A rash of traffic collisions in the Tri-Valley this year between pedestrians and motorists, including a handful of fatalities, has local law enforcement and other officials reminding residents to take extra care on roadways as schools and offices reopen more fully after 18 months.
Two pedestrians have been killed in Pleasanton since February, and a man crossing Dublin Boulevard on foot was fatally struck in June.
Dublin school board Trustee Catherine Kuo died after being hit by an SUV while volunteering at Fallon Middle School in March. And NFL assistant coach Greg Knapp died at a hospital days after he was struck by a vehicle while cycling in the bike lanes on Dougherty Road in San Ramon, a story that has garnered national headlines.
Several fatal vehicle crashes over the past month have also transpired in the Tri-Valley, including one before Labor Day weekend where a Livermore teen died and five of his peers were injured.
September, which is Pedestrian Safety Month, has been particularly deadly with the deaths of two pedestrians walking on local freeways in the dark in separate incidents near Livermore and San Ramon. A teenage cyclist was also struck and critically injured by a car at the intersection of Santa Rita Road and Rosewood Drive in Pleasanton on Sept. 1, but ultimately survived his injuries.
While there is no direct connection or pattern among any of the events, the intersections around local schools are getting some extra attention lately from safety officials.
Sgt. Justin Lash with the Livermore Police Department said kids coming back to class has contributed to an uptick in close calls between drivers and bicyclists.
"A lot of them are juveniles that you get kids riding to school, especially that weren't pre-COVID," Lash said in an interview. "Most of them are kids riding from the sidewalk into the roadway; many times they're traveling the wrong direction."
One common scenario that Lash described is the bicyclist will be approaching or in the crosswalk from the wrong direction, but when the driver looks left a second time, "they don't look right (again)."
"That's the majority of them, and that comes down to the pedestrian or bicyclist making sure the other party sees them," Lash said. "They're all right-of-way violations, is what we'd call them."
Other common violations on the road include speeding, making illegal turns, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and failing to stop for signs and signals.
Local law enforcement are generally more lenient with young ones, and will talk to students first instead if they see an actual traffic violation occur. LPD had a bicycle enforcement day several weeks ago, but Lash said "we ended up citing drivers more than anything."
The return to learning in-person has caused an increase in traffic on the roads, and also demand for crossing guards around Pleasanton schools. Right now the city of Pleasanton, which currently funds 22 crossing guards, is conducting a crosswalk study "so we can provide some analytics behind the crossing guards," traffic engineer Mike Tassano told the Weekly.
"Around schools, we haven't had students there for 18-plus months," Tassano said. "We had a very limited going this last spring but this is the first year when we're back 100%."
"We're doing this crossing guard study to establish a mechanism to say 'maybe we don't need a crossing guard here but maybe we need one here, move them'," Tassano added. Several schools including Fairlands and Donlon elementaries, as well as Hart Middle, have asked for crossing guards.
Staff have been out every morning and afternoon for several weeks to monitor the crossing guards, including "how they're crossing, visibility and sight-line distance," according to Tassano, and should finish collecting volume data by the end of the month or potentially as late as early November. Regardless of when the study is completed, Tassano said no changes will be made to any crossing guard assignments until the start of the 2022-23 school year.
The city also does an annual collision review of one- and three-year history for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles to determine patterns. Tassano also said staff reads "every collision report written by the police department to determine if there are improvements necessary."
A few traffic safety patterns have also been identified "but those are for specific locations, not system wide," Tassano said.
Most recently the city analyzed "if crossing from the curb to a 'pork chop island' has a higher crash rate and if there is a pattern of right turn on red collisions," but Tassano said neither proved to have a pattern or be a problem.
In Livermore, some changes are being made on Portola Avenue while Lash said the Isabel-Stanley connector is also making bike path improvements and the city is considering painting the bike lanes.
Road conditions are not always consistent but officials said drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists can try to be and make traveling safer for everyone by following some common tips:
* Wait for pedestrians to cross the street. Be courteous and patient.
* Stay off the phone.
* No speeding. Speed limits are not suggestions.
* Look for pedestrians when backing up, turning at intersections or entering/exiting shopping centers.
* Always wear a helmet. Helmets are required by state law for anyone under 18.
* Bicyclists must travel in the same direction of traffic and have the same requirements as any slow-moving vehicle.
* Only cross at marked crosswalks or intersections with a stop sign or signal.
* Look for cars backing up. Avoid going between parked cars.
* Make eye contact with drivers. Don't assume they see you.
* Wear bright clothing during the day and use a flashlight when walking at night.