Calling Milpas Street the most dangerous corridor in Santa Barbara, Eastside residents explained to city officials how harrowing it can be to cross it on foot daily.
About 120 people, by the end, packed into the Franklin Community Center on Wednesday night as part of a community forum to explore pedestrian safety in the area. The event was sponsored by the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, or COAST, the Milpas Community Association and PUEBLO.
The death of 15-year-old Sergio Romero was heavy on the hearts of those in attendance, with photos of him placed in the front of the room. The San Marcos High School student was killed last month after being struck by a speeding truck while crossing Milpas at Ortega Street.
As with another forum held earlier this month, emotions ran high among residents, dozens of whom came out to speak.
Lupe Romero, Sergio’s mother, spoke in Spanish to the two city traffic engineers and one police investigator in attendance, imploring them to make the changes needed to prevent more deaths. Through a translator, she said she doesn’t want her son’s death to go to waste, and she doesn’t want any other family to go through what she and her family are going through now.
Romero’s impassioned plea came after an explanation from planners that state thresholds for putting in a traffic signal are high.
Derek Bailey, a traffic engineer with the city of Santa Barbara, said that if a light is installed in a place that doesn’t warrant one, it “can cause other types of crashes,” but he added that city officials haven’t completed their investigation on the area.
According to the state manual, which can be found online, there have to be five crashes at a location that could have been corrected by the installation of a traffic signal.
Traffic engineers have ruled in years past that the Milpas and Ortega intersection didn’t warrant a stoplight, but the city is issuing a report on the intersection, and safety options. That report is scheduled to go before the Transportation and Circulation Committee in January.
But that explanation was less than satisfactory for most of Wednesday night’s speakers.
The Rev. Rafael Marin-Leon, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Nopal Street, encouraged planners to keep the spirit of the law in mind — not just the letter.
“Throughout history, the cities and the villages were made for the people, but now we are making them for the cars,” he said. “The people who can’t afford cars have a right to walk safely.”
Marin-Leon said he was nearly struck by a vehicle on Milpas Street recently while crossing at Montecito Street.
City Planning Commissioner Mike Jordan also challenged planners, saying the speed on the street feels much faster than the posted speed limits.
“This is a great example of how engineering concepts just don’t add up to the feeling on the ground,” he said, to applause.
Santa Barbara Junior High School Principal Lito Garcia also spoke.
“We can never give a 100 percent guarantee (of safety),” he said. “Whatever we can do, I say we do it. We will save some lives. I implore you to find some means of helping us.”
Santa Barbara police traffic investigator Mark Hunt said education is crucial, for pedestrians and drivers.
“Teaching our kids is so important,” he said. “Don’t just blindly cross the street. ... You’ve got to pay attention.”
Later in the evening, Hunt said the driver who struck Romero had traveled only two blocks before hitting the boy, and had gone from zero to 50 mph in that span of time. The investigation is wrapping up and will go to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, which will then decide whether to press criminal charges against the driver.
Eastside resident Beatrice Molina said people speed all over town, and that while education is important, it’s not the complete solution.
“It’s not our kids that are creating the accidents, they are becoming the victims,” she said.
Molina reminded planners that the off- and on-ramps from Highway 101 at Milpas Street aren’t finished yet, and traffic will increase once construction wraps up.
“With all due respect,” she said, “it’s unacceptable.”