A question of time, space and chance?
In the unfathomable complexity of time, space and chance, anything can happen. A meteorite can fall to Earth in a crowded city without harming a soul. Six numbers painted on ping pong balls can align in a lottery game making someone an instant millionaire.
Or, a 93-year-old man, beloved by a large family, still active and alert but unable to walk any distance, can activate the warning lights at a well-marked crosswalk and steer his electric scooter through a busy intersection just in time to cross the path of an elderly, inattentive driver who strikes him dead.
Space, time, chance. Three elements that defy prediction. And yet.
When that 93-year-old man is the third person to die at that intersection, and when two weeks earlier two teenage boys are hit by a car and almost killed at a similar crosswalk a block away, the element of chance reasonably comes into question.
Since 1996, three people have died in the crosswalk between Studley Street and the Safeway store on Fifth Street West. In a town of 10,000 people, common sense would suggest that fatality rate involve something more than an unlucky roll of the dice.
What that something is we don’t pretend to know, but we don’t believe a review of accident statistics alone will provide an answer, so we’re glad that the Sonoma City Council and the police department are taking the matter seriously enough to discuss an investigation beyond the numbers.
During the Nov. 19 council meeting, suggestions were made for a full-scale traffic study to evaluate the various dynamic elements converging at that intersection.
We lay no claim to traffic engineering expertise, but a few recent observations demand to be heard. During peak afternoon grocery shopping hours, the convergence of vehicles trying to turn into and out of the Fifth Street West entrance to the Safeway parking lot is formidable. At any given moment, motorists traveling both west and east are trying to turn both left and right into the lot, while exiting drivers are trying to turn both left and right onto Fifth Street West.
Meanwhile, traffic from Studley Street, Oregon Street and Curtin Lane is joining the Fifth Street flow. While this is going on, some eastbound drivers are turning right into the Safeway lot from the bike lane, which has no broken lane line marking allowing for turning traffic to enter the bike lane until they are virtually upon the driveway. As a result, some drivers make right hand turns across a bike lane that is already occupied by other drivers making the same turn.
Add to this mix pedestrians trying to traverse Fifth Street West in the well-marked crosswalk in which they can nevertheless be obscured by stopped cars waiting to turn into Safeway, and you have a dangerously complex set of vehicular dynamics.
On top of that, our own experience suggests that the imbedded crosswalk lights are less visible than they should be to westbound traffic turning off West Napa onto Fifth Street, because there is a perpendicular crown in the roadway, contiguous with Studley Street, that actually obscures the crosswalk until cars are sometimes uncomfortably close.
There may be no familiar traffic engineering equation for these unique circumstances, and we think an exhaustive investigation into these potential hazards is in order.
The death of Alvin Hesse demands it.