BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — On Monday, a woman in a wheelchair was hit and killed while crossing inside the crosswalk on a green light on North Chester Avenue by a vehicle turning right. This is the fourth fatality involving a pedestrian in April and the 15th so far in 2022, according to 17 News’ data.
Fatal crash data from the California Highway Patrol and the Bakersfield Police Department shows there were 144 people killed due to car accidents in 2021; 56 of them involved pedestrians, according to KGET’s data. This includes areas not under the CHP and BPD’s jurisdiction such as municipal police departments besides BPD.
Anecdotally, Robert Pair with BPD said the majority of people he sees involved in pedestrian fatals are those experiencing homelessness and that a rise in homelessness often leads to a rise in pedestrian fatalities.
“The more time you spend on the road as a pedestrian, the higher the likelihood you’ll get hit,” Pair said.
The Point in Time report by the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative reported a slight increase–1.45 percent– in people experiencing homelessness in the Bakersfield metro area in 2022 from 2020 with 45 percent unsheltered. BKRHC said the efforts to shelter those experiencing homelessness is helping get more and more people off the streets.
Pair added that the primary collision factor for pedestrian fatalities is crossing outside of a crosswalk. Pair said he estimates about 1 percent of pedestrian fatalities involving DUIs.
He also said there are certain problem areas that need more attention.
Data from CHP shows 124 pedestrians injured due to 99 accidents. A map of the data shows the majority of pedestrian accidents occurs in east Bakersfield. Data also shows clusters of accidents around Union Avenue, Niles Street, North Chester Avenue in Oildale and Main Street in Lamont.
“Unfortunately that stretch of road way [Union Avenue] is common for pedestrian fatals,” Pair said. “There is a lot of foot traffic there.”
Pair said BPD often conducts jaywalking operations in problem areas like these.
Joseph Conroy with the City of Bakersfield said the city is making various efforts for road improvements around Bakersfield including improving visibility.
“That [visibility] is something the city can control,” Conroy said. “We will at least reduce that factor of pedestrian fatals.”
Projects include lighting crosswalks and installing crosswalk countdown timers. Conroy said he is unsure of any project that will add new crosswalks.
City council member Andrae Gonzalez said the city is working with Caltrans to improve traffic safety along Union Avenue.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Union Avenue is the deadliest roadway in our city,” Gonzalez said. “We think that Caltrans needs to redesign Union Avenue to accommodate all users of the roadway.”
Gonzalez said the plan would narrow travel lanes for vehicles, add bike lanes and improve visibility at intersections. It would also create sidewalk bulb outs, which would allow for shorter travel distance across roadways.
“For example, at 8th Street, there is a marked crosswalk but there is no signal or traffic control to protect pedestrians,” Gonzalez said. “We want to make sure that we have something similar to the HAWK crosswalk at 24th Street.”
Gonzalez said Caltrans is currently working on the design elements and work is set to begin at some point in 2022.
Gonzalez said that for other dangerous roadways that are within county jurisdiction such as Niles Street, adopting a “traffic calming toolkit” for all public works departments to pull from to address traffic issues.
The Kern Council of Government said it is working with a consulting engineering group TJKM to develop a local roads safety plan for Kern County as a prerequisite for Caltrans’ Local Highway Safety Improvement Program. The project will identify local roads (non-state roads) that may have safety issues and developing a plan with treatments for correction those safety issues.
Rob Ball, planning director of Kern COG, said the proposal should be ready by June 30.
Conroy said most of the improvement project are funded by state grants.