uneven surfaces, pitch dark sidewalks, and even missing links to this as a pedestrian alternative. Letting bike riders and skateboarder terrorize our sidewalks delivers the finishing blow.

    Sure it is nice to walk in this town, but for a city that claims to support walking as an alternative form of transportation they do little else to make this safe and secure.

  5. Montecito Tex

    Stay away from the Trader Joes on De la Vina, almost died their twice tonight. Crazy!