Teen drivers learn to ‘Start Smart’

Traffic collisions continue to be the leading cause of death for young people ages 15-20 years old. As a result, the CHP invites new drivers and their families to attend its free workshop, called Start Smart. This course discusses traffic law, the dynamics of traffic collisions, ways to avoid crashes and the many responsibilities drivers have. The presentation is from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9 at the Aptos branch of the Santa Cruz Public Library, at 7695 Soquel Drive. For information and to reserve seats, call 831-662-0511.

Taking a break
Ms. Street Smarts is taking a break the month of February, returning Monday, March 2. For the past four years, I have been on quite a journey to adopt my two young cousins. Finally, on Feb. 9, my quest will be fulfilled.
To explain briefly, in 2011,the boys, ages 4 and 6 at the time, found themselves in a foster home in Riverside County due to domestic abuse, neglect and other unsafe living conditions. From December 2011 to February 2014, I made monthly 800 mile round trip road trips to the far reaches of Riverside County — first to reintroduce myself to them as I hadn’t seen them since they were babies, then with them in tow to, under court order, continue their relationship with their birth mom. Having many health issues and being on disability means she cannot come here to visit the boys. Their dad, my cousin, has all but removed himself from their lives.
In April 2013, I became a single mom as the boys came to live with me as relative foster children. Both had been diagnosed with ADHD, with the oldest having signs of autism. Also, both were terribly behind in their education. The youngest could neither recite the alphabet nor recognize numerals to dial a phone number. Now, after many months of counseling and tutoring, applying proper nutrition with supplements, having clear rules to generate accountability, and using tough love with lots of hugs and kisses, we proved that the kids were a product of their environment. At this time, both boys are being weaned off their ADHD meds, the oldest has been declared not autistic and both are catching up to their peers in the classroom.
It has been a long, bumpy road. February will be about celebrating our success.
Thank you so much for your support — past, present and future. To 2015 and beyond!

Posted in Aptos, children, CHP, driver education, Driver safety, road trip, Start Smart, teen drivers, teens, traffic laws, traffic safety, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Signal light stops traffic for nonexistent cars, pedestrians, reader says

Dear Street Smarts,

Q: I have noticed, on many occasions, that both traffic lights turn red on westbound Soquel Drive toward Santa Cruz at Cabrillo College will turn red when there are no cars nor pedestrians to trigger them. The eastbound lights at the same time remain green. Is there a logical reason for this?
Orla Stuart, Aptos

A: “The typical reasons this may occur is because a pedestrian push button may have become stuck, or there is an abundance of fog or direct sunlight which ‘blinds’ the cameras that detect vehicles,” said Jack Sohriakoff, senior civil engineer for the county. “If the pedestrian push button is stuck, it will constantly act as if a pedestrian has pushed the button. If the cameras are ‘blinded’ due to heavy fog then the traffic signal controller must serve all approaches even though there may not be a vehicle present. After the fog dissipates, the camera system will again function normally. If the sun is shining directly into the camera it may not function properly until the sun moves enough to not be a problem.”
The county contracts with a lighting contractor to perform monthly check-ups on signal lights as well as investigate problems when they occur and complaints are received, Sohriakoff said.
“Our department will have this signal inspected,” he said.

Highway 9 closure Feb. 9
One mile of Highway 9 will close from Henry Cowell State Park in Felton to the Paradise Park Community north of Santa Cruz for a retaining wall and viaduct project starting 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 9 through late July. Expect a full 24-hour closure of the highway, though driveways and intersections, as well as access to residences and businesses will remain open.

Meanwhile, the project also includes the modification of four drainage systems — between Alba Road and Western Avenue, near San Lorenzo Avenue, and north of McGaffigan Mill. Expect one way traffic controls for about one month each 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, as well as midnight to 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays.

Expect delays of up to 15 minutes. Use Highway 17 Mount Hermon or Graham Hill roads as alternate routes.

