EASTSIDE — City Hall is resisting calls from parents and officials at a private school on the northeast end of Santa Monica to install a crosswalk at an intersection where they say hundreds of students are put in danger each day.
The petition has already collected almost 200 signatures from parents and concerned individuals, said Lynn Dickinson, a parent at New Roads School.
Dickinson started the petition after trying to walk the route that her daughter, Aspen, would have to take each day, including a crossing at Nebraska Avenue and Berkeley Street.
It was the first time Aspen would be walking to school — they’d driven to the Santa Monica Alternative Schoolhouse, or SMASH, for the past several years.
“I was shocked at what a difficult time I had crossing the street,” Dickinson said.
When she asked around to see if others shared her concern, she found out that they did, in droves.
“I can’t imagine somebody who doesn’t want a crosswalk here,” said Nicole Holofcenev, a parent at New Roads.
Holofcenev was picking up her two sons and one of their friends Tuesday afternoon. She parked across the street on Nebraska Avenue because the line to pick up kids on campus can get “disorganized” at times.
Of course, the boys walked across Nebraska Avenue to meet her.
It’s not just the parents.
David Bryan, president of New Roads, has also raised the issue with City Hall.
Although admittedly unschooled in the science of traffic engineering, Bryan said, the visual demarcation of a crossing at that intersection would help parents feel better about their children’s safety.
“I don’t know the statistics (that show) having a crosswalk makes the world safer, but it seems like it does,” Bryan said.
In actuality, that particular intersection has seen little to worry city officials over the past several years.
According to information from the Santa Monica Police Department, only four accidents happened there between May 2008 and May 2011, none of which involved pedestrians.
The Planning Department looked into the intersection in 2011 at the request of members of the community, said Sam Morrissey, a traffic engineer with City Hall.
“There was nothing unusual to indicate a real safety hazard,” he said. “Nothing in the accident statistics, nothing in the speed or traffic volume.”
Less than 1,500 vehicles travel down both Nebraska Avenue and Berkeley Street each day, and field reviews didn’t reveal issues with people traveling above the posted 30 mile-per-hour speed limit.
With so little evidence that a crosswalk is actually needed, it’s better just not to have one, Morrissey said.
“There are so many intersections that are similar … we have to go very methodically,” Morrissey said.
Parents don’t appreciate that argument very much.
“Because no one’s been hit yet they don’t need a crosswalk there?” Dickinson asked. “It doesn’t seem right.”
A study conducted for the Federal Highway Administration by the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center at the turn of the century examined the efficacy of crosswalks in keeping pedestrians safe.
It looked at five years of pedestrian crashes at 1,000 marked crosswalks and 1,000 unmarked comparison sites and found that the presence of a marked crosswalk alone at an uncontrolled location made no difference in the pedestrian crash rate compared to an unmarked crosswalk.
“Further, on multi-lane roads with traffic volumes above about 12,000 vehicles per day, having a marked crosswalk alone (without other substantial improvements) was associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate … compared to an unmarked crosswalk,” the report reads.
There are other problems with crosswalks.
Despite the fact that they’re just paint, crosswalks can be fairly difficult and even expensive to maintain because thousands of cars drive over them every day, mussing the paint job, Morrissey said.
Drivers also become desensitized to the presence of a crosswalk, especially when there’s not a lot of pedestrian action there most of the day.
The Planning Department uses the same criteria — some of which is spelled out by the state — to determine which intersections need a crosswalk and which will go without.
Consistency is important, or crosswalks will pop up whenever one group yells too loudly, Morrissey said.
Now may be the ideal time for people with concerns to approach the department.
Planners are currently working on a framework to improve pedestrian safety and the walkability of Santa Monica.
The Pedestrian Action Plan, as it’s called, can help establish a new methodology for installing crosswalks that’s more consistent with community desires, Morrissey said.
“We like to go methodically through anything,” he said. “We look to people using it on a daily basis to inform us. If there’s something missing and it comes through with the help of questions and further investigation (we want to know that).”
Managing Editor Daniel Archuleta contributed to this report.