If you scroll through the Instagram accounts of Gary and Cortnie Enns, you’ll see snapshots of a sweet family exploring their neighborhood and surrounding areas sans car.
There are photos of tiny hands holding leaves, little boys climbing trees, training wheels riding into the sunset - precious moments from a family that values the walkability of their neighborhood. Gary and Cortnie and their three young children regularly walk or ride their bicycles to church, the park, and for coffee or dinner. The Enns family represents the best of Westchester.
The Ennses live north of 24th Street and regularly cross the busy street to travel to their neighborhood park (Jastro), their church, friends’ houses, and their favorite spots downtown. Currently, they cross at A/Alder street, in a marked crosswalk with a flashing light that no longer works.
“It’s not the greatest crosswalk, but it’s ours,” Gary explains. He recently posted a video on Facebook of his family using this precarious crossing, with a tongue-in-cheek comment that they all survived.
The Enns family has joined many other Westchester residents who are petitioning City Council to keep the crosswalk at or near A/Alder streets in the plans for the 24th Street Widening Project. They seek a safer signalized crosswalk that would more firmly demand that cars stop for pedestrians and bicyclists. Currently, the “gentle reminder” of striped lines on pavement without a signal, beacon, or warning light does not seem forceful enough to Gary, Cortnie and the 330 other petition-signers (at last count).
The project plans include crosswalks at Oak and F streets, a full mile apart and outside of Westchester. If a family lives in the middle of the neighborhood, say on Cedar Street north of 24th, they would have to walk east or west about half a mile to Oak or F and back about another half a mile to Myrtle (to get to Jastro Park) or to Pine (for Franklin Elementary School). This mile out of the way is not acceptable to Gary, Cortnie and many others.
Most will simply just dart across 24th Street instead, avoiding the inconvenient detour. If the crosswalk is simply removed, it creates an unsafe situation for pedestrians and motorists.
Gary and Cortnie are worried that the crossing they and others use so regularly could vanish as part of an “improvement” project within their neighborhood. To them, it seems counterintuitive for the project to add sidewalks and landscaping all along 24th Street and neglect to create a safe passageway across the street.
And supporters mention that traffic lights installed as part of the project would be synchronized, so it would not impede the flow.
The petition calls for a street-grade crosswalk and not an overpass bridge, largely, due to cost; the City has not budgeted for this sort of multi-million-dollar addition. The petition also mentions that bridges attract crime, collect litter and graffiti, and require a larger setback than a street-grade crossing (so more private property would have to be taken).
A few residents oppose a signalized crosswalk at or near A/Alder streets. Those in opposition all live on the south side at A Street and are worried about additional pedestrian or “vagrant” traffic on their street, now closed off to cars.
The issue is coming before City Council at the Oct. 11 meeting.
And safe walkability is a hot topic considering Bakersfield’s reputation for pedestrian deaths. Let’s just say it’s pretty dismal. John Pryor’s Community Voices piece last month in this newspaper described a disheartening trend — Bakersfield is leading other California cities in pedestrian fatalities. As of his article, Pryor reported that there had already been 27 pedestrian fatalities so far in 2017, and the year is not over yet. And some say there can be as many as 10 injuries for each death.
Our City should prioritize life and make every effort to ensure safety for pedestrians with safe crosswalks in heavily walked areas, especially where a specific risk has been identified by residents.
“Reduction of this risk is well worth the effort and its cost,” Pryor writes.
While standing on 24th Street with his wife and children on their way to Sunday church, in another episode of his self-proclaimed “dispatches from the crosswalk,” Gary and his family had to wait for 31 cars to speed past before they were able to traverse in the crosswalk. (In California, motorists are required by law to yield to pedestrians crossing legally within striped crosswalks.) Not a single car stopped or slowed while the family stood waiting.
After swiftly walking across during a small break in traffic, Gary commented, “We need to save this crosswalk and make it safer for everybody involved.”
• Boo! The Fox Theatre will be holding these Halloween-themed events:
Friday the 13th, the 1980 classic horror film - Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.
The Phantom of the Opera, the classic silent horror film: Oct. 22 at 2 p.m.
Rocky Horror Picture Show, Oct. 27 at 11 p.m.
• Micro Parks: Reader Victoria Martinez-Tate wrote in to comment on last week’s column. She agreed that our city should do whatever it can to add parklets and pocket parks downtown because they are beautiful and a great use of small spaces. There is a miniature park in the center of Buttonwillow that perhaps Bakersfield could emulate, she mentioned.
We agree, Victoria! The micro park movement is not just for big cities. A community of any size can benefit from small public greenspaces in the central core. We hope Bakersfield leaders and non-profits see the upsides and catch the mini-park bug too.
Reader Mike McCoy also supports the micro park movement and asked what we can do to protect our parks and open spaces from being turned into campgrounds by the homeless and others.
Downtown City Councilman Andrae Gonzales responded that homelessness is a growing problem all over the state and we need to do more to help those on the front lines trying to end homelessness every day. Andrae also mentioned that he believes the best way to improve our community is to invest in and build our community’s assets, like parks.
Reader Esequiel Esparza also commented that she knows of an empty lot at Mount Vernon and Quincy Street across from East High that would be a prime candidate for a pocket park, and other readers agreed.
We hope the community can organize around this cause.
• Crosswalk talk: On Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall South, the City Council will take up the 24th Street crosswalk issue at their regular meeting. Downtown residents are encouraged to attend and voice their opinions.