By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent
Of the 39,500 cars that pass by Anita Street on South Coast Highway everyday in Laguna Beach, it only took one to change Dani Tracy’s life.
“I just saw a big flash of white, it was a white truck that hit me. The next thing I knew I hit the ground.”
It was the afternoon of Oct. 7, and the 24-year-old from San Clemente set out to cross South Coast Highway within the crosswalk at Anita Street. Tracy noticed the lack of button to activate an electronic crossing signal, but also something affixed to the crosswalk street sign.
“I noticed the yellow bucket had writing on it, and I went up to it and it said something like ‘when crossing grab one of these flags and discard it in the bucket on the other side.’ But I looked inside and there were no flags inside.”
Tracy’s sun-bleached black and white Converse shoes only made it halfway across the street before she was hit by a southbound pick-up truck.
“I actually bounced off the car and flew,” Tracy says. “I just felt immediate pain.”
Now, four weeks later, use of a leg swing is the only time Tracy feels relief from the radiating pain of a fractured pelvis and tailbone.
She becomes the latest statistic in the growing number of pedestrians injured or killed in collisions on the streets of Laguna Beach. In 2014, the city had 33 car/pedestrian collisions that resulted in death or injury, ranking it the number one most dangerous for pedestrians of 108 similar-sized California cities, according to state Office of Traffic Safety data, the most recent available. That number is the highest reported for Laguna Beach since 2009, and more than double the 2013 figures when 13 people were injured or died in car-related collisions.
Though those numbers ebb and flow like the bordering tides, the flow continues to inch higher. “There definitely is a trend,” says Chris Cochran, of the Office of Traffic Safety. “Laguna Beach has had similar rankings for many years.”
Laguna Exchange owner Don Sciortino doesn’t need data to know there is a greater need for pedestrian safety. He sees it everyday through the window of his storefront at the corner of Anita and Coast Highway where Tracy was struck. Over the July 4 weekend, Sciortino took it upon himself to place buckets of flags, like the one Tracy noticed before she was hit, at the intersection to help pedestrians alert drivers as they are crossing.
“There are no lights here or sense of a pedestrian crossing other than the flags now. I think there needs to be consistency as well as a clearer signal that people are crossing,” Sciortino says.
“Personally I think that through this whole section here they should put big signs that say fine $500 for not stopping for pedestrians,” says Vicki Cambruzzi, whose Curls On Top salon is on the inland side of Coast Highway at Anita. “This intersection is really bad news.”
A change is coming at Anita and two other Coast Highway crosswalks. David Richardson, a spokesman for Caltrans, which has authority over the highway, says in-roadway warning lights will be installed on both the Anita and Brooks Streets crosswalks starting in December 2017, at a cost of $203,000. Calliope Street will also get an in-roadway crossing at a cost of $120,000. The systems will be similar to other lit crosswalks at Mountain and Jasmine Streets and Eagle Rock Way.
Obtaining Caltrans safety upgrades like these at intersections is a slow process. “You don’t get to just put a signal anywhere because people think it’s a good idea. There is an engineering basis for where we install signals,” Richardson says.
Much data, engineering studies and traffic analysis of a multitude of factors have to be considered before a signal change is made to any one intersection, Richardson says. Cost in acquiring high-priced property adjacent to the highway for improvements also complicates a decision, he says.
While the news of crosswalk lights coming to Anita Street is a step forward, some say it’s just a drop in the proverbial flag bucket of what really needs to be addressed along South Coast Highway for pedestrian safety.
Long time Laguna Beach pedestrian safety advocate Les Miklosy says adding another lighted crosswalk is like trying to stretch a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.
“These are not engineering problems, they are policy problems and they need policy solutions. In the meantime, people keep getting knocked down and nothing happens,” he says.
While citywide statistics involving pedestrian collisions were not immediately available, police said three have occurred at Anita and S. Coast Highway, two involving pedestrians. Another car-pedestrian collision occurred at Calliope and Coast highway this year, police Sgt. Tim Kleiser says. The driver who collided with Tracy was not cited, he says.
Miklosy wants Laguna Beach to pressure Caltrans to impose traffic calming measures through town. At recent regional transportation forums with Caltrans and the bus authority, Laguna Beach has been noticeably absent, Miklosy says.
City Manager John Pietig identified a dozen bike and pedestrian related safety initiatives since 2015, ranging from bike sharrows to lighting improvements. He says the city does participate in several regional traffic planning efforts, including the OCTA’s corridor study for Coast Highway that focused on enhanced mobility and safety.
“We may not have been at the same meeting Les was at, but we do work with Caltrans on a regular basis,” Pietig says. “We have requested they put more lighted crosswalks at more intersections.”
Specifically he says the assistant city manager meets quarterly with Caltrans to discuss Laguna Beach issues, and that public works staff has recently started monthly meetings to talk about construction projects on Coast Highway. “We work with them on a number of levels, and have a history of work on a number of safety projects,” Pietig says.
Because Tracy is unemployed she lacks medical insurance and has established an appeal for help through a Go Fund Me page. She is well short of her $5,000 goal. Even through the continual waves of pain, her blessings still surface. “I don’t think me holding a flag crossing the street would have helped me. I think if I had hit my head or landed differently…I could be dead. I’m really lucky.”
Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect.
We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including: