It’s just after 4 p.m. on a typical weekday and the streets in Oakdale hustle with the usual afternoon traffic rush. Fridays are the worst due to those departing for outside weekend destinations as rows of cars, RVs, trucks, and even agricultural equipment rumble along city surface streets designated as state highways.
Pedestrians attempt to cross the streets and bikes move along the same routes as several-ton vehicles.
On the surface, the relationship motorists share with bicyclists and pedestrians on the road can often appear like an orchestrated tango on asphalt, but records show minor and major accidents can happen if someone forgets the dance steps.
According to police officials and records obtained from the Oakdale Police Department, it takes only seconds for a normal trip to turn into an accident that could include minor or major injuries, even fatalities.
And often, the accidents are the result of a distracted driver or someone violating traffic laws.
Many of the records tell stories of bicyclists who pedal through stop signs, pedestrians dashing into streets as cars approach, and inattentive motorists failing to yield the right of way.
Even with the recession resulting in less traffic and fewer motorists, there has been a rise in pedestrians and bikes hit by motor vehicles.
With more people walking and bicycling in town, the path of Highways 108 and 120 has become cramped, uncomfortable, and now – at times – even dangerous.
Figures show the city of 20,000-plus has seen a steady rise in pedestrian and bicycle accidents along its roadways from 2010 to now.
In 2010 there were only 19 accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles on Oakdale streets. In just nine months of 2013 that figure has risen to 25.
When debating proposed budget cuts in March 2011, then Police Chief Marty West pointed out that Oakdale was number one in the state in per capita pedestrian accidents and the top 15 percent of injury accidents. West attributed the rise to a drop in traffic enforcement from a department that seen its staffing cut from a healthy 28 officers that included three officers assigned to traffic enforcement.
The department currently only has one officer devoted to traffic duties.
According to Police Chief Lester Jenkins, police are increasing traffic enforcement on certain roadways in the city that have been deemed the most prone to injury accidents.
The dicey stretches include East and West F streets, which compose 16 of the 25 locations of the pedestrian and bike accidents including the roadway where all the major injuries have occurred.
Although the cluster falls within one of the most densely populated parts of the city, the figure is still out of proportion with the number of people living there.
Police regularly conduct crosswalk and jaywalking enforcement in heavily traveled pedestrian areas – usually on F Street near the high school.
“The people crossing the street are really at risk for getting hit,” said Laselda Vigil, a business owner on West F Street. “I see a (high school aged) kid almost get hit every day.”
In the meantime, every new accident reawakens the fear in residents that nothing is being done, but the city says that is not the case.
Leading contributors to the collisions are vehicles not yielding to pedestrians and bicycles not following the rules of the road.
Part of the problem is that drivers and pedestrians are more distracted than ever before, cued in to smartphones and other diversions. The dangerous combination is sparking new safety efforts by Oakdale Police and even the California Highway Patrol.
“When pedestrians step in front of a car – right, wrong or indifferent – the injuries can be significant,” said Oakdale Police Officer Daniel Peters. “Don’t assume the drivers can see you. Bike riders need to ride on the right side of the road and have a light at night.”
As Oakdale moves into its General Plan, there’s been much discussion by city leaders for redesigning many city streets, primarily by designating some routes as shared roadways and by adding bike lanes, shoulders or wide curb lanes to existing roads. Off-road bike paths are also in the plan.
Until the North County Corridor is finished, this may be quite an undertaking for a roadway designated a state highway and the only option for traffic and large commercial vehicles travelling through the city.