Bakersfield resident Gary Enns and his family frequently walk or bike across the Alder/A street crosswalk on 24th Street to get to the heart of downtown.
Every time, they have to be extra careful about when they go across the uncontrolled crosswalk, given the high traffic on that major road. With the city preparing to undergo a widening of the street to three lanes in each direction, Enns has helped launch an effort to make the crossing more safe for pedestrians and motorists.
Enns is part of a small group of people who live on the north side of 24th Street that is working on gathering signatures for a petition to the city asking to make the crosswalk, one of the most direct ways for pedestrians on the north side of the Westchester neighborhood to get to the south side of 24th Street, a signalized crosswalk.
“For those of us who live here, our park is on the south side of 24th. Our community school, Franklin (Elementary), is on that side. The churches we go to are on that side,” Enns said. “We think it’s just essential for the neighborhood. Otherwise, we’re going to feel cut off from the rest of our community.”
Enns said that while the current crosswalk is usable, it doesn’t feel very safe, as they’re unsure if cars will stop when they attempt to go across.
“When I use the crosswalk now, there seems to be a lack of an awareness that a pedestrian is there,” he said. “The way the crosswalk is right now, being an uncontrolled crosswalk, probably a lot of people may be hesitant to even use it because of the heavy traffic. If it’s done in a way that is really usable and easy and it feels safe, then I think we’ll have done a good service to the city and the neighborhood.”
Enns said he and the rest of his group want to have it so that pedestrians can just push a button that will cause traffic to stop and they can cross within the time limit.
They’re also proposing having a pedestrian island between each direction of traffic so that pedestrians don’t have to cross both sides at once. They can just push another button at the island that will allow them to cross.
“There will be enough room because of the widening of the road,” Enns said.
Enns said he would be happy just seeing any kind of controlled crosswalk, however.
Enns started the online petition through change.org in late September and it has already garnered nearly 350 supporters, with a goal to reach 500 by Oct. 11, when the Bakersfield City Council is set to hold a public meeting about removing the Alder/A Street crosswalk and the Drake/D street crosswalk due to the high traffic flow.
Enns is also encouraging supporters to contact City Council members to share their thoughts.
According to a notice posted at the crosswalks, the Public Works Department is encouraging pedestrians to use F or Oak streets to get to the south side of 24th Street.
However, Enns said that would be very inconvenient for pedestrians who would have to take a long way around, which may discourage some people from crossing legally.
“People are going to cross (on Alder or Drake streets) anyway,” he said. “What we’ve got here right now is dangerous by design, so we’re hoping to make it safe by design.”
Enns was referencing a 2016 study by the nonprofit coalition Smart Growth America called Dangerous by Design that looked at pedestrian deaths in 20 of the country’s metro areas. Bakersfield ranked 12th in pedestrian deaths across the nation with 205 deaths between 2005 and 2014.
Public Works Director Nick Fidler said installing a signalized crosswalk at Alder/A Street still could not be safe for pedestrians.
He said that with the widening project, westbound traffic will be transitioning from four lanes to three on 24th Street shortly before they arrive at the Alder/A Street crosswalk.
“We’ve identified that the crossings wouldn’t be safe in their current form for what we’re proposing,” he said. “Even with a signalized crosswalk, it would be too close in proximity to the lane merger. When going through the transition, you’re looking over shoulder, you’re looking at vehicles behind you. There would be a lot of driver distraction due to the movements, so (a crosswalk) would still be too dangerous to pedestrians.”
Enns said his group would be willing to change the installation of a signalized crosswalk to a different street in the area if that would work better.
Mayor Karen Goh said she has heard about the crosswalk proposal but hasn’t made up her mind on it yet.
“The signalized crosswalk on 24th Street is a complex matter,” she said. “I am continuing to study the issue. I will keep an open mind and consider everything that is presented to the council.”
Enns is hopeful the petition will convince the city that a signalized crosswalk is something the neighborhood wants. Regardless of how the city responds, he said he’s happy that people are getting to speak their minds about the issue.
“We need to be allowed as a community, as a neighborhood, to say, ‘Hey, wait a second. This (widening) project needs to be designed not just for the commuters passing through our neighborhood but for those of us who live here,” he said.
Enns said the crosswalk effort is also part of a larger initiative to get people in Bakersfield to be aware of and embrace active transportation.
“It’s kind of a paradigm shift that we need to go through in this town,” he said. “In the larger picture, maybe this (crosswalk effort) will take root and maybe in the future we could do more for active transportation. We have a walkable community here, and we don’t want to sacrifice it.”
Fidler said if the city does decide to go for a signalized crosswalk, it would cost up to $200,000, which would come out of the funding for the widening project.