Graniterock Co. of San Jose will get $2 million to complete the project. View the project map at https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Boulder+Creek,+CA&daddr=Vernon+St,+Santa+Cruz,+CA+95060&hl=en&ll=37.058191,-122.077332&spn=0.226307,0.527&sll=37.045039,-122.034588&sspn=0.113173,0.2635&geocode=Fap_NgIdNZC4-Cn9WNvMEU-OgDEFCwQpg0kxBA%3BFYVuNAIdoPC5-CnrFBvVS0COgDF3bpLJ3yEIBg&oq=boulder+creek&mra=ls&t=m&z=12


Posted in Caltrans, Highway 17, Highway 9, road closure, road work, roads, Santa Cruz County Public Works, traffic light, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More bicycle safety education needed

Today’s guest column about bicycle safety is from the Community Traffic Safety Coalition, an organization that advocates for improvements to make all modes of transportation safer.

In December, the County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency and the Community Traffic
Safety Coalition released two reports — one outlines data on injuries and fatalities for bicyclists in 2012 while the other summarizes the results of a bicycle observation survey conducted in 2014. Findings will be used to guide bicycle safety initiatives in the county.

The most recent data available from the California Highway Patrol in 2012 shows 219 bicyclists were injured and one killed. Cyclists were reported to be at fault 46 percent of the time, compared to motorists’ 38 percent.

The top collision factors blamed on motorists were improper turning, infringing on a bicyclist’s right-of-way, and improper passing. Top factors blamed on cyclists were unsafe speed, riding on the wrong side of the road and improper turning.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, Santa Cruz County ranked first out of 58 counties in the state for cyclists injured or killed in 2012. While the high number of cyclists in Santa Cruz magnify these rankings, it’s clear we still have work to do towards improving safety on our roads.

In May and June of 2014, the coalition and other community partners completed a bicycle safety observation study, collecting data at 49 locations throughout the county. Of 2,786 cyclists observed, 72 percent were men and 27 percent were women. Female cyclists had a higher rate of helmet use than men, 67 percent versus 55 percent. The biggest increase in helmet use was with teens, from 39 percent in 2013 to 55 percent in 2014. Although helmet use has been steadily increasing since 2006 countywide, helmet use in Watsonville remains low at 20 percent compared to the rest of the county’s 62 percent; 88 percent of all those observed rode with traffic. However, the number of cyclists who stopped at stop signs and red lights decreased among most age groups compared to previous years.

“There are many factors that contribute to a safe cycling environment,” said Theresia Rogerson, a Health Educator with the Health Services Agency. “The data in these reports will help us educate cyclists and motorists alike about safe behavior on our roadways.”

Find out ways to decrease the number of bicycle injuries and fatalities by attending Bicycle Traffic School. Originally developed for ticketed cyclists, this program is now available to the general public for $15. For information, call (831) 454-7551.

To access the complete reports, email Theresia.Rogerson@santacruzcounty.us.

Posted in alternative transportation, bicycle, bicycle education, Bicycling, bike safety, Bike Traffic School, CHP, Community Traffic Safety Coalition, cycling, driver education, Driver safety, Office of Traffic Safety, roads, Traffic collisions, traffic laws, traffic safety, transportation, Uncategorized, watsonville | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting cyclists, skunks from cars

Dear Street Smarts,

Q: I am not really satisfied with [the city's response last week to the question regarding the safety issue along Soquel Avenue between Branciforte and Ocean Street]. Have you been to the area described? The only thing that keeps bicyclists from getting mowed down at the top of that hill is the fact that most drivers are local and know the problem, and we move into the left lane to give bicyclists room to move, then merge back, creating a traffic mess. Otherwise, it is flat out dangerous all the way to Ocean Street. As for the parking necessary they describe: This area is where the huge building is that houses a few small businesses, including an Italian restaurant. There is parking in front, alongside and a large area behind that building. The other side of the street also has businesses but not the type that would require extra parking space. I think that with the present focus on protecting bicyclists, this is an issue that needs further exploration. There really is no need, from what I have experienced, to have a turn lane that pops up without warning a half block before Ocean. That whole lane from Branciforte could be made a bicycle lane without hampering parking or traffic, and that lane could suffice as a turn right lane, as most streets do. I’m no expert, granted, but it’s pretty obvious there are solutions and the city is not prepared to look into them to protect the vulnerable bicyclist.
Gloria Sams via email

