By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
Police received a $107,519 grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety to fund special enforcement initiatives and public outreach over the next year to combat an upswing in traffic related deaths and injuries in Laguna Beach.
It can’t come too soon. So far in 2014, Laguna has seen 27 pedestrians injured in collisions with cars, including two fatalities of people on foot and a third on a bicycle, a frightening 42 percent increase compared to 2012, according to police statistics.
That year – with one fatality and 19 accidents involving cars and pedestrians – earned Laguna the dubious distinction as the most dangerous of the state’s small cities for people on foot, according to an OTS ranking.
“Our goal is zero fatalities,” said Lt. Jeff Calvert, who supervises the traffic division and manages the grants. “We’re setting the bar high.”
The grant, 27 percent larger than last year’s, for the first time funds bike and pedestrian outreach operations, Calvert said.
The rash of fatalities became part of the conversation during the just concluded election. With pressure from bike enthusiasts and a City Hall rally led by widow Joan Colvin, whose biking husband was killed by an errant driver in June, last month the City Council adopted 11 new bike-safety measures, including establishing a marked non Coast Highway bike route.
The police grant will underwrite special overtime duties 40 times over the next year where officers, for instance, will focus on issuing tickets to drivers who are speeding, following too closely or running red lights, primary factors in collisions, Calvert said. Six initiatives are aimed at ticketing texting drivers. In one eight-hour period recently, he said 35 drivers received violations. Others will go after drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. And a bike rodeo with trick riders is planned for March, an effort to educate kids and teens to comply with traffic laws while on two wheels.
OTS grants in previous years funded setting up DUI checkpoints at various chokepoints in town, where police typically subjected every outbound driver to scrutiny.
The expanded grant will also target motorcyclists, who dangerously pass cars on the shoulder and in the passing lane in Laguna Canyon, Calvert said. The department’s two motor officers will be assigned the task twice in the next year.
And because of the uptick in prescription drug abuse, the extra funding will also allow four officers to take special drug-recognition training and become expert witnesses. About 13 officers, or half the patrol staff, presently possess such training, Calvert said. “My goal is to have all of them go.”
Laguna presents a lot of distractions for visitors, who can increase the town’s population four-fold on any sunny weekend. “Locals understand it; they’re conscious of it,” said Calvert, noting that the area in town with the highest accident rate is between Forest Avenue and Agate Street.
To grab the attention of in-bound visitors, police will erect message boards at the city limits urging them to put down their phones and back off the pedal.
“It’s a difficult battle. But drivers have to take responsibility,” Calvert said.
Want to play a role in lowering Laguna’s accident stats? I think Lt. Jeff Calvert needs a long list of terse, eye-grabbing bulletins to rotate on the message boards that jar motorists to consciously drive differently.
He probably won’t go for “Warning: Beautiful buns ahead. Eyes on the road instead,” or “Entering a pedestrian danger zone.” But how about, “Give Siri the night off,” or “Ease up. What’s the hurry?”
I’m confident Laguna’s creative wordsmiths can come up with a few politically correct gems.