From before the time a child learns to talk, he is taught two things about road safety: to look both ways before you cross the street, and to always cross the street at a crosswalk.
So it's no surprise that Gilroy parent Dominic Cefalu was upset when the City removed a crosswalk at the busy intersection of Wren Avenue and Byers Street near El Roble Elementary School.
“It doesn't make any sense to not have a crosswalk, cars come speeding through and it's so dangerous,” said Cefalu, a resident of the neighborhood behind El Roble park, and parent of two young boys.
Cefalu complained to the City as soon as he noticed the crosswalk – which had been there 25 years - had been painted over as a part of the Wren Avenue construction project.
“I thought it was a mistake. This is such a high foot traffic area, with the park and school being right there, I can't understand how it was common sense to remove the crosswalk there,” he said.
Don Dey, city transportation engineer, said the City removed it in August because it was deemed an unsafe spot for a crosswalk, citing that it is actually safer for pedestrians to cross the street without a crosswalk.
“When there is no crosswalk, the pedestrian takes their safety more seriously and is more careful when entering an intersection,” Dey said.
Dey said that it is still legal and not considered jaywalking for pedestrians to cross the two-lane Wren Avenue at Byers Street, because the pedestrian has the right-of-way at any intersection, whether marked with a painted crosswalk or not.
“The problem lies when an uncontrolled crosswalk gives pedestrians the impression that they have the right-of-way. They assume, with a crosswalk, that cars will automatically stop for them, but that is not always the case,” Dey said.
Dey said based on complaints from “multiple” residents received on the crosswalk over the past few years, the City deemed it necessary to remove it.
Cefalu said that he was the “primary” person complaining to the City about the crosswalk all along, and that he had asked the City to make the crosswalk safer by adding blinking lights or more signage.
“But instead of listening, they took it down entirely,” Cefalu said.
After “getting nowhere” with the City's transportation department for the past month, Cefalu decided to take his concerns to City Council, where he spoke at the Oct. 1 meeting during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Councilman Perry Woodward said he wasn't aware the City removed the crosswalk, and requested at the meeting to discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting, a request that City Administrator Tom Haglund obliged.
Dey said that there is “not money sitting around” in the City’s transportation budget to bring back the crosswalk complete with blinking lights, but if Council directs staff to do it and passes a budget for it, then it will be completed.
The date for the discussion has not yet been established.
Woodward later mentioned over the phone that because there are no stop signs on Wren Avenue near Byers Street, drivers reach a fairly high speed, making it unsafe to cross with small children. The closest stop sign or stoplights are a quarter of a mile north of Byers Street at Third Street (which is also where the closest crosswalk is), or a third of a mile south at Uvas Park Drive. The speed limit is 35 mph on this stretch of Wren Avenue, but according to Dey, it is common for cars to drive at speeds of 38 to 40 mph.
“That park is heavily used by kids in that neighborhood. Maybe we need a high visibility crosswalk or something. We ought to take a real hard look at that, even if it costs us some money. We need to make sure there is a safe route to that park,” Woodward said.
Cefalu said that he hopes Council will take a good look at putting the crosswalk back.
“I turned to Council, because I've tried to be patient with the City, but I've gotten nowhere. I've been asking for a safer crosswalk for years, but instead, they said 'Oh you're on your own, now you'll think more when you jump out in the street,'” Cefalu said.
“Having no crosswalk puts so many children at risk. At this rate, somebody is going to get killed there, and it's going to be a little kid,” he said. “I'll keep fighting to get that crosswalk back. I can't have that on my conscience.”
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