A: “I understand the writers concerns, having cycled there,” said Chris Schneiter, assistant director for public works. “It involves a public process and technical review to propose removing parking, which takes time and resources. The Soquel bike lane project addressed this area, though it was several years back. Currently we are working on quite a few other transportation projects and I do not see resources available at this time to restudy this issue.”
With Schneiter saying not now, doesn’t mean a fix isn’t in the future. The city keeps track of complaints and safety concerns to help identify future projects. Stay tuned.

Skunk mating season
February through March is skunk mating season. It’s also the time of year when there is an increase in the number of them being hit by vehicles and being seen in some neighborhoods.
To protect skunks and homes, Wildlife Emergency Services encourages people to limit food sources and eliminate access to shelter.
For information and help dealing with skunk, contact the organization at 866-WILD-911, 866-945-3911 or http://www.wildlifeservices.org/.

Posted in bicycle, bike lanes, bike safety, consumer affairs, cycling, Driver safety, Public safety, road conditions, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Public Works, traffic hazards, traffic safety, transportation, transportation projects, Uncategorized, Wild Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New green bike lane markings make cyclists more visible on road

Editor’s note: Today’s column was contributed by Amelia Conlen, director of People Power, a nonprofit that advocates for cycling safety and facilities in Santa Cruz County. Learn more about People Power at http://www.peoplepowersc.org/. Contact Conlen at (831) 425-0665 or director@peoplepowersc.org.

Your eyes are not deceiving you – green pavement markings in bike lanes have been installed at intersections on Laurel Street in Santa Cruz as well as in the Soquel Village. The green markings, a thermoplastic coating applied to the roadway, is a technique used across the country to highlight the path of people on bikes.

The purpose is to make cyclists more visible and let drivers know where to expect people on bikes. This is especially useful in “conflict zones,” places where traffic lanes and bike lanes cross. Laurel Street has a high rate of recorded bicycle crashes, the reason it was selected for the city’s first green pavement markings. Many of these collisions occur when drivers turn from Laurel onto Blackburn, Felix or Walti Streets without checking for cyclists who may be coming quickly down the Laurel Street hill. The green pavement markings are meant to serve as a visual reminder to check for people on bikes.

The new green pavement markings don’t change the rules of the road. Drivers are legally required to yield to cyclists before entering the bike lane, and should signal and check their mirrors to make sure the bike lane is clear before turning. Cyclists are required to stay in the bike lane unless it is unsafe to do so. They are legally allowed to leave the bike lane when passing another cyclist, if there is debris or glass in the bike lane, or if they’re in the danger zone of opening doors from parked cars. Cyclists should come to a complete stop at all stop signs and stoplights, and use their hand signals before turning. It’s also a good idea to give cars extra space when going through an intersection and be on the lookout for drivers making unexpected right turns.

People Power is thrilled to see green pavement markings in bike lanes in Santa Cruz County. Our goal is for everyone to feel safe riding a bike. If we can encourage cycling for short trips, we can reduce traffic, improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, give our kids opportunities for healthy exercise, save money — the list goes on and on. We applaud the Santa Cruz City Council and Public Works Department as well as Supervisor John Leopold and County Public Works for making these new green treatments happen. This is one small step towards creating a bike-friendly community.

