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In Considering Pedestrian Safety Improvements on Milpas, City Staff Take to the Streets

Site visit with traffic engineers precedes Thursday's joint meeting of the Transportation and Circulation Committee and Neighborhood Advisory Council

Santa Barbara traffic engineers, who hosted a site visit Monday designed to address how best to improve pedestrian safety at the Milpas Street intersection where 15-year-old Sergio Romero died last year, suggested restriping parts of that busy corridor or installing pedestrian-activated overhead flashers.

Romero was struck and killed Oct. 7, 2011, in the crosswalk at Milpas and Ortega streets when a speeding vehicle in the slow lane didn’t stop for him. The 20-year-old driver, Manuel Flores Jr. of Santa Barbara, has been sentenced to a year in jail after pleading no contest to vehicular manslaughter.

The accident drew new attention to the pedestrian safety issues on Milpas Street, and city staff members have come up with improvement ideas — though none of them include traffic signals, the most common request by community members.

Traffic engineer Derek Bailey and his team will present the options at a joint meeting of the Transportation and Circulation Committee and Neighborhood Advisory Council at 6 p.m. Thursday in the David Gebhard Meeting Room at 630 Garden St.

Bailey, who held the site visit with committee members Monday, recommended that pedestrian-activated flashers be installed on Milpas Street at both the Ortega and Yanonali intersections, or have neighborhood restriping with a median “refuge island” or curb extensions, so there are fewer lanes for walkers to cross, added bike lanes and wider parking lanes.

By itself, according to Bailey, restriping simply to make fewer lanes to cross wouldn’t make crossing easy for pedestrians.

His staff also has proposed removing crosswalks, which they say give “a false sense of security for pedestrians,” or installing “refuge islands” with a median so pedestrians have shorter distances to cross, in addition to the pedestrian-activated flashers. Some of the ideas would result in fewer parking spaces and the possibility of eliminating the northbound bus stop at Ortega Street, which concerned some committee members and interested citizens.

It takes a 21-second gap to cross the street, Bailey said; he even timed it once with a stopwatch. When the street is busy, it would be difficult to ever make it without cars stopping or the pedestrian speeding up, which one woman demonstrated when she broke into a run halfway across the street since some cars didn’t stop.

Bailey said medians and curb extensions would make pedestrians more visible to cars, but the only good protection is a concrete wall.

“Everything gets hit sooner or later,” he said.

About an hour before the site visit, a motorist jumped the curb and crashed into the Rusty’s Pizza on Cabrillo Boulevard.

Like every meeting on this topic, people asked Bailey about installing traffic lights. He has said they aren’t warranted because there hasn’t been enough traffic or number of accidents that could have been prevented by a light.

The Latino Democrats surveyed at least 100 neighbors and business owners near the two intersections and asked about the proposed improvements, executive committee member Olivia Uribe said at the site visit. Of the proposals, residents supported the medians with pedestrian-activated flashers for maximized visibility to cars. However, they overwhelmingly asked for a traffic signal.

“It doesn’t make sense to the community why we can’t have a light,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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