The death of yet another pedestrian, this one in the Oleander district of Bakersfield this week, and the California Highway Patrol's recent jaywalking crackdown in Oildale should ring an alarm bell: When it comes to pedestrian safety, metropolitan Bakersfield is grievously lacking.
The rising number of local pedestrian fatalities clearly suggests that officials in all sectors of public safety need to take a hard look at preventive measures.
Ten pedestrians died on city streets in 2010. Fifteen pedestrians were killed in 2011. And last year, 25 pedestrians were fatally struck in Kern County, 17 in Bakersfield. With at least 11 pedestrians, by one unofficial count, already having been killed this year, it seems likely we'll see a third straight increase.
There is no single cause. Jaywalking, of course, results in many fatalities, but inattentive drivers, drunken drivers, pedestrians crossing railroad tracks and poorly lit roadways are also to blame.
One thing is certain: The numbers, while not as high as in some cities, should be high enough to compel local officials to address pedestrian safety more aggressively and creatively. Jaywalking crackdowns, like the one the CHP conducted Thursday that resulted in 21 citations in just two hours, can eventually get the attention of careless street-crossers in areas of perennial concern. Such enforcement actions should be repeated as often as feasible so that their impact is not short-lived. (We can only imagine what a jaywalking enforcement crackdown on Union Avenue would yield!)
Expecting law enforcement to dedicate manpower specifically to pedestrian safety on a focused and ongoing basis is not practical, however, given the pressing demands of a metro area of 450,000.
But there are solutions. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration has some pretty good recommendations. Their "Proven Safety Countermeasures" call for increased medians and pedestrian crossing islands in suburban and urban areas that include marked (painted) or raised medians -- and not just at intersections but midblock in some heavy traffic areas. The enhanced visibility of those simple and cost-effective measures alone, according to the FHWA, can reduce pedestrian incidents by 46 percent.
Midblock medians and islands are especially important because 70 percent of pedestrian accidents occur somewhere other than a street corner. Another effective measure is the pedestrian hybrid beacon, which is a light that pedestrians can activate. These lights, according to the FHWA, can reduce pedestrian crashes by about 70 percent.
Nationally, there were 4,432 pedestrian deaths in 2011. People over 70 represent the highest percentage of deaths. Nearly 20 percent are victims of hit-and-run drivers.
California is one of four states labeled a Pedestrian Safety Focus State by the FHWA. Four cities -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Stockton -- qualify as "focus cities," meaning they have at least 20 pedestrian fatalities per year and receive federal resources to help reduce those rates. If Bakersfield's pedestrian fatality rate continues to climb at its present pace, assume this city will be joining that undesirable club as well.
The FHWA's recommended pedestrian safety measures would be expensive to implement, especially on existing streets. But there's no reason such features -- along with enhanced bicycle safety considerations -- can't be incorporated on new streets as the city's infrastructure grid continues to grow. It's time for local officials to seriously begin the process of pinpointing the areas most in need of such features and proactively make the changes to improve those roadways. Local officials should be applying for every traffic safety grant they can find, but they should not sit back and wait for that assistance.