Moffat Boulevard is not inherently unsafe.
It is a wide, smooth street with the near absence of driveways on the south side.
Yet Monday a tragedy occurred. It involved a 22-year-old driver, a parked semi-truck, a crosswalk, and a 14-year-old runner.
The teen was on a Manteca High cross country practice run. The driver was heading down Moffat. The truck was legally parked in such a manner that it created a partial vision block for both. The driver and the runner collided in or near the crosswalk at Garfield Avenue.
The teen is recovering having sustained a broken arm, a broken leg, and other injuries.
The pedestrian versus car incident this week comes on the heels of a marked upswing in pedestrian fatalities not just in Manteca but in California as a whole. It also happened during a supervised school activity.
The conversation that must take place — as Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer astutely points out — is not one that reacts to what happened but instead focuses on how to avoid a similar incident from happening elsewhere.
That is exactly what a dedicated group of parent and community volunteers were doing independent of the city or school district Thursday afternoon around Shasta School. The volunteers wear bright orange vests and hoist stop signs to help kids cross various points on and along Edison Avenue as well as Alameda Street at Powers Avenue. They started in the aftermath of September’s death of a Shasta School first grader who was struck by a car while walking to school.
There is little doubt about their effectiveness. Traffic has slowed. Kids crossing streets do so under much safer conditions.
Obviously grassroots volunteers serving as unofficial crossing guards can be effective.
But the real solution is to change the way each and every one of us drives, walks, or bicycles on a street.
That means disengaging from auto-pilot when we are driving or crossing streets.
Tuesday’s tragedy got my attention for three reasons. First, it was on a street that I cross at least eight times during a week jogging or walking my dogs. Second, it was the third major pedestrian-versus car incident since July on streets that I either drive or jog on a daily basis. The other two incidents had a horrible ending — in one a grandfather died and his young grandson was seriously injured while in a crosswalk. The other was a first grader being killed at a four-way stop. And finally, in all three incidents it is likely the person hit believed they were safe in crossing a street while the drivers may indeed had been doing everything “right” but then again streets aren’t a closed course.
There is little doubt the teen runner was schooled in safety by his coaches. Virtually every high school that has a cross country team conducts practices that involve runs along public streets. You could argue that Manteca’s preferred course is fairly safe given a large chunk of it includes the Tidewater Bikeway. There is also the added bonus that runners training together on a cross country team don’t wear earphones listening to tunes as way too many people do while running.
Whether the runner was on auto pilot is something that only he knows. But there is a lot of truth in saying that crossing mid-block on a busy street is safer than using a crosswalk.
That’s because most people crossing mid-block are a tad on edge not knowing whether drivers will see them. Unfortunately, that’s not true when many are in crosswalks. They have a false sense of security assuming cars will stop. It’s not something you should bet your life on.
Walking and jogging defensively has become second nature to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years jogging down sidewalks along East Yosemite Avenue going to and from the In Shape Health Club. A day doesn’t go by without at least one driver cutting in front of me while entering a parking lot when I’m already crossing a driveway, doesn’t look to the right for pedestrians while making a right hand turn on a red light, is talking on a cell phone while turning, or turns right in front of me (mostly at the southbound Highway 99 onramp) when I’m a least halfway across while jogging in the crosswalk. I assume no one sees me. I also jog facing traffic even on sidewalks so that I can see as much traffic as possible.
That said, I’d venture to say 90 percent of the drivers are paying attention.
I need to make it clear that I’ve done bonehead things as a jogger. Primarily it is assuming someone is not turning right in front of me when we both have green lights. And while they are supposed to signal their intentions and I might be in the right but asserting the fact I’m doing the “right” thing under traffic rules can also mean I’ll end up being dead right.
As for driving, I’ve been paying more attention as of late due to the pedestrian-car accidents.
On Thursday I was stopped at a traffic signal on Alameda at North Main. When the light turned green I didn’t move because I noticed a guy in his 20s walking on the sidewalk with his nose in a smartphone. He ended up stepping off the curb, looked up and saw that his light was red, and then back stepped to the curb.
It cost me perhaps five seconds.
And that’s all we’re talking about to make Manteca streets safer — mere seconds of our time.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.