Posted in bicycle, bicycle education, Bicycling, bike lanes, bike path, bike safety, California Driver Handbook, California Vehicle Code, cycling, driver education, Driver safety, People Power, Public safety, public works, public works projects, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Public Works, Santa Cruz Public Works, traffic safety, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cyclists: take the traffic lane, choose alternate route at Soquel from B40 to Ocean

Dear Street Smarts,

Q: Once again, I am writing to ask why there is no bicycle lane from the Branciforte Street intersection with Soquel Avenue to Ocean Street. Bicyclists are forced to ride on the sidewalk, risk their lives, and even if on the sidewalk, are often blocked by trucks. The outside lane becomes a turning lane a good half block before the Soquel/Ocean intersection, with literally nowhere for bicyclists to go. It is shocking that this has been allowed to continue, or should we call it laziness?
Gloria Sams, Santa Cruz

A: “There is a bike and in the uphill section, and sharrows in the downhill direction so that its easier for a bicyclist to get in the flow,” said Chris Schneiter, assistant director of public works. “Unfortunately there is inadequate room to accommodate all the public’s interests. The parking is very important to the businesses and the four vehicle lanes are very necessary for capacity. We did as much as we could with the available street width and within the public process.”
Depending on comfort level, cyclists should take the lane and ride with motor vehicle traffic or choose an alternate route.

Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trial dedication, ribbon-cutting ceremony
Rain or sign, the public is invited to celebrate the official opening of the new Arana Gulch Multi-use Trail 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14.
The family friendly gathering will be at the Hagemann Gulch Bridge’s Frederick Street Entrance. It’s free and will feature the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band, refreshments, city and county leaders, as well as environmental and construction tours!
Park at the nearby Santa Cruz Bible Church, at 440 Frederick St., and Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, at 515 Frederick St. Bike valet parking will be provided by People Power of Santa Cruz County.
For information, call (831) 420-5160.

The impact of gas prices on traffic collisions
NPR recently had a discussion about the possible link between gas prices and traffic collisions. The theory is that when gas prices are high, people drive less, lump errands together into one trip, start from the limit line at a slower pace and keep their speeds steady. The interview also determined that people with less money, including teens, don’t drive as much because they can’t afford the high cost of gas. However, with gas prices falling so low, the assumption is people are going to be driving more, including the younger, less experienced drivers, thus increasing traffic collisions and fatalities.
What do you think about that assertion?
Listen to or read the full interview at http://www.npr.org/2015/01/06/375308884/the-downside-of-cheaper-gas-more-accident-fatalities then tell Street Smarts. Your thoughts may appear in a future column.

Posted in alternative transportation, Arana Gulch, bicycle, bicycle education, Bicycling, bike lanes, bike path, bike safety, cycling, driver education, Driver safety, Gas prices, People Power, public works projects, Santa Cruz Public Works, teen drivers, teens, Traffic collisions, traffic safety, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New traffic laws for 2015

Welcome to 2015. Here are new traffic laws that aim to make roads safer for drivers and limousine passengers:

  • Driver license eligibility for undocumented U.S. residents — Beginning Jan. 2, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue driver licenses to applicants who are unable to prove they are legal residents of the United States. However, these applicants are required to provide proof of identity and California residency, as well as meet all other qualifications for licensure. The law was written by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who was raised in Watsonville, and adopted during the 2013 legislative year. It’s goal is to increase safety on the road by ensuring that all drivers are properly trained, know state traffic laws, pass the driving test and are insured.
  • Modified limousine safety requirements regarding regulations and/or inspections — This law creates a modified limousine inspection program to be carried out by the California Highway Patrol. To be implemented by July 1, 2016, this law allows the law enforcement agency to collect a fee as it inspects modified limousines, defined as vehicles that seat not more than 10 passengers, including the driver, but have been modified, altered, or extended to increase the wheelbase of the vehicle, thus accommodating more passengers. These inspections will occur once every 13 months. The law also requires modified limos to be equipped with two readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguishers. Also, the driver or operator of the modified limo must notify the passengers of the safety features of the vehicle, including instructions for lowering the partition between the driver and passengers, and the location of the fire extinguishers.
    This bill by Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo was in response to a deadly limousine fire that killed five nurses on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in May 2013. The deceased were among a group of nine ladies celebrating the recent nuptials of one of the passengers. The bride was among those killed in the fire. The CHP ruled the fire’s cause was a catastrophic failure of the rear suspension system, in which the spinning driveshaft came into contact with the floor pan causing friction that ignited carpets, setting set the vehicle afire. The limo was legally able to carry eight passengers. Also, in June 2013, a similar incident occurred involving an eight passenger limo catching fire in Walnut Creek while carrying 10 ladies in their 90s. All escaped the vehicle unharmed. In these two incidences, neither limo was equipped with fire extinguishers and neither had been subject to CHP inspection.

