Jolted Into Action
There was a strong thump and a jolt. Then I realized I had just been rear-ended.
It was noon last Friday, one of our hot and humid summer beach days. Coast Highway was congested with cars going both directions. It seems like there are more beach goers than ever and some of them were preparing to cross the highway at Eagle Rock Way on their way to Table Rock Beach. I am especially aware of that crosswalk because the South Laguna garden overlooks it. We hear the screeching tires, see the near misses of pedestrians, and cringe at the fender benders that happen regularly at that crosswalk. One gardener who lives near by heard from home the screaming of one pedestrian who had just been hit. “I thought she was dying, the screams were so terrible. I heard she’s going to be okay, but there should be a signal at that intersection,” she stressed.
So being hyper aware of the risks there, when I saw the flashing lights on the pavement and saw a group of people stepping off the curb I pulled to a stop. Perhaps people behind the first car that stops can’t see the situation clearly. Maybe this is the first time they have driven this stretch of road and aren’t prepared for someone just ahead to stop. So with that thump and jolt I was added to the list of accidents that will some day make the case for a signal. Or so I thought.
When I called to make a police report I was told that they wouldn’t take a report because the accident was too minor, no apparent injuries and both vehicles seemed to be undamaged. When I insisted the incident should be recorded so that it would be added to the list of accidents at that location, the dispatcher agreed to handle it as a message.
Then I began to question the system that requires serious accident/fatalities to occur before safety improvements are made. Complaints are not enough. Obvious safety issues are not enough. No, we must wait until someone dies, the roadside candles and pathetic shrines are displayed, it’s in the newspaper and then finally the improvement that local people have been requesting for years will be considered.
Why do we have to wait for those tragedies to descend on us to take important measures for public safety?
For years we have been asking for continuous sidewalks on Coast Highway. Drive the section of highway between the hospital and Three Arch Bay where there are almost no sidewalks. Groups of beach goers scamper between the curb and travel lanes with cars usually going much in excess of the posted 40 mile per hour speed limit. Tragedy is just around the corner—or curve.
In October of 2010 the Council unanimously adopted the overall objective of providing adequate walkways on both Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road. In addition they directed the city manager to return to the council with a report on implementing a list of measures to improve the sidewalk situation. As well as requiring the standard five feet minimum walkways, the recommendations included clearing right-of-way areas that we do have along Coast Highway (two feet width in most cases). Items such as mailboxes, walls, plantings and other impediments can be removed and a safe surface can be provided in the right-of-way areas so that pedestrians can pass safely. It’s a first step.
In November of 2011 the Council voted $100,000 for pedestrian pathway improvement projects for Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road.
Since then, a major study of Laguna Canyon Road including bike and pedestrian pathways has been undertaken, and a few new homes have added walkways along Coast Highway. Still the right-of-way clearing hasn’t been done. Long stretches of highway still require pedestrians to maneuver around objects within the right-of-way, step off the curb onto the shoulder, and dodge around parked cars while cars speed along only a few feet away.
Tragedy seems to move us to action. Can we take action before tragedies happen here? Signals for safer crossing, continuous pathways…these are just the basics of urban life. So many Councilmembers have emphasized, “our first responsibility is public safety.” Just a little jolt may be the reminder we need.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.