It looks like the people fighting to keep pedestrian access across 24th Street will get their way, even if it's not exactly the way they envisioned it.
At its Oct. 11 meeting, the Bakersfield City Council unanimously passed a motion from Councilman Andrae Gonzales to approve the removal of the Alder/A Street and Drake/D Street crosswalks but direct staff to draft design plans for a safe crosswalk at 24th Street as close as possible to Alder/A Street.
“This was a victory for active transportation, complete streets, the Westchester neighborhood, families, and pedestrians,” said Gary Enns, who had led the effort to get a signalized crosswalk at 24th Street, preferably the Alder/A Street crosswalk. The group presented the council with a petition with more than 430 signatures from people in support of keeping a crosswalk. "I was pleased that the City Council saw this as a priority. They seem to understand where we're coming from."
While excited, Enns said it will be sad to see the Alder/A Street crosswalk removed.
"It's a tentative happiness. It could have been worse," he said. "We need to stay vigilant. It's not over yet."
The city sought the removal of the crosswalks for safety reasons related to the 24th Street widening project. City officials said motorists would be transitioning from four-lane Highway 178 onto the new three-lane 24th Street and would have too little time and distance to safely adjust to the presence of pedestrians.
Without crosswalks, pedestrians from either side of 24th Street would have to walk nearly a mile out of their way to F Street or Chester Avenue to get to the other side. Nearly a dozen residents came out to voice their support for keeping the current crosswalks and for a signalized crosswalk.
“There’s nothing in the plan for getting us across to the other side of our neighborhood,” Enns said during the meeting. “We’re asking you to save these crosswalks for our community and actually make them safer. Taking the crosswalks away will be very dangerous, because people will cross where it’s most convenient. There are things we can do.”
Bakersfield resident Olivia Snider said the city should consider keeping a crosswalk from a financial perspective.
“With more (customer) mobility, it increases sales within the local economy and supports our local economy, which we really want to do at this time,” she said. “Crosswalks will only aid in community involvement.”
Zachary Griffin suggested during the meeting that the city has a moral imperative to serve pedestrians.
“I implore upon you, do the right thing, give us more options and make a better, more livable community,” he said.
While the majority of speakers were against the removal of the crosswalks, one person spoke in favor of it. Tyson O’Brien, who lives on the corner of Alder and 24th streets, said that he doesn’t believe the current crosswalk is safe nor would it be any safer as a signalized crosswalk.
“I just don’t see the crosswalk as a benefit to this community because essentially no one uses it now due to its danger,” he said. “Putting a crosswalk in the middle of a highway is going backwards. As the city grows, there’s only going to be more traffic. I don’t feel that it’s good for the city to spend its money [on a crosswalk] there. It’s a waste of time and money, in my opinion.”
Enns said he understood O’Brien’s concerns but maintained that the implementation of signals and other improvements would make the area safer.
“If it were safer, more people would use it,” he said. “The danger of the past and the danger of the present don’t have to be the danger of the future.”
At the meeting, the City Council expressed its support for the community's ideas.
“I can’t think of a better place to build better walkable conditions in downtown Bakersfield than Westchester,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s important for both sides of Westchester to come together, and there’s no better way than the literal way of maintaining a crosswalk.”
Prior to the vote, Vice Mayor Bob Smith said he was also in favor of pedestrian access.
“I think that we should stop building transportation through communities and start building communities through transportation so that we build transportation for all users, walkers included,” he said. “We cannot continue to treat pedestrians the way that we have in Bakersfield. We need to change the way we look at pedestrians.”
Smith said that while he understands that a signalized crosswalk at Alder/A Street in particular might not be the best option because it's so close to the 24th Street transition, he felt it would be possible to have one further down 24th Street.
“Maybe it’s a block or two away,” he said. “We’re not building a highway – we’re building an arterial road. It will have stops at several streets. I am in favor of finding a resolution. If you build a community that is not convenient to walk in, [pedestrians] will find a convenient walk that is not safe. We have a moral obligation to reduce the pedestrian fatalities and injuries in this city.”
City Public Works Director Nick Fidler said the crosswalk removals will take place sometime during the widening project period. He said the city is now working with consultants to come up with plans for an alternative crosswalk.
“I think in six to eight weeks we will have something to present to the council,” he said. “We still need to come up with options, analyze them and see how they would fit in with the design of the project.”