Reader questions safety of pedestrian crossing signals on Mission Street

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I know I am not alone when I say that I think the two signal light pedestrian crossings on Mission Street between Bay and Almar streets are a hazard for both motorists and pedestrians. I ask that each person try out the crossings before making any judgment. I honestly believe it is safer to jaywalk and take full responsibility for each lane of traffic being clear, than to trust the light to provide a safe crossing. Why? Because you must rely on the traffic light, whilst not actually being able to confirm that they are indeed blinking. The light panel is directly above your path and no feedback is provided to the pedestrian. Because the blinking yellow lights begin immediately upon pressing the signal button, it is assumed that your time is limited and you must proceed quickly. Unfortunately, the cars do not have any time to prepare to stop and most cars initially roll right through before they even notice the lights. Some drivers don't actually know what they mean since it is an atypical and unfamiliar signal to them. The first car to stop, gives a little warning to the other lanes of traffic and they eventually stop as well, but not necessarily immediately. Once you cross one lane of traffic, you must check the next lane to see if it is safe to cross. Oftentimes, the first lane starts going again, now that the pedestrian has crossed their lane of traffic. This gives an unconscious sign to the rest of the cars that the pedestrian has completed crossing and it's OK to go. The pedestrian must wait in the middle of the street making sure each lane of traffic is aware of them and continue one lane at a time with great caution. By then, the pedestrian has no idea whether or not the lights are still blinking for them. I rarely cross there and usually choose to wait at the lengthy Bay and Mission intersection. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Sincerely, Jennifer Cherk, Santa Cruz A: Your observations are right on target, according to Caltrans officials. The things you mention are exactly the same things the agency’s traffic engineers look for before they install crosswalks or yellow warning lights. “The circumstance you described when the vehicle in the second crossing lane does not stop because they do not see you, is a classic issue with multi-lane crosswalks and is actually referred to as a ‘set-up,’” said Dario A. Senor, Caltrans traffic engineer. “It is very important to understand that the flashing light is ‘yellow,’ not ‘red.’ Vehicles are not required to stop at yellow lights. The lights were installed to help motorists see that a pedestrian may be in the crosswalk. They are ‘warning’ lights only.” Senor described the area you speak of as marked crosswalks with warning lights. Under state law, pedestrians are required to take responsibility for making sure it’s safe to cross the road and not rely on the light to provide safe passage. Senor applauded your efforts to cross with the safety a red light can provide at Bay and Mission streets. “It sounds like the steps that you are taking in order to safely cross at these locations are the correct ones,” said Senor. Work on Murray Street Bridge If Mother Nature cooperates, a contractor for the Santa Cruz Public Works Department is scheduled to spend up to three nights this week making repairs to the Murray Street Bridge deck. The effort is meant to keep the bridge in “reasonable shape” until a planned bridge retrofit project gets under way around the end of 2011, said Josh Spangrud, associate civil engineer. This week’s proposed work would take place beginning Monday from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. There will be one-way traffic control during the project. Smart Start driving course for teens The California Highway Patrol is offering a traffic safety program for teenage drivers and their parents next month. Start Smart aims to help future and newly licensed teenage drivers and their parents be more aware of their responsibilities as a licensed driver. The goal is to reduce the number of teenage injuries and deaths resulting from traffic collisions. Traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for young people ages 15-20 years old. Smart Start classes are free. Two upcoming classes will be 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb 4 and Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Santa Cruz CHP Area office in Aptos. For information and to RSVP, call Officer Sarah Jackson at 662-0511.
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