Friday, August 21, 2009

Pedestrian killed in Santa Paula crosswalk

The Ventura County Star reported today that a 65-year-old woman was killed and two children hurt while attempting to cross Harvard Boulevard in the City of Santa Paula. Initial investigations by police suggest that drugs and alcohol were not involved in the crash. The driver claims she was not speeding (the speed limit on Harvard Boulevard is 35 mph) at the time. Harvard Boulevard is a four-lane roadway with a two-way left-turn lane in the center.

Although the crossing where the incident took place is unsignalized, the City of Santa Paula recently installed in-roadway warning lights (IRWL) at the intersection. Studies of the effectiveness of this treatment have been mixed (you can find a nice summary of the research here), with most showing only little improvement in pedestrian safety after installation.

Particularly relevant for this case, the two studies that examined whether or not the lights encouraged motorists to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (e.g. attempting to cross a middle lane of traffic) had "inconsistent" results. As rightly warns, "...caution should be exercised, and perhaps additional treatments implemented if IRWL is considered for uncontrolled crosswalks at multi-lane locations."

This is yet another reminder that mere visual cues are not enough to protect pedestrians. While I appreciate the City of Santa Paula at least attempting to address crosswalk safety, it frustrates me that the City stopped short of more significant roadway treatments like raised medians or intersection bulb-outs. On high-speed, high-volume roadways like Harvard Boulevard these improvements are critical to ensure that pedestrians can cross the street safely.

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