What do you think about these new laws? Tell Street Smarts. Your thoughts may be published in a future column.

Posted in CHP, commercial vehicles, consumer affairs, DMV, driver education, Driver safety, highways, passenger safety, Public safety, traffic laws, transportation, Uncategorized, watsonville | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Handling tailgaters

Tailgaters are annoying.

When one is riding my back bumper, I get out of their way as soon as possible.

I mention this because there’s a story out of Auburn in which a couple of young women were traveling on I-80 recently when they encountered a tailgater. Rather than getting out of the woman’s way, they flipped her off. That’s when things got really dangerous as the already agitated driver used her pickup truck to try to run the victims off the road.

After the event, the women conceded flipping the other driver off wasn’t the brightest idea. Now, that other driver is facing a host of serious charges.

Back when driver’s education was taught in high school, my teacher was adamant in telling us 15 and a half year olds never to do anything to further agitate an apparent aggressive driver. If they are on your tail get out of the way. Don’t brake. Don’t use obscene language or gestures. This person may be unstable and the situation could escalate.

My teacher also said to try to put ourselves in the tailgater’s shoes. Why is this person in a hurry? Sure, maybe they’re running late for work and should’ve left their home earlier, but what if that’s not the case? He told us to imagine the person was a doctor trying to get to the hospital to see their patient who was in dire health or about to deliver a baby. Perhaps, it’s an undercover police officer or volunteer firefighter responding a call. Also, what if that person is trying to get to the bedside of a dying relative to say their last goodbyes?

Of course, then there are people who are not in a hurry at all. I have friends who hover behind the car up ahead. When the lead car changes lanes or turns, my chauffer immediately zooms up to the next car and hovers. That’s how they drive. No hurry. No aggression. Just pacing.

If someone’s tailgating and you find that annoying, move over and let them pass. It’s the safest thing to do. Slamming on your brakes can cause a collision that you may be found at fault for because you stopped, not for a hazard up ahead or a traffic signal, but because you were being an aggressive driver. Hitting the brakes or giving gestures also may put you in the shoes of the two ladies mentioned above — afraid for their lives.

When a tailgater is showing signs of aggression and driving erratic, dial 911. Give a complete description of where you are, the offending vehicle and its driver, and let the cops handle it. It’s what they do and it helps ensure you make it home to your family safe and sound.

Posted in aggressive drivers, driver education, Driver safety, law enforcement, police, Public safety, road rage, tailgating, traffic laws, traffic safety, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Reader questions road rules for pedestrians

Dear Street Smarts,

Q: Hardly a day goes by that I don’t come across an individual or group walking down the middle of a street or on the wrong side facing oncoming traffic. I understand when there is no sidewalk, which we have quite a few places like this, but most of the people I see walking in the street are on streets with sidewalks. The same goes for people who are running. If jaywalking is illegal, I assume walking in the street is.
Thank you,
Stephen Hauskins, Santa Cruz

A: “To start I would like to state that if you observe anyone violating the law or doing something felt to be unsafe, we encourage you to call dispatch and report it at 831-471-1131,” said Sgt. Scott Garner, traffic unit supervisor for the Santa Cruz Police Department. “The California Vehicle Code is very clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior by a pedestrian in or about to enter a roadway. It is illegal to obstruct traffic or cause a hazard in the roadway so again if someone is doing this, please notify dispatch.

