New Report Finds Dangerous Spots on Local Highways


Read the full report here.


Group Challenges Caltrans to Tackle “Real Safety Projects”

Local Caltrans officials have failed to prioritize projects that would improve safety on local highways, according to a new report by the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP). Instead, the group says Caltrans has promoted highway expansion projects designed for other purposes and falsely claimed that they will increase safety.

To come to their conclusions, the group analyzed data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They looked at fatal accidents which occurred between 2010 and 2013 on state highways in Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity, Mendocino and Lake Counties—the area Caltrans calls District 1. They found that on average, every five-mile stretch of highway experienced one fatal accident over the four years. But 14 stretches of road saw 4 or more fatal accidents over the same time period. These were called out as the most hazardous spots in District 1’s network. Those spots were all on Routes 101, 20, and 29, with the exception of one on Route 199.

“The highest number of fatal accidents on any stretch of highway was on the 101 going through the town of Weott, where I happen to live,” said Barbara Kennedy, a CRTP spokesperson. “But there were also very high rates on 101 in Arcata and Fortuna, on Routes 20 and 29 in Lake County, and in a number of other places.”

“What’s really an outrage is that for years Caltrans has been pushing these oversized truck access projects in Richardson Grove and on Highways 197 and 199 and calling them safety projects,” Kennedy continued. “It turns out these projects are not actually targeting the dangerous parts of our highways. Anyway, Caltrans has given themselves exemptions from their own safety design standards to build these projects which will bring in more big, dangerous trucks. How can you call that safety? We challenge Caltrans to cancel Richardson Grove, cancel 199, and put the money toward real safety projects.”

The group did find that one of the spots targeted by the Highway 197/199 project fell in a dangerous stretch of road, but the actual boundaries for the construction did not include the locations of any of the fatal accidents. “Maybe the most striking thing we found is that there have been very few safety projects designed or constructed by Caltrans on the most hazardous road segments in District 1,” said Colin Fiske, CRTP’s campaign coordinator. “Caltrans recently updated its mission statement, and ‘safe’ is now the very first word used to describe the kind of transportation system they say they want to provide. But with only a few exceptions, mostly in Arcata, Caltrans apparently isn’t doing anything to try to make these dangerous areas in District 1 any safer. We hope that changes in the near future.”

New York Times: “The Bill That Would Make Roads Less Safe”

Congress is working on a bill that would continue the underfunding of road maintenance and repair while loosening safety regulations for big trucks.  From the New York Times:

“…The legislation would authorize federal spending on transportation projects for six years but provide only enough money to last the first three years, or $325 billion….

The House bill also contains provisions that would undoubtedly lead to more deadly accidents. One would prevent the Department of Transportation from publishing the safety ratings of trucking and bus companies. Another would make it harder for the department to raise the minimum insurance requirements for trucks and buses that were last set in 1985.

The bill would also allow people as young as 19 years, 6 months old to drive trucks across state lines, down from 21 now. Given the higher accident rates of teenage drivers, this change makes no sense….”

Read the full editorial.

Pedestrian Fatalities in Humboldt County

As the Eureka Traffic Officer says in an article in today’s Times-Standard, “It doesn’t really matter who’s at fault when you end up in the hospital…the pedestrian will always lose.” So maybe we should shift some of the focus away from the people involved in specific accidents and toward the infrastructure! Our roads are often dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Better crosswalk markings and signage seem to have made a difference already in pedestrian safety in Eureka. Imagine how much safer we could be with roads that were actually designed for multimodal transportation – rather than being designed for cars and trucks, with other users just an afterthought!

From the Times-Standard:

“…Crosswalk countdown signals — noting how much time a pedestrian has to get across the street before the light changes — as well as more visible markers at such locations on West Avenue near Silvercrest as well as the police department’s targeted enforcement may have all contributed to fewer pedestrian vs. vehicle accidents this summer, she said.

While the EPD only tracks pedestrian fatalities within the city limits, 2015 has also been a deadly year for pedestrians in the northern Humboldt County area outside of the Eureka city limits — from south of Scotia to the Del Norte County line and inland to Trinity and Siskiyou counties….”

Read the full article.

Pedestrian-Friendly Streetscapes Out of General Plan

Apparently the majority of our Humboldt County supervisors have now decided that “pedestrian friendly streetscape” requirements don’t belong in our general plan. This is a disappointing decision at a time when we should be doing everything we can to prioritize walking and other healthy, community-building, low-impact modes of transportation.  From the Mad River Union:

“In response to lobbying from housing developers, county supervisors have revisited several General Plan Update decisions…

Reconsideration of a policy calling for pedestrian-friendly streetscapes also stirred debate. The policy encourages “pedestrian-friendly residential design” through techniques such as using alleys and courtyards to minimize street-facing driveways and minimizing street-level views of garages….

Supervisors voted to delete the policy, with Lovelace dissenting….”

Read the full article.

“Let’s take county into the future, not the past”

From the Times-Standard:

“…Dave Spreen’s “My Word” (“Building on our rural creative class economy a better bet,” Times-Standard, Aug. 29, Page A4) was the most intelligent commentary yet on the folly of CalTrans priorities on the Northcoast. Those arguing for this mid-20th Century infrastructure expansion will leave us with a obsolete economic structure while eroding our quality of life as well endangering our citizens. Let’s build for the future not for the past….”

Read the full letter.

North Coast Journal: “Crash”

The North Coast Journal this week really highlights the safety problem that already exists on Humboldt County’s roadways.  In this sad context, we must note that the Richardson Grove and Highway 197/199 projects will result in an increase in the largest trucks driven on our local roads by out-of-area drivers coming from points all across North America.  In fact, that’s part of the point of these projects–to allow the biggest trucks to carry goods from their distant origins all the way to end points in Humboldt County (or through Humboldt County to endpoints beyond) without switching to a smaller local truck first.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks are only 4% of registered vehicles, but account for 11% of fatal accidents. When a big truck and a car collide, 97% of those who die are car occupants.  The last thing we need on Humboldt County’s roads are more big rigs driven by tired drivers who are not familiar with our area’s steep, winding roads.

From the North Coast Journal:

“…And so goes the steady drumbeat of vehicle fatalities in Humboldt County, which plays on with alarming — if numbing — consistency, leaving a trail of lives both shattered and lost. Statistics show Humboldt has some of the most dangerous roads in the country, with fatal accident rates double the national average and nearly triple those of California. The rates are so high, in fact, that in 2013 Humboldt’s per-capita motor vehicle fatality rate — 20.72 deaths per 100,000 residents — eclipsed that of any state in the country save for Montana (22.6), according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Our rates of vehicle-versus-pedestrian fatalities are also some of the highest in the country. In 2013, the last year for which data is available, California recorded 1.83 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents. Nationally, the rate was 1.34. In Humboldt that year, it was 4.44.

Perhaps worst of all, Humboldt County’s rates in both categories have trended sharply upward over the last decade, while national and state rates have dropped almost 50 percent….”

Read the full article.