Searching for answers on Fifth Street
On Monday, the Sonoma Police Department will report to the City Council on its efforts to make sense of what suddenly feels like a rash of recent accidents on Fifth Street West.
In truth, the rash amounts to two accidents, although one resulted in the death of a 93-year-old man who was struck in the crosswalk while riding an electric scooter to Safeway.
The other resulted in injuries to two boys, one of whom received a skull fracture.
In both cases, according to witnesses and police reports, the victims were visible in the crosswalks, and the crosswalk signal lights had been activated. And, in both cases, the drivers causing the accidents were elderly.
Clearly, this is cause for concern. Not so clear is what the solution is.
Sonoma police conducted a thorough review of accident files and concluded there is evidence of an upward trend in the number of collisions involving both bicycles and pedestrians. And while there is no clear cause for that trend, police department staff believe inattention and/or distraction may be on the rise.
Of particular interest is the conclusion that, as the staff report states, “in a considerable number of collisions involving pedestrians or bicycles, the investigation revealed the pedestrian or bicyclist was the party most at fault. Therefore, it’s imperative to encourage people walking and/or bicycling to pay attention and follow the rules of the road.”
On the other hand, there is no evidence that 93-year-old Alvin Hesse, killed in the Safeway crosswalk Nov. 7, was being inattentive or distracted. Police have yet to account for the behavior of 80-year-old Joe Kwai Lee, who was charged with running over Hesse and leaving the scene of the accident.
The two recent accidents may be statistically insignificant, but no traffic fatality can ever be taken lightly. We have driven through the Safeway crosswalk countless times and we can’t help concluding that there may be some combination of visual anomalies – perhaps including a slight rise in the road bed just north of the crosswalk – that compromises ideal visibility. But that is little more than an unreliable impression.
More objectively apparent is the fact that traffic turning south onto Fifth Street West from West Napa Street, tends to accelerate rapidly, often reaching the crosswalk at rates of speed higher than the posted limit.
Even clearer – although of no real relevance to the Fifth Street West crosswalk accidents, is the obvious evidence that bicyclists (and too many skateboarders) continue to travel on Sonoma streets virtually oblivious to stop signs, red lights and vehicular traffic. We’re surprised there are not more collisions between cars and kids (or adults) on bikes.
We don’t know what the solution to the Fifth Street West crosswalk issue is, or even if a problem exists, but the fact that two similar accidents occurred, close together in time and space, certainly requires careful attention.
Much clearer is the need for a heavier enforcement hand on reckless cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road.