There are hazards on Kern County streets and roads for people walking, bicycling, using wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
These hazards range from broken or nonexistent sidewalks; to poor street lighting at night; to vehicles parked so far away from the curb they protrude into painted bike lanes; to orphaned curb ramps that end abruptly at uneven, unpaved ground, looking pathetically like giant, broken shoehorns.
Ironically, cyclists, pedestrians and the disabled must skirt these dangers by entering lanes of traffic designed for vehicles that too often prove lethal to them.
Fortunately, the Kern Council of Governments, with funding from the Caltrans Active Transportation Program (ATP), is doing something about it and seeking the public’s input.
The goal is to develop “a long-range, holistic plan for creating walkable and bicycle-friendly environments in the cities and unincorporated areas of Kern County,” according to the kernatp.org website.
Walking audits and community workshops are being conducted throughout Kern to get the public’s engagement and feedback; for those who can’t attend a workshop or walking audit, an online survey is also available.
I, who mostly drive everywhere, participated in a walking audit in Oildale the afternoon of Dec. 8. Our route took us from the Veterans Hall on Norris Road a few blocks east to North Chester Avenue; south along the west side of North Chester (which has a bike lane) to the post office on Minner Avenue; and finally to the east side of North Chester through the underground crossing that ends in front of Standard Middle School — just as the school day was ending.
What I saw was alarming:
• Curb ramps blocked by mounds of fallen leaves because of poor street drainage;
• A painted crosswalk in the middle of a city block that goes from curb to curb (without ADA-compliant ramps) in front of the Minner Avenue post office;
• Cars parked so far from the curb on the west side of North Chester that the driver-side wheels protruded well into the painted bike lane, crowding cyclists and even a tricycle-type vehicle hauling recycled materials;
• Several residential street blocks with now-you-see-’em- now-you-don’t sidewalks that are far too common around greater Bakersfield and other areas; and
• The lack of a crosswalk from the northwest to the northeast corner of the North Chester and Washington/Ferguson intersection that forces students walking to and from school to cross south, east/west, and north again at three crosswalks in order to get across North Chester at that intersection.
But my sense of dread was tempered with much hope that Kern COG and Caltrans really value my comments and that I am helping shape the active transportation plan through my input.
I also gave additional feedback that I hope will be useful in the effort:
• For pedestrians, having to step onto the street because of broken or nonexistent sidewalks in so many city blocks is such a frequent occurrence in greater Bakersfield that a culture of walking on the street becomes the norm. The result: One often sees pedestrians walking on the street in city blocks where there are sidewalks.
• Education about “unmarked crosswalks” (places where one road meets another, such as at a cross- or T-intersection, but where a painted or “marked crosswalk” doesn’t exist) is sorely needed for both pedestrians and drivers in Kern County.
Drivers have to yield to pedestrians at such unmarked crosswalks but often don’t. Pedestrians often cross in the middle of a block where there are no unmarked crosswalks; this is illegal (jaywalking) and it is they that must yield the right of way to drivers in these situations.
• Some of Bakersfield’s most underutilized assets, I believe, are our sister cities around the world. We have sister cities in Wakayama, Japan; Minsk, Belarus; Cixi, China; Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico; Bucheon, South Korea; and Amristar, India. I believe it’s safe to say that a greater proportion of people in any of those countries walk, bicycle or ride public transport than in the United States.
Having been to four of those countries, I know we could learn from them about how to best implement a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly infrastructure. It would be great to somehow get input from city planners in one or more of our sister cities for this effort.
The Kern Region ATP’s walk audits and community workshops continue through Dec. 15 in communities all over Kern. I highly encourage all concerned residents to attend, share their concerns and provide feedback. All literature related to the effort, including the online survey, is made available in English and Spanish. For details, visit www.kernatp.org.