Last month, a driver hit a baby's stroller and flipped them up into the air along Alameda's Otis Drive. The family was doing everything right: They were crossing the street in a designated crosswalk with paint; they had activated the rapid flashing lights; they proceeded to cross when other drivers had already stopped for them. This specific driver is at fault for for failing to yield. As I wrote at the time, the fault is also the roadway width number of lanes of thru auto traffic — it's designed more like a highway than a street, and drivers can feel that as they drive it. Drivers aren't mistaken — this is a highway.
This month, either the City of Alameda or Caltrans has responded by installing the following safety "improvement":
There is already orange text on the pavement warning "SLOW SCHOOL XING"
The crosswalk has already been painted in high-visibility orange.
There are already Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons installed at the crosswalk.
There is already a sign post in the middle of the crosswalk that reads "STATE LAW YIELD TO 🚶 WITHIN CROSSWALK"
And now we have the addition of flashing messages reading "SLOW DOWN" and "CAUTION CHILDREN CROSSING"
Is this a freeway or a street?
The way that the agencies managing this street keep layering on even more signage and lights and paint is revealing. This type of repeat messaging is important for high-speed freeway driving. But this is not a limited-access freeway. On one side of the street are houses, on the other side are a park and a school — people are crossing this street on foot at all hours of the day.
Turns out people are also cycling here, too. While I was taking videos of the new signage from the sidewalk, a fellow biked past me:
Caltrans District 4 needs to answer a question: Is this a highway that is only for drivers or a street that is for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists?
Complete streets for all users
I address that question to Caltrans because it's the state department of transportation that owns this stretch of Otis Drive — known as State Route 61 — not the City of Alameda.
For being such an auto-centric organization, Caltrans has made great progress in this respect in recent years. In 2021, Caltrans adopted its own requirements to treat its roads as "complete streets" for travelers using all modes, not only autos:
The complete street policies assigns the responsibilities to Caltrans district offices (including District 4 that serves the entire Bay Area and is based Oakland), including these responsibilies that seem quite relevant to the safety situation at Otis/Mound along State Route 61 :
- Implement project delivery strategies and best practices to further enhance the delivery of complete streets, including coordination of community engagement efforts.
- Implement "world-class" design best practices related to complete streets.
- Support the delivery of complete streets improvements in capital projects.
- Develop and implement innovative, context-sensitive solutions to address the safety of vulnerable roadway users.
- Investigate and implement countermeasures at locations with pedestrian and/or bicycle safety concerns/needs.
- Engage with internal functions and seek input from external stakeholders on pedestrian and bicycle safety needs during investigations.
— Caltrans Director's Policy on Complete Streets, December 7, 2021
What's next for Otis Drive?
It's not working to merely add more warning paint and flashing signs where the four thru lanes of Otis Drive cross Mound Street.
No major safety changes seemed to be made in the 1970s when State Assemblymember Robert Crown was killed while crossing this stretch of Otis Drive on foot. But maybe this decade — a decade in which Caltrans has adopted a statewide policy to build complete streets — can be a decade of change for the better.
Caltrans has an upcoming project to resurface this section of SR-61. Will they repave and repaint the same lines in place for four thru lanes of auto traffic? Or will they use "world class" design best practices related to complete streets to make this portion of Otis Drive safer for all users — including that family walking their baby in a stroller and that fellow cycling past on a bicycle.