Claremont Insider: Anatomy of An Accident

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Anatomy of An Accident


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The Claremont Courier reported yesterday on the details of last week's accident at Indian Hill Blvd. and 10th Street. The Courier confirmed that five-year-old Noah Witt is out of intensive care now but remained at Pomona Valley Hospital.

The Courier article, by Tony Krickl, also said that neighbors and parents of children at Sycamore Elementary are working to try to get the City to make the intersection safer. Krickl described the intersection's history:
The city is well aware of the dangers at Indian Hill Boulevard and 10th Street. In 1996, Fred Neal, a retired professor from Claremont Graduate University, was killed while crossing at the same intersection. Neighbors complain they hear weekly screeching of tires and witness near miss collisions. They say that lighting and blocked views from the rows of trees that line the street can make turning onto Indian Hill difficult.

The intersection sits at the northwest corner of Memorial Park, with students and park goers often using the crosswalk to traverse Indian Hill Boulevard. The current speed limit on that stretch of Indian Hill is 30 miles per hour, but neighbors say drivers are regularly seen speeding or talking on their cell phones while zipping by.

In July 2001, the city installed flashing pavement lights on the crosswalk that are activated by a push button on either side of the 10th Street. Questions about the light's effectiveness and overall safety at the crosswalk have come up at a couple different city forums over the years, most recently at the Traffic and Transportation Commission meeting in January 2009.

Regarding the crosswalk system's maintenance, one of our readers wrote in earlier this week and said that the button on the intersection's southwest corner wasn't working just a few nights before the accident. So much for the crosswalk's pedstrian-activated flashing lights. Coincidentally, this is the same corner the pedestrians who were hit on Thursday were crossing from.



We decided to look back at the history of the 10th Street crosswalk. The matter of installing the current in-pavement flashing light system came before the Traffic and Transportation Commission on January, 25, 2001. As you might expect, the staff report, by City Engineer Craig Bradshaw, laid out some very rational arguments for why he was recommending installing the crosswalk system:

The Traffic and Transportation Commission TTC recently approved a city-wide crosswalk policy. One of the unprotected crosswalks that met the criteria of the new policy to stay in place is the Indian Hill Boulevard crosswalk at 10th Street. Since the crosswalk is staying in place and is located on a busy street near large pedestrian traffic generators it is desirable to provide additional safety measures. The two pedestrian safety features being recommended for the Indian Hill Boulevard crossing are the in-pavement warning lights and self-flagging. These features have proven successful in improving pedestrian safety in locations where pedestrian lights are not warranted. Staff recommends that the Traffic and Transportation Commission direct staff to install the crosswalk warning system utilizing in-pavement flashing lights and self-flagging at the crosswalk located on Indian Hill Boulevard at 10th Street and return this item to the Commission in six months for further review.

As with any Claremont staff report, it included some marketing material from the system's manufacturer that touted the wonders the crosswalk system would work in improving pedestrian safety.

The minutes show commission voted 5-0 (two members were absent) in favor of the system. Some familiar names popped up. The commission's Vice-Chair at the time was Tim Worley, who pops up again and again on local issues. At that time he was a traffic expert. Now he is a water expert. Worley presided over that meeting on 1/25/01 because the commission chair was absent.

Another person who is listed in the minutes is then-Traffic Commissioner Ellen Taylor. Taylor, who seemed to be on the commission primarily as a resume builder for her city council candidacy in 2005, made the motion to go forward with the in-pavement lighting system. Apparently, she liked the marketing materials provided by Bradshaw.

JULY, 2001

The Traffic and Transportation Commission minutes for June 28, 2001 (page 9), state that City Engineer Bradshaw reported that the in-pavement lighting system installation at 10th Street would be complete by the first week of July. Bradshaw promised that staff would come back to the commission with a report on the crosswalk's effectiveness after six months.


We checked the Traffic and Transportation Commission minutes from November, 2001, to December, 2002, but did not see where Bradshaw made his six-month report on the crosswalk to the commission.


At some point in this period, accident victim Noah Witt was born.


The 10th Street crosswalk did make it back to the Traffic and Transportation Commission almost four years after it was installed. On September 22, 2005, Craig Bradshaw presented a report on city staff's findings. Bradshaw's report said:

As a means of improving pedestrian safety at the intersection of Indian Hill Boulevard and Tenth Street in-pavement crosswalk lights were installed in July 2001 along both edges of the southerly crosswalk to provide improved visibility of the crosswalk to approaching drivers. The lights are connected to a pedestrian actuated push button and flash when pedestrians push the button before crossing the street. Staff has received substantial feedback since the installation of the pedestrian lights with most of the feedback being negative in nature and combined with requests that the crosswalk lights be removed. In reviewing the pedestrian lights and whether they are serving the safety function for which they were originally installed staff believes that the pedestrian lights may be creating a false sense of security and a potential safety concern for pedestrians.


Based on feedback from the public and staff findings it is recommended that the Traffic and Transportation Commission determine if it is appropriate to remove the crosswalk lights at the intersection of Indian Hill Boulevard and Tenth Street.

According to the minutes for the 9/22/05 meeting, Tim Worley, like any Claremonster, was averse to reversing a decision. Rather than going with the staff recommendation to remove the crosswalk, he moved for two alternative choices to try to keep the lighted crosswalk in place with some adjustments. Worley also moved that commission ask staff to obtain more information and report back to the commission. The commission unanimously approved Worley's motion.

At the 10/27/05 meeting, staff came back to the commission with the supplementary information Worley had asked for:
3. Indian Hill Boulevard and Tenth Street Review of In-Pavement Crosswalk liqhts continued from September 22, 2005

Associate Engineer Loretta Mustafa gave an updated staff report She stated that the commission had recommended that the in pavement lights remain in place but wanted additional information to make the intersection safer and the crosswalk more visible. She reviewed the measures included in the report of some of the measures that have been or will be implemented. Staff has met recently with manufacturers that are looking at some new pedestrian signage LED signs that could be possibly wired into the pedestrian push button which will light up at the same time as the lights in the crosswalk. Staff has talked to Human Services Department about relocating the banner and will be pursuing handing out pamphlets at community events and educate the residents to make that crosswalk safer and more successful.

The commission received and filed the report, which also recommended seven measures for improving the crosswalk's visibility and effectiveness. The report said the matter would come back to the commission for review in one year.


We checked the agenda materials for City Engineer Bradshaw's one-year, follow-up review, but we couldn't find a record of that.

As we wrote last week
, the matter did come back to the commission in January this year with a recommendation that the in-pavement system be removed. The commission directed staff to do an initial study under the California Environmental Quality Act, but there was no timeline on that. Those studies have various boxes to check off and include some sort of traffic analysis to justify the proposed change.

We wonder if the box for "five-year-old hit" gets checked.

To recap: January 2001 - crosswalk system approved; July, 2001 - crosswalk system installed; 2001-2005 - complaints pile up, staff recommendation to remove crosswalk system; January, 2009 - commission asked to approve crosswalk system removal, initial study requested; May 14, 2009, pedestrians struck.

Claremont: Competence in Action.