In recent years, Kern County has seen the number of pedestrian accidents rise to an alarming rate. In fact, a new study ranks Bakersfield as the seventh deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians.
Between 2008 to 2017, Bakersfield saw a total of 247 pedestrian deaths, bringing the annual pedestrian fatality rate to 2.83 per 100,000 residents, according to the report titled “Dangerous By Design” by Smart Growth America, an advocacy group that studies metropolitan expansion. While the number of pedestrians has only increased by a mere 1 percent during the past decade, Bakersfield saw fatalities of pedestrians rise an alarming 35.4 percent.
“It is crucial that we hold pedestrian safety to the highest degree or these statistics will only continue to get worse,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of motor vehicle accidents, including pedestrians and bicyclists.
Deadliest cities for pedestrians
Bakersfield is the only California city ranked in the top 23 worst cities for pedestrians, according to the study that looked at pedestrian safety in cities of different sizes, density, and rates of walking.
Part of the problem, according to the study, is that road designs continue to be tailored to drivers only, and are not taking pedestrian safety into account. Unnecessarily wide lanes with high speed limits and few sidewalks are also to blame.
Many pedestrian deaths in Bakersfield occurred on Union Avenue and in areas east of Highway 99, according to an interactive map.
“Dangerous by Design” calls upon the federal government to do something about this problem since federal regulations and dollars helped create unsafe conditions to begin with. It calls on U.S. Congress to adopt policies to make it mandatory to consider everyone’s use or our streets, and not only drivers. The report also asks over 1,400 communities to adopt policies to focus on applying ideas to help make a safer reality for all, as well as talking to locally elected officials, and raising awareness for the problem.
Local pedestrian safety
Several local efforts are underway with pedestrian safety in mind.
Walk Kern, a Kern County Public Works Department project devoted to providing safe pedestrian and bicycle paths around Kern County, has completed over 60 pedestrian and bicycle trails including “Walk Rexland,” “Walk Rosamond, and “Walk Lamont” to name a few. Future trails include Walk Belle Terrace, Walk South Chester, and Walk Lake Isabella.
The “Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan” — a partnership with California Department of Transportation — also aims to examine the city’s roadways to determine which are the most dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians and recommend design improvements, including more bike lanes, more signage, and new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic. Improving and creating more crosswalks, and educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road are just some efforts officials hope will help reduce pedestrian deaths.
A $30,000 grant for Bakersfield Police Department from the California Office of Traffic Safety is funding a variety of educational activities like bike rodeos, classroom presentations and community events aimed at teaching youth and adults about traffic rules, rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian and bicyclist.
And the Bakersfield-based injury and accident law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles for years has been doing its part to raise awareness and promote bicycle and pedestrian safety. Noting a lack of lighting throughout Bakersfield at night, the law firm teams up with local bicycle advocacy nonprofit Bike Bakersfield each year to give away hundreds of free bike lights and safety helmets in a project called Project Light up the Night.
How to stay safe
It’s up to pedestrians and drivers alike to make sure everyone gets home safe. Take these safety tips into account no matter if you’re behind the wheel, or taking a stroll:
- Look out for pedestrians, especially in hard-to-see conditions such as at night or in bad weather.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or entering a crosswalk where pedestrians are likely to be.
- Stop at the crosswalk stop line to give drivers in other lanes an opportunity to see and yield to the pedestrians, too.
- Be cautious when backing up; pedestrians, especially young children, can move across your path.
- Be obvious and predictable, crossing at crosswalks or intersections only, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible if there is no sidewalk
- Make eye contact with drivers; never assume a driver sees you
- Look left-right-left before stepping into a crosswalk. Having a green light or the “WALK” signal does not mean that it is safe to cross
- Look for cars baking up, including white backup lights or signs the vehicle is running.
- Don’t dart out between parked cars
- Avoid distractions. Don’t walk and use your phone at the same time
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials at night
- Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, cross at crosswalks or intersections, and obey signs and signals.
- Walk facing traffic, and if there is no sidewalk, walk as far from traffic as possible.
- Pay attention to the traffic moving around you. This is not the time to be texting or talking on a cell phone.
- Make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Never assume a driver sees you.
- Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.
- Look left, right, and then left again before crossing a street.
— Martin Esteves contributed to this report.