Kern County will be implementing millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements over the next several years in an attempt to improve pedestrian safety.
The county recently received more than $12 million in state grants to implement four projects that are meant to make Kern’s roadways easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to traverse.
The county, and Bakersfield in particular, has been identified as an especially dangerous place for pedestrians when compared to other municipalities.
One recent study ranked Bakersfield as the seventh-worst city in the country pedestrian safety.
In the past 11 years, more than 50 people have been involved in fatal traffic accidents countywide, according to the California Highway Patrol.
But the county is working to make the streets and sidewalks a safer place for walkers and bikers.
It is targeting the most dangerous parts of the county first, in projects that will take years to complete, but hopefully bring about a reduction in casualties.
“We’re trying to look at countywide we can find improvements that will help the most amount of people so we can get the most people with these grant programs,” said Kern County Public Works Manager Yolanda Alcantar. “We’re doing our best to improve public safety.”
The county is drawing from a limited pot of money for which cities across California compete. More than $100 million in grants are made available from Caltrans each year, although being awarded a grant is very competitive.
The county drew from the Active Transportation and Hazard Safety Improvement programs that Caltrans administers for the projects.
With each grant submission, the county's projects are ranked against other counties. The project with the highest scores receive funding.
Two of the county projects will improve street crossings, and two will improve sidewalks in an unincorporated county pocket in Bakersfield and in Lake Isabella.
Three of the projects are expected to be completed around 2024, with one of the sidewalk projects scheduled to be completed sooner.
The county plans to install crosswalk countdown lights at 61 intersections with stoplights.
The lights help slower-moving people decide whether or not to stop in the intersection or move faster across the street.
In the second crosswalk project, the city will repaint 82 crosswalks across two-lane roads to be more visible to drivers.
The intersections that are not handicap-accessible will have ramps cut into the curbs to allow people with disabilities easier access.
“We are really just making a huge push for pedestrian safety,” Alcantar said.
The county will add sidewalks on South Chester Avenue between Ming Avenue and Sandra Drive, a county pocket.
“Pedestrians don’t care if they are in the city or the county; they just want a complete sidewalk,” Alcantar said.
In Lake Isabella, the county will add sidewalks and bike lanes on Lake Isabella Boulevard and Erskine Creek Road between a cluster of schools in the city and downtown.
The county has other projects it hopes to fund through grants, but it will need to wait until the state opens itself up for submissions later in the year to try again.