Transportation

Why Sacramento erased 23 crosswalks, including one where a grandmother died after removal

‘We’ve seen many accidents here. This should not happen.’

Witness Bernard Perez talks about a hit-and-run on Freeport Boulevard that injured a woman and a child. He says traffic problems are common.
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Witness Bernard Perez talks about a hit-and-run on Freeport Boulevard that injured a woman and a child. He says traffic problems are common.

Freeport Boulevard, one of Sacramento's busier thoroughfares, has become the epicenter in recent weeks for renewed debate over pedestrian safety in Sacramento.

Four weeks ago, a 71-year-old woman was killed and her 6-year-old grandson seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver as they crossed the street at an intersection just north of Fruitridge Road.

The intersection where it happened, Oregon Drive, holds a distinction that has left area residents and even some city leaders surprised and caused some to question the city's safety tactics:

It's one of 23 intersections where city traffic department has removed the painted crosswalks in the past four years.

City traffic chief Ryan Moore said crews have been erasing some crosswalk markings because they believe those crosswalks create extra danger by giving pedestrians a false sense of security.

Some of those areas, like Freeport and Oregon, are high-speed, high-volume streets with no traffic signal, stop sign or other pedestrian safety device. The city removed the crosswalks at Oregon Drive in November, based on a city policy, drafted in 2014, that follows federal and state guidelines on where crosswalks should be located.

Those federal guidelines, from a 2005 Federal Highway Administration analysis, advised cities not to have crosswalks at high-volume high-speed streets like Freeport Boulevard unless the intersection also has added safety measures, such as traffic lights, a raised median or vehicle speed-reduction devices or designs.

"To send the message via crosswalk that this is a good place to cross the road is a false message," Moore said of the Oregon Drive intersection. "Our standards dictated that we remove the crosswalk or build safety enhancements."

The city would have kept the crosswalk marking in place, he said, if it would have been able to install a traffic light there. But the money – in the $500,00 plus range wasn't available.

Instead, traffic engineers hope that by removing some crosswalks, pedestrians will instinctively choose to cross at a safer, nearby intersection, Moore said.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, whose district borders that intersection, is among those who have concerns about the city traffic division's approach of erasing some crosswalks. He has asked the city to rethink its policy.

"We would encourage the staff to first look at installation of other traffic safety features," he said. "The removal should be the least favored."

It is legal for pedestrians to cross at any intersection, including those without painted crosswalks, unless a local government puts up signs prohibiting people from crossing there.

The fatality at Oregon Drive has prompted some residents to complain that the entire Freeport corridor south of Sutterville feels risky. They point out there are several elementary and middle schools in the area, as well as commercial areas that residents walk to from homes in Hollywood Park and South Land Park.

"I'm sorry, this is a residential area," said Brian Ebbert, president of the South Land Park Neighborhood Association. "Can we install measures to permanently slow drivers down?"

City officials said last week they will install speed radar signs on Freeport Boulevard and increase police patrols. In a letter to constituents, Councilman Jay Schenirer said the city is working with police, school officials and neighborhood associations on other potential safety steps.

That includes a safety analysis of Freeport and other corridors where there are uncontrolled intersections with pedestrian crossings.

Schenirer and Hansen will host a community meeting on the safety issue Thursday, March 8, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Hollywood Park Elementary School.

Crosswalk changes

Since 2014, city officials have removed 23 crosswalks at intersections without traffic lights or stop signs. The city is installing beacon safety signals for pedestrians at 18 locations.
Source: City of Sacramento

The removal of another crosswalk, on West El Camino Avenue at Grasslands Drive in Natomas near a park, upset residents when word got out last week.

Moore said the city was again reacting to a resident safety complaint. Engineers determined that the West El Camino crosswalk did not meet the 2014 city standard. He said the city does plan to install a new crosswalk a few yards away, at a spot where a bike path crosses the street.

The city also will employ a new safety device at that new crossing called a HAWK beacon. The High intensity Activated crossWalK allows a pedestrian to push a button that triggers a series of flashing yellow lights on warning signs, alerting drivers that a pedestrian is about to cross.

The city has installed nine such beacons at crossings around the city and recently obtained federal funding to add nine more over the next year.

No beacon is planned at the Freeport and Oregon intersection, however. Moore said a beacon would not work optimally there because the beacons are designed to alert cars coming in two directions, and that intersection has cars coming in four directions.

The city, meantime, has been working for the past year on a safety program called Vision Zero aimed at eliminating injuries among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. As part of that effort, the city is analyzing where clusters of crashes occur. The second step, Moore and others say, will be to determine what type of cost-effective fixes should be employed.

Moore said the city has not decided whether it should try some other sort of safety measures at that Freeport and Oregon intersection.

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