Dear California Public Utilities Commissioners:
We the undersigned, enthusiastically support the City of Santa Rosa’s efforts to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) right-of-way at Jennings Avenue. An at-grade crossing at Jennings Avenue will improve public safety and provide a convenient way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the SMART tracks. The people who stand to benefit most from the at-grade crossing include children walking to Helen Lehman Elementary School, as well as people walking to work, shopping and the transit hub located at Coddingtown Mall.
Without an at-grade crossing at Jennings Avenue, residents and students are required to travel approximately 1/2 mile to the north to cross the tracks at Guerneville Road, then approximately 1/2 mile back on the opposite side of the tracks, only to reach their original starting point (opposite side of the tracks) at Jennings Avenue. This means that on average, a person must walk 20 minutes out of his/her way if trying to reach a destination on the opposite side of the tracks at Jennings Avenue, including elementary age students travelling to/from school. This situation presents a significant deterrent to walking and biking for local trips.
It’s important to note that this proposal comes at a time when the Federal Government and the State of California are making great strides to reduce our nation’s carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels, as well as implementing policies and programs intended to encourage active lifestyles and improve public health, not the other way around. The California Public Utilities Commission itself has adopted the vision to “better the lives of all Californians through recognized leadership in innovative communications, energy, transportation, and water policies and regulation.” Among several other benefits, a pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment betters the lives of Californians through improved air quality, decreased traffic congestion, improved public health, and access to affordable and equitable transportation options.
Additionally, while it’s true that at-grade rail crossings do present some inherent risk to pedestrians, the more notable danger to local residents is the crossing of North Dutton Avenue and the fact that cyclists are legally obligated to ride on Guerneville Road, which is a very high volume, high speed, four-lane arterial. People are far more likely to die crossing the street or being struck by a vehicle than crossing train tracks using an at-grade crossing, particularly when active protection is in place to prevent unsafe crossings, including automatic warning devices such as flashing lights, warning tones, and boom gates. Plus, train speeds will be low at the at-grade crossing, as trains will be either be pulling in or leaving the station located only approximately 300 yards to the north.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety, there are on average 20-30 pedestrian fatalities per year in California at at-grade rail crossings. In 2012 (the most recent vehicular crash available data in the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System), there were 702 pedestrians killed on our state’s streets; the total state highway death toll was 2,995. When looking at these comparisons, it becomes apparent that the rail crossing danger is largely perception and that the real danger exists on local high volume, high speed streets.
Furthermore, the at-grade crossing would provide east-west access for emergency vehicles. East-west access across Highway 101 is poor during peak commute hours and existing crossings north and south of the project site (College Avenue and Steele Lane) are the most congested in the City, creating the potential for delay in emergency response. Installation of break-away bollards or similar treatment at Jennings Avenue would allow police, fire and ambulance services to avoid these congested areas and reduce response times.
We fully support the vision of the City of Santa Rosa to construct this much needed project that will provide improved public safety and encourage increased use of active transportation for generations to come. We urge your Commission to grant the City’s application for an at-grade crossing at Jennings Avenue.