Officials hope road work, traffic enforcement improves safety

The map provided by the City of Watsonville shows upcoming road projects.

WATSONVILLE — Watsonville has the dubious distinction of being ranked first in the number of pedestrians injured or killed among similar sized cities in the state, according to a 2015 study by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

In 2016, the city experienced 187 traffic-related injuries and four fatalities, according to Watsonville Police Chief David Honda. The numbers dipped in 2017, with 139 injuries and three fatalities.

But with a recent grant and a number of road projects in the pipeline, city officials are optimistic that number will continue to reverse.

Watsonville Police Capt. David Rodriguez said a $75,000 grant the city received from OTS in 2017 allowed police to organize a number of enforcement and education efforts, such as DUI checkpoints, pedestrian decoy operations, bike helmet distributions and more.

Over the past year, motorcycle injuries were reduced by 60 percent, pedestrian injuries dropped 33 percent, and bicyclist collisions saw a 28 percent decrease, according to Rodriguez.

“We feel this is promising being that this is the first time we’ve received this grant in quite some time,” he said.

During the same time period, police issued more than 2,000 citations for traffic violations in the city, according to Rodriguez.

“Citations are looked at as a negative experience, but we like to look at it as another opportunity to not only correct some dangerous behavior, but also educate community members on what they did wrong and what they need to do to correct it,” he said.

The police department received another grant from the OTS this year for $120,000, which will allow police to continue and expand its enforcement and education efforts through next September, he said.

Also ongoing are a number of road safety projects throughout the city to aid police in their efforts.

Public Works Assistant Director Maria Esther Rodriguez said the crews have been working on projects throughout the city funded by Measure D, the 2016 voter-approved half-cent countywide sales tax, and Senate Bill 1, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 that raises funds for transportation projects through a gas tax.

Watsonville is expected to receive more than $750,000 annually from Measure D, and roughly the same amount from the state with SB 1.

However, those state funds could go away if California voters approve Proposition 6 in November, which would repeal SB 1.

For now, SB 1 is helping fund the $1.4 million Airport Boulevard project, where crews are currently reconstructing portions of the roadway and adding new sidewalks from Westgate Drive/Larkin Valley Road to Holm Road, according to Maria Esther Rodriguez.

Measure D, over the past year, has funded such projects as flashing beacon lights at four intersections around the city, and bike and pedestrian safety training at schools, among other projects.

In the spring, the city will begin installing green bike lanes on South Green Valley Road, Bridge Street, Rodriguez Street, Harkins Slough Road and Beach Street, she said.

“This will provide not only designation for cyclists on where to ride, but it provides a really good visual for motorists to identify where bicyclists are going and where they are going to cross,” she said.

Other future projects include signal upgrades, and citywide restriping of the roadways. She added that the notoriously faded striping on South Green Valley Road at Freedom Boulevard will also be repainted in the next couple of weeks.

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