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Unaddressed danger 

The city of SLO, Caltrans, and Cal Poly need to do more to protect students who ride bikes on city streets

"Someone is going to be killed right here," my husband said, pointing to a pole on the Cal Poly stretch of Highland Drive. Puzzled, I looked at him, but he explained that the superelevation of the curve had been reversed, and therefore drew vehicles toward the pole instead of steering them away from it. Three years later, a student was killed exactly at that point, and I was beside myself. "Why didn't we do anything?" I asked my husband. But he replied that various professors had spoken out as soon as the road was completed, and they had been ignored. As of today, the superelevation is still reversed.

click to enlarge SAFETY ISSUES Too many people are dying from inadequate street and bike lane designs near Cal Poly's campus. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SAFETY ISSUES Too many people are dying from inadequate street and bike lane designs near Cal Poly's campus.

I resolved to try to prevent another deadly accident whenever I noticed dangerous conditions in my neighborhood. I achieved minor success when dealing with inexpensive projects, such as a partial sidewalk on North Chorro, and a median on Highland, but I faced deaf ears on more serious matters. When San Luis Obispo decided to build student housing at the treacherous Foothill/Chorro intersection, I joined the large number of residents who opposed it for safety reasons—to no avail: 22 Chorro was built. When the city chose to add insult to injury by allowing 790 Foothill to be built out a few feet away, a couple of friends and I contacted a law firm. Unfortunately, what I wanted to do—exposing the lack of safety of this area—required a thorough study of the number of vehicles passing through the intersection, cars parked around it, previous accidents, etc., and this meant hiring a traffic firm and paying a great deal of money, so we reduced the scope of our challenge, and the city ignored us again. The building was not even completed when another student, a cyclist, was killed. The construction had made such a mess of the area that, for a time, nobody could figure out where the bike lane was and where the cars were supposed to go. It was the second student death in the same section of Foothill boulevard in four years.

A few months later, at the nearby junction of Highland and Santa Rosa, a 17-year-old driver was killed by a car ramming into him from Highway 1. This intersection is particularly dangerous because the Highland side takes hundreds of students to Cal Poly either by foot, bike, or car, while the crossing side, being a highway, brings cars driving at 55 miles an hour or more through the intersection. I was distressed to see another young person killed in my neighborhood, again because of dangerous road conditions, and I contacted the city. They told me Santa Rosa was a highway, therefore only Caltrans could do anything about it. So I drafted a petition to Caltrans, asking them to improve the safety of the crossing with slower speed, brighter flashing lights, rumble strips, etc. I canvased my neighborhood, stopped when I got around a hundred signatures, drove to Caltrans, and handed the petition to the front desk. I am still waiting for an answer.

Nobody wants to add another name to the list of young deaths in a neighborhood. The problem arises when the people in charge are part of an establishment, and they hide under this faceless establishment, therefore nothing gets done. It's not my job, it's the job of Cal Poly or the city or Caltrans. As an individual, how can you get anyone of them to hear you?

For the moment, I am bracing myself for a third death on Foothill. When my grandson came to visit me recently, he looked with disbelief at the narrow open bike lanes of the dangerous boulevard, and said: "That's what they have for bike lanes on a street like this? Do they also have them on the freeway?"

But when all the money is spent on excessive projects such as the Chorro greenway, there is none left for a boulevard screaming for help. Everything is a matter of priority. Whether you are an individual or some kind of establishment, if you put your priorities in order, you will sooner or later get where you want to be. If not ... well ... look around you. Δ

Odile Ayral writes to New Times from San Luis Obispo. Send a response for publication to [email protected].

Readers Poll

Do you think the SLO County Board of Supervisors should have gone against their policy that states funding for independent special districts should not result in a net fiscal loss to the county?

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