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Waiting for Caltrans 

Safety changes to South Street not likely anytime soon

Friends and family members of Kimberly Macias have collected more than 700 signatures for a petition urging traffic and safety changes to South Street, where the 8-year-old girl was struck and killed by a car Halloween night.

The petition includes several suggestions, including the addition of a crosswalk at King Street, where the accident took place, and a lowering of the current 45 mph speed limit. When supporters of the petition presented it to the SLO City Council on Nov. 15, they were told that it was out of the city’s hands.

South Street is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans, which manages state-run highways. It became part of Highway 227 10 years ago, when the city changed the highway route to accommodate the downtown Farmers’ Market.

The SLO City Council has agreed to work with the state agency and assist in conducting pedestrian and automobile traffic studies.

Colin Jones, a spokesperson for Caltrans, said safety was a major concern, any changes made to South Street would not further aggravate traffic conditions in the area.

“Because South Street is a major artery, slowing down traffic could create a whole new set of consequences,� he said. Jones also said the solution was probably not as easy as installing a crosswalk, which could simply give pedestrians a “false sense of security.�

There are currently only two pedestrian crossing points on South Street, about a mile apart from each other. Petitioners argue that this creates an inherent danger for anyone trying to get across the long stretch in between.

Hawthorne Elementary School is near the intersection where the accident occurred. Students must cross at Broad Street with the help of a crossing guard in order to reach the school, which is about a half a mile away. There is also a public park in the area.

“With the school and the park nearby, they’ve got to do something,� said Patricia Watson, who signed the petition. “I’m surprised something didn’t happen sooner.�

There have been no pedestrian accidents on South Street. In fact, according to Jones, the accident history for that particular stretch of highway is below the statewide average for roads with similar conditions. This will play into any safety measure the agency finally approves.

“Of course, we all agree that improvements on [ South Street] are warranted,� said Jones. But, he added, it was important to take into consideration the circumstances under which the accident took place. He pointed to increased Halloween traffic, the evening darkness, and the unfortunate fact that Macias was not wearing reflective clothing.

“We don’t want to blame anyone here,� he insisted, “but we have to look carefully at the situation in order to assess how we can help prevent another accident.�

Jay Walter, SLO Public Works Director, agreed, saying there is “the potential that it may have been a unique type of accident that no improvement on our part could have made any safer.�

But any changes destined for South Street will have to be worked into an already busy schedule for Caltrans, which has two improvement projects in the works for Highway 227. One involves the addition of a left-turn lane on Beebee Street, which will officially begin next spring.

The second project, scheduled to start in the summer of 2007, is a much-needed rehabilitation of both South and Broad streets, which share Highway 227. The $6 million plan will include resurfacing the road, re-striping, and pavement repair, and is expected to take a year to complete. This second project is being done in anticipation of Caltrans returning jurisdiction of South Street back to the city.

Walter said that major safety changes to South Street, like additional stoplights, would likely have to wait until after the rehabilitation is completed, possibly after the city resumes responsibility for the road. However, he said, there are several interim improvements that could be made, even before that project begins. These include crosswalks, should they be considered a reasonable option, and the improvement of street lighting.

“We’re following Caltrans’ traffic safety standards, and they’re working with us to find a solution,� he assured. “Nothing that can be done immediately will be delayed.� Still, nothing is likely to be done until late January of next year, at the earliest.

“We’re looking at this situation aggressively,� said Jones. “We think this proposal is a good idea.�

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