The Milpas Street community turned out in force Thursday night to demand changes to the busy Santa Barbara corridor in an effort to make it safer for pedestrians and, hopefully, prevent another tragic accident like the one that took the life of 15-year-old Sergio Romero last fall.
Romero was hit Oct. 7, 2011, while walking in the crosswalk at the intersection with Ortega Street after one car stopped but a speeding truck in the other lane didn’t. Since then, the issue of pedestrian safety on Milpas Street has come back to the forefront and traffic experts with the city of Santa Barbara have come up with safety improvement proposals.
“The street where my son was killed is not a safe street,” Romero’s mother, Lupe, said through an interpreter. “I have two children left, and I love them with all my heart. I want them to be adults. I want to see them graduate.
“Marching down here in honor of my son, lots of cars didn’t make the stop — and we cursed them a lot,” she said to laughs.
In a four-hour joint meeting, the Neighborhood Advisory Council took no action, while the Transportation and Circulation Committee supported installing a traffic light at the intersection of Milpas and Yanonali streets, and if that isn’t deemed possible, then a median refuge island with pedestrian-activated flashing lights.
For the Ortega and Milpas streets intersection, the Transportation and Circulation Committee supported a median refuge island, pedestrian-activated flashers and a curb extension on the southeast corner, across Ortega from the Alpha Thrift Store. It also supported restriping between Canon Perdido and Cota streets, which would restrict access to one lane in either direction with bike lanes.
The Neighborhood Advisory Council is scheduled to discuss it and make a recommendation at its April 11 meeting, and the City Council will consider both suggestions in its final decision.
The restriping proposal was aimed at bicyclist safety, too.
Christine Bourgeois of the Bicycle Coalition said many bicyclists ride on the sidewalks, willing to take the possibility of a citation and fine over injury. She said she has cycled all over the world and doesn’t feel safe on Milpas Street — drivers honk at her even if she’s in the bike lane.
Community members in the area overwhelmingly have asked for traffic lights, but city staff members insist they could actually increase the number of accidents.
The number of vehicles and pedestrians doesn’t warrant them, according to city engineer Derek Bailey. Even if it did, he said, the number of broadside collisions at signaled intersections on Milpas Street means there’s a higher potential of injury and property damage by adding signals to those areas. There were 113 accidents among eight intersections since 2000 — compared with just one each at Ortega and Yanonali streets — and Bailey believes adding lights could increase the number of vehicle-involved, and maybe pedestrian-involved, accidents.
He said it would definitely make it easier for pedestrians to cross, but could decrease vehicle safety. The whole goal of the proposals is to find a plan that increases pedestrian safety while not decreasing vehicle safety.
Members of the community, and both committees that met Thursday, continued to ask for traffic lights as an option.
The Latino Democrats surveyed 103 residents and business owners near the two intersections, and 74 percent of them support stoplights, according to executive committee member Silvia Uribe. Almost half of those to whom the group talked use the intersections daily, she said, while about one-third of them avoid those spots specifically because they seem unsafe.
Santa Barbara High School student Viviana Rodriguez said she won’t cross where Romero was killed.
“If you ask me, yes, I am scared,” she said.
Santa Barbara Junior High School students Angel Gonzalez and Angel Velasquez said they have had close calls on their way to school.
“I don’t want to get hit and killed the way Sergio Romero did,” Velasquez said.
Gonzalez said he was walking across when one car stopped, but the car in the other lane didn’t. His friend was almost hit, and Gonzalez had to pull him out of the way just in time — and the car didn’t even stop.
The Transportation and Circulation Committee and Neighborhood Advisory Council recommendations will be presented to the City Council in May. Police officers continue to conduct crosswalk stings and increased traffic enforcement in the Milpas corridor — even their presence makes people slow down — for which many people at Thursday’s meeting expressed appreciation.
Sgt. Mike McGrew and his traffic team conducted crosswalk stings Thursday at four locations and cited 60 drivers, including 39 at Milpas and Yanonali streets. There have been 12 traffic fatalities — nine involving pedestrians — in the city since July 2007. Police also issued nine citations at Anacapa and Arrellaga streets; one at Salinas and Clifton streets; and 11 at De la Vina Street and Arden Road.