Sacramento Bee Features East Sacramento Preservation Efforts to Create Safe Streets

Death fuels plans on crosswalk safety


By Tony Bizjak

Article from the Sacramento Bee, January 24, 2012


Autumn Cruz

Sutter Middle School students Mia Turner, left, Andrew Mendoz, center, and Viola Lebeau cross H Street at 33rd Street on Monday using one of the orange flags placed at both ends of a crosswalk to get the attention of drivers as a safety precaution.

Autumn Cruz

A pedestrian reads the instructions with a cluster of flags that help people safely cross H Street at 33rd Street. Last week’s death of Michelle Murigi on Fruitridge Road at 58th Street has renewed interest in ways to improve safety on Sacramento’s wide roads.

West Campus High School will hold a party for Michelle Murigi’s birthday on Wednesday. It would have been her 17th.

Murigi was struck by a car at dusk Thursday as she crossed Fruitridge Road at 58th Street a few blocks from campus. She was headed to a bus stop after volunteering as a mentor at a nearby elementary school. Murigi died on Friday.

Her death has rekindled discussion in Sacramento about what more can be done to increase pedestrian safety on the city’s many busy and wide streets.

According to the state Office of Traffic Safety, more than 200 pedestrians were injured or killed by vehicles in Sacramento in 2009, the most recent year listed. Transportation for America rates the Sacramento metropolitan area as the 21st most dangerous for pedestrians among 52 areas nationally with a million-plus residents.

Officials with WALKSacramento, a pedestrian advocacy group, say people on foot are at greater risk on wide, straight, suburban streets such as Fruitridge, where cars can attain higher speeds and drivers are less focused on pedestrians.

Murigi was killed when the car in one eastbound lane stopped for her, but a second car in the next lane didn’t. Police say it’s possible the first car blocked the second driver’s view of Murigi. Drivers on Fruitridge have no traffic signals or stop signs at that intersection.

WALKSacramento executive Teri Duarte said the city should consider painting white lines on Fruitridge Road 30 feet back from the 58th Street intersection. This would prompt vehicles to stop earlier, leaving ample space for drivers and pedestrians to spot each other.

“If cars had an advance stop line, the pedestrian wouldn’t have been hidden,” WALK-Sacramento director Teri Duarte said.

Area City Councilman Kevin McCarty said Monday he would ask police and traffic engineers for a report on whether the intersection needs safety upgrades.

City transportation officials said they also are expecting a police report on the fatality and would look into whether they might employ new safety tools they’re testing.

These tools include pedestrian-activated flashing signs that the city installed last fall at some troublesome intersections. When a pedestrian hits a button, yellow lights flash for 10 seconds around the perimeter of a bright fluorescent yellow-green pedestrian sign. Arrows on the sign point toward the crosswalk markings on the street.

“It works well where there is a high volume of pedestrian traffic but no traffic signal,” city transportation spokeswoman Linda Tucker said.

The costs are minimal, she said, at $14,000 per intersection.

A group called East Sacramento Preservation Inc. is trying an even more creative approach, with city approval, at an unsignaled intersection on H Street used by middle school students and families headed to McKinley Park.

The group has placed canisters of orange flags on sticks on each side of the street. Pedestrians are instructed to grab a flag, and wave it at oncoming cars to get them to stop, then place the flag in the container on the other side of the street.

“Look assertive!” the instructions on the container read. “Maintain eye contact.”

Even with those warnings, getting drivers’ attention is sometimes not that easy, said Will Green, a member of the preservation group.

“You really have to wave the flag at the bull, so to speak,” he said, “because drivers are really self-consumed, and it is hard to get them to stop.”

City officials say they’re monitoring the orange flag program. “The jury is still out,” Tucker said. “We’ll go back and take a look at it in the spring.”

Tucker said pedestrians and drivers need to take equal responsibility for safe crossings at intersections. Pedestrians should never step into the street assuming that cars will stop for them.

At West Campus High School, Principal Gregory Thomas said officials have preached caution to students and parents about crossing the street, and will do so again. “They think people are going to automatically stop,” Thomas said. “They take that for granted.”

On Wednesday, a grieving school will gather to remember Murigi and celebrate her life on her birthday.

“She was a really, really nice person,” said friend Genelyn Silva, 16. “She never forgot her friends’ birthdays. We’re planning to release balloons in memory of her.”

Councilman McCarty said the City Council will adjourn its meeting tonight in Murigi’s memory.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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One Response to Sacramento Bee Features East Sacramento Preservation Efforts to Create Safe Streets

  1. Adrian says:

    Not enough drivers are paying attention on H street. Just yesterday around 5.20pm I stopped for two pedestrians. The first a young lady stepped into the road and waited a good 30 seconds after I stopped before giving up and returning to the sidewalk because everyone else either wasn’t paying attention or ignored her.