“’Jaywalking’ is covered by California Vehicle Code section 21955 and only applies when there are two adjacent intersections with traffic control ‘signals’ and/or being directed by police officers. The section that applies to pedestrians when walking ‘in’ the roadway is 21956CVC which states: ’21956.(a) No pedestrian may walk upon any roadway outside of a business or residence district otherwise than close to his or her left-hand edge of the roadway. (b) A pedestrian may walk close to his or her right-hand edge of the roadway if a crosswalk or other means of safely crossing the roadway is not available or if existing traffic or other conditions would compromise the safety of a pedestrian attempting to cross the road.’

“Santa Cruz Municipal Code section 10.36.20 regulates that pedestrians shall not cross a roadway in a central traffic district or business district anywhere but in a crosswalk.

“Here is a great breakdown regarding “Sharing the roadway” from the DMV website.


“The Santa Cruz Police Department enforces all vehicle codes through education and enforcement. We encourage anyone that observes any unsafe behaviors by vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles or other transportation devices, to notify us immediately. Santa Cruz is an amazing city with numerous pathways, trails and endless stunning scenery. We want to ensure that our streets are safe for everyone and we appreciate the community helping us achieve that objective!”

Posted in California Driver Handbook, California Vehicle Code, DMV, law enforcement, pedestrian education, pedestrian safety, pedestrians, police, Public safety, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Police, Traffic Enforcement, traffic hazards, traffic laws, traffic violation, transportation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Headlight rule needs repeating, reader says


Dear Street Smarts,

Q: In your recent column, you wrote about some safety tips. I wish you would repeat one of them. You stated, “Turn on your headlights when it’s rainy, gloomy, foggy or overcast.” I am appalled at how many drivers make themselves almost invisible when it’s dark and rainy. Tell them to use their lights, especially black and other dark cars. We can’t see them when they blend into the roadways. It’s our lives and theirs that can be saved. Yesterday, in the poring rain, I just missed getting hit by a non-lit motorist. I didn’t see her.
Arn Ghigliazza via email

A: Sure, here’s a reprint of the blurb about the use of headlights: Turn on headlights bad weather. While driving around in last week’s storm, which featured driving rain, high winds, flooded streets and low visibility, there were drivers motoring in those conditions without their headlights on. In bad weather, turning on your headlights helps others on the road see you. Not donning the lights is against the law and is quite dangerous. The other people on the road have a difficult time seeing those vehicles that have been reduced to shadows amid the deluge that swallowed roads and sidewalks. The color of the vehicle has nothing to do with how visible it is when swirling water is coming both from the sky as well as being kicked up by the tires of all the other vehicles on the road.
According to the DMV’s website, drivers “must” turn on their headlights “from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise or if snow, rain, fog, or other hazardous weather condition requires the continuous use of windshield wipers, or when visibility is not sufficient to clearly see a person or a vehicle for a distance of 1,000 feet. No vehicle may be driven with only parking lights on. However, parking lights may be used as signals or when the headlamps are also lit.”
Read more about this and other road rules at www.dmv.ca.com.

Bike traffic school
Bike riders are invited to learn to become a more confident and competent cyclist at Santa Cruz County’s Bicycle Traffic School. It’s being offered to riders who’ve been cited for traffic infractions as well as the general public 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at the County Emeline Health Campus in Santa Cruz. Cost is $35 for cited cyclists and $15 for everyone else. Pre-registration is required. For information, call 831-454-5477 or visit www.sctrafficsafety.org/BikeTrafficSchool.

Posted in bicycle, bicycle education, Bicycling, bike safety, consumer affairs, cycling, driver education, Driver safety, law enforcement, Public safety, traffic citation, traffic hazards, traffic laws, traffic safety, traffic ticket, traffic violation, transportation, Uncategorized, weather | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment