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.
Above all, arrive alive and in one piece.