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  • Tim Reese /

    A “ghost bike” painted white and its companion bike are chained to a light pole at the J Street entrance to California State University, Sacramento. They mark the spot where CSUS student Arlene Sasse, 22, was killed by a car April 1, 2011.

  • Laura-Lynne Powell is a writer at the Capitol Morning Report who lives in River Park.

Danger: How many must die at risky intersection?

Published: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1E
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 8:55 am

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River Park is a serene and pretty enclave near Sacramento State, and I've loved raising my children there. But over the past 12 years, I've learned a danger lurks nearby.

There was an example of that last month when a motorist died after his vehicle smashed into a tow truck on H Street at Carlson Drive, the main entrance to River Park.

A terrible accident, but not the first.

A few yards away a white bicycle is chained to a telephone pole, a so-called ghost bike erected near the spot where a bicyclist was killed by a motorist. Hers is the third ghost bike to be erected in the past three years at the convoluted intersection that also serves as the main entrance to Sacramento State.

A few hundred yards from the ghost bike, a portrait is nailed to a tree, a memorial of another untimely death, this one a young man named Willfred whose story I have yet to learn.

That makes five deaths in three years, all within a few yards of one intersection.

It's an intersection designed in the middle of the last century for a car-happy public. But times have changed, and it no longer serves the people who use it: Pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike.

The intersection is dangerous.

One reason is that drivers on Fair Oaks Boulevard to the east are on a fast, six-lane turnpike in a commercial area. As the drivers cross the American River at the H Street bridge, the road narrows and splits into J and H streets. Drivers in a hurry don't seem to realize they are in new terrain: residential and pedestrian-heavy east Sacramento.

They race by our neighborhood oblivious to the danger they pose to River Park youths riding bikes to Sutter Middle School and college students walking from their apartments to the university.

And the dated intersection design offers little to make anyone feel safe. Those college students must cross that dangerous street six times in the distance of just one block in order to follow Carlson Drive to the university.

For years, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates has been lobbying for a redesign of the intersection it calls the Carlson Corridor. The group claims it is one of the most heavily used by cyclists in the city, and one of the most dangerous.

This most recent death sparked an outpouring of concern from my River Park neighbors. Some called City Hall asking for help. Others complained about a reduction in bus service to our neighborhood, which has more of us using our cars. Some blamed drivers, others blamed bicyclists and pedestrians.

Bicyclists and pedestrians cross in terror. But drivers, too, are at risk as last month's accident proved when it took the life of 60-year-old Denis Tomassetti.

I was driving home from yoga class that Wednesday night when my way was blocked at Carlson Drive by police cars and flares. I pulled over and asked a police officer what had happened. She said there had been a fatal accident.

"Another bicyclist?" I asked. "No," she told me. Two vehicles.

My son was due home from his job in Folsom, and I wondered if his way had been blocked by the accident as well. And then a fear grabbed me. Could his car be involved?

I ran three blocks to where I could view the accident scene. I prayed I wouldn't see the gold Saturn station wagon my son drives. When I saw the wreckage, I gasped with relief. It wasn't my son.

But my relief quickly transformed to sadness. My family had been spared tragedy, but someone else's family had not.

Enough complaining. Enough blame. It's time for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to take responsibility for everyone's safety. It's time to invest in redesigning the intersection. It's time to solve the problem.


Here is the most recent ranking available, based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 2010, of cities with more than 250,000 residents with the highest rates of pedestrian death and injuries when vehicular miles traveled are taken into account.

1. San Francisco

2. Oakland

3. Los Angeles

4. Long Beach

5. Santa Ana

6. Stockton

7. Sacramento

8. San Diego

9. San Jose

10. Anaheim

Laura-Lynne Powell is a writer at the Capitol Morning Report who lives in River Park.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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