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Sebastappeal by Sarah Glade Gurney

Practice Safety

Sep 27, 2017
by Sarah Glade Gurney

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Walking home from the Council’s special meeting at Parkside School, I witnessed an incident of dangerous driving familiar to many of us. As I approached the crosswalk at Bodega and Washington, a car stopped for me. I didn’t immediately enter the crosswalk because I was watching the second car back to see what it would do. Rather than stop, the second driver swerved left into the oncoming lane, passed the stopped car, then honked and flipped us off.

While our Police Department is vigilant in stopping bad drivers, no amount of enforcement will catch each and every one of them. Caution, by both pedestrian and driver, could help save lives.

How do we practice caution and cultivate a culture of safety?

When I served as Sebastopol’s Mayor in 2016, I decided to focus on this one single issue as much as I could. Early in my term, the residents along the curve on Bodega Avenue [uphill or west of Parkside School] contacted me with concerns about speeding along their section of roadway. They were my initial inspiration.

These residents wanted what we all want every day: to walk dogs or push strollers safely, to enter and exit driveways with ease, to enjoy front yards without fear of a speeding car crashing over the curb or through the hedge.

About two months after meeting with these residents, an elder was struck and injured in the crosswalk at Bodega Avenue and Nelson Way.

This second incident lengthened the section of Bodega Avenue under the Council’s consideration from Main Street to the westerly city limits at Atascadero Creek. After much public discussion, the Council funded traffic studies and some interim improvements, and scheduled more complicated measures in our Capital Improvement Plan for 2017-18. These documents are available on the City website.

Our community now grieves the tragic loss of a young woman and serious injuries to another, both pedestrians in crosswalks struck by drivers. 

I am grateful to Mayor Una Glass and Staff for calling an immediate meeting with the Bodega/Ragle neighbors. The Mayor then scheduled the special meeting in September for the full Council to hear firsthand the public’s experiences and concerns regarding traffic safety. 

Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, along with two members from the County’s Public Works Department, also attended the town hall. I appreciate our Supervisor’s participation and interest in collaborating on solutions. Given that about 75% of Sebastopol’s traffic comes from outside our city limits, the County needs to recognize the impacts from rural residents and tourists driving on our City streets: for example, at the Bodega/Ragle intersection which handles burdensome traffic to and from the West County. 

To be safe, we have to practice safety.

Chief Weaver has recommended pedestrians follow these steps: before entering the crosswalk, close out of all devices, wait for all cars to stop, make eye contact with the drivers, then leave the curb. If it’s a “smart” crosswalk, be sure to press the button so the flashing lights alert drivers to stop. While “pedestrians have the right of way,” it’s not safe to assume that the thin strip of paint designating the crosswalk will serve as a protective barrier.

Chief Braga has promoted this safety message on the sign at the Fire Station: “Leave Sooner, Drive Slower, Live Longer, Slow Down!” Leaving five minutes earlier for school or work takes organization. Driving five miles per hour under the speed limit takes discipline, and shows the respect for other people’s neighborhoods that we’d like afforded our own. 

Keep these tips and the two “Rules of Five” in mind while walking and driving in town.

Please check the City website to learn the dates for future Council meetings discussing safety issues. ci.sebastopol.ca.us/Meeting-Event

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