New committee tackles safety for pedestrians

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) With dozens of deadly accidents in the last year, a special new committee is looking at how to make local streets safer for bike riders, walkers and bus riders.

The first meeting was Wednesday morning, and members said they hope cooperation produces solutions.

"We've had 37 pedestrian fatalities last year," Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez told Eyewitness News. "All but one occurred east of (Highway) 99. So we have a big issue to address in east Bakersfield, southeast Bakersfield."

Perez and Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard are on the committee, along with Bakersfield City Council Members Willie Rivera and Russell Johnson. Spokesmen from BARC, the Bakersfield Homeless Center and Clinica Sierra Vista medical clinics are also members of the ad hoc committee.

A county spokesman said those groups serve people who may walk and use buses more, and the organizations asked to be included.

One concern for these groups is the recent change in Golden Empire Transit bus routes and stops.

"I just want a bus stop for our clients," Homeless Center Director Louis Gill said.

He said it was moved away from the shelter about two years ago, when GET changed routes in east Bakersfield.

"I'm really hopeful that we can get that bus stop restored," he said.

GET spokesperson Gina Hayden said the route was changed there to increase bus efficiency, but she hopes safety can be improved in the area.

"We've suggested a number of times that really the city needs to look at better lighting and a stop light," Hayden responded.

Gill said he does worry about poor lighting in the neighborhood, and that's a danger when homeless center clients have to walk farther to the new bus stop location. He said use of GET buses is down, since the route was changed.

"There were good points brought up, and there was kind of some inner bickering about who does what to who." Bonnie Davis observed. "That needs to go."

She uses a wheelchair and said she was at the new committee meeting to bring that perspective to the discussion, and her concerns.

"One lady came from 30th (Street) and turned left," Davis described as an example. "And she missed me by about 12 inches."

Davis said she experiences close calls on just about a daily basis.

A statement from the ad hoc committee said members of the public are encouraged to come to the meetings to talk about their concerns and provide input.

Perez said safety issues have been identified.

"They involved infrastructure, they involved lighting, curbing, striping," Perez said. "And in reality, our public transportation policies."

She's encouraged that the city and county are working together on things like signal improvements and lighting in areas that are really dark.

"These, the city and the county both committed to moving forward on immediately," she said.

Perez said beyond that, the goals include "minimizing risk, creating a safer environment, and educating pedestrians and bike riders."

A spokesman for Supervisor Maggard's office said no date's been set for the next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Public Transportation and Pedestrian Safety. They're checking with members for the next available day.

Moving forward, Perez wants the group to look at the big picture of the dangers, and then work "on the ground" on solutions. And she thinks that got started on the right foot.

"There is consensus," Perez said. "One, to work together. Two, to acknowledge there is a problem. And, three, lay out a plan in the near future. That's exciting."