One of the proposed Plaza modifications would block all vehicle traffic on 8th and 9th streets along the square, opening these corridors to events and increased foot traffic. | Photo by Jett Williams

Coalition looks to improve pedestrian safety

New criteria, if adopted, could lead to non-vehicular-focused modifications for the Arcata square

New criteria, if adopted, could lead to pedestrian-focused modifications for Arcata square

Colin Fiske has a vision for a safer, cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly Arcata. Last Thursday the Plaza Improvement Task Force looked into adopting criteria focused on protecting pedestrians and cyclists, bringing Fiske’s vision closer to reality.

Fiske is the executive director and co-founder of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, or CRTP. Fiske said the project started to challenge a move to widen sections of the 101 highway near Richardson Grove that would allow oversized truck access. From there, it grew into a multifaceted coalition focused on advocating for non-vehicular commuters and transportation mode shifting.

“Getting into a car is the most dangerous activity most people do every day, statistically,” Fiske said. “Even if you’re walking, taking the bus or riding a bike, you’re still affected by our landscape which is built for and dominated by cars.”

“We’re in a culture where people are comfortable walking right out into the street without looking first.”

David Miller

Soon, the city will make moves to revitalize the plaza as a more inclusive space, where families can let their kids play freely without worrying about shady people or heavy vehicle traffic. Proposed modifications range from small changes like clearly marked public restroom signs and motion-activated lighting to big overhaul projects, like closing 8th and 9th streets to vehicular traffic.

Police officer David Miller has spent many hours on the plaza as a member of Arcata’s homeless liason and said pedestrians and bicyclists must exert due diligence before entering the roadways, lest they place themselves in danger.

“You probably heard me yelling at two people for jaywalking as you pulled up,” Miller said. “We’re in a culture where people are comfortable walking right out into the street without looking first.”

For pedestrians, jaywalking poses the biggest risk, as it exposes you to vehicle traffic without the protection of an intersection. Many drivers are distracted by cell phones, food or a passenger. This could mean disaster for someone jaywalking.

“I saw a woman on a bike who struck a pedestrian crossing the crosswalk, and ended up with a seven year sentence for vehicular manslaughter after killing the pedestrian.”

David Miller

Miller said that cyclists have an even greater responsibility when commuting, as they must comply and assume all the responsibilities that motor vehicles have according to California Vehicle Code 21200.

“I saw a woman on a bike who struck a pedestrian crossing the crosswalk, and ended up with a seven year sentence for vehicular manslaughter after killing the pedestrian,” Miller said.“For bikes, the fines are the same, the points on your license are the same and the courts don’t offer leniency,” Miller said.

This high stakes environment is what Fiske is trying to change. He envisions a plaza and community where bikes, cars and foot traffic can coexist peacefully. The addition of his criteria to the list was a victory, but the battle is not yet over.

The task force that has been assembled to rate and approve changes to the plaza is conducting a survey of all Arcata residents and community members to see what they want changed in the plaza. Anyone who uses the plaza is encouraged to take the survey, as the results will affect the final decisions of the task force.

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