BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – It can be dangerous out there on the streets, and not just because of unsavory characters.
Pedestrian vs. vehicle fatalities were at a national 40-year high in 2022 — 7,508 deaths, the most in the U.S. since 1981, when 7,837 were killed walking in or near a roadway, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
And Bakersfield’s Union Avenue contributed more than its share of the carnage.
Between 2010 and 2021, the GHSA says, pedestrian fatalities increased 77 percent nationally, and 2022 saw yet another increase from 2021.
Many factors are at play in such cases, but the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as good lighting and plentiful crosswalks, is significant. As a result, many pedestrians killed last year were struck at night.
That was the case in Kern County as well, especially on Union Avenue, the deadliest street in Kern County over the past two years. In 2023 alone, seven people have been killed on or directly adjacent to Union, including 14-year-old Sandra, a resident of a home for sexually exploited girls, who was hit just before 11 p.m. at the Blade, in the city’s red light district.
Five pedestrians were killed on or near Union Avenue in 2022.
Kern County had 43 pedestrian fatalities through Oct. 17, the vast majority in Bakersfield, putting the county on track to match 2022’s total of 53.
In the next few months Caltrans is expected to launch a comprehensive Union Avenue safety enhancement project to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries from vehicle accidents. The project, commonly known as a “road diet,” is expected to involve reducing the roadway’s number of lanes, cutting vehicle speeds and adding other pedestrian and bicycle safety features. Since the project was announced last year, the boulevard has seen little improvement in the way of safety.