After huge fuss, Council orders ‘paint the crosswalk’

Dominic Cefalu leads his wife, their two children, their neighbor and her two children across Wren Avenue at Byers Street after school got out Tuesday at El Roble Elementary. After repaving on Wren Avenue finished in August 2012 the crosswalk at that inte

After City staff defended their reasons to angry residents for removing a heavily trafficked crosswalk on Wren Avenue and Byers Street near El Roble Park for three months, Council told staff to repaint the crosswalk immediately during their regular meeting Monday.

The crosswalk was removed when it was deemed unsafe in August during a major paving project on Wren Avenue from Uvas Park Drive to Mantelli Street. Per Council’s direction, City staff hustled to repaint the crosswalk, and the project had been completed by Thursday.

The City’s earlier decision to remove the crosswalk was based on several studies that say it is more dangerous for pedestrians to cross the street at an uncontrolled crosswalk – one with no blinking lights or push button signal – than with no crosswalk at all.

“The uncontrolled crosswalk gives pedestrians a false sense of safety and causes them to be more bold than if they were to cross the street at their own risk,” Don Dey, city engineer said during Monday’s meeting.

Dey presented a 30-minute report to Council that pulled from studies all over the world that show it’s better to have no crosswalk than a “dangerous” uncontrolled one.

The cost to build a safe crosswalk, Dey said, would be about $80,000 in funds the department didn’t have in their budget.

“I wouldn’t recommend just putting back the crosswalk. If you’re going to put it back, design it so that it truly accommodates the pedestrians,” Dey said.

But not all Council members were convinced.

“You pulled research from Los Angeles, Sweden and all over the world. But what about Gilroy? How many accidents have been right at that spot?” Councilman Dion Bracco said.

“I don’t have those statistics,” Dey said.

Councilman Bob Dillon came out the strongest against staff’s report.

“It’s two painted lines on the street that the residents want, furthermore I think the expert’s opinion that it makes the street less safe is a load of crap. That does not pass the common sense test,” Dillon said. “Colleagues I’m sorry, we need to direct staff to paint two lines on the street by Friday at 5 p.m.”

Council’s decision was spurred by Dominic Cefalu, Gilroy resident and father of two, who was vexed that the City removed his neighborhood crosswalk without warning. After staff didn’t budge in their decision for a month, Cefalu took his concerns to the Oct. 1 council meeting.

“I turned to Council, because I’ve tried to be patient with the City, but I’ve gotten nowhere. I’ve been asking for a safer crosswalk for years, but instead, they said ‘Oh you’re on your own, now you’ll think more when you jump out in the street,’” he said.

During the Nov. 5 meeting, four residents of the neighborhood near Byers Street and Wren Avenue spoke during public comment, asking that the City restore the crosswalk that had been there for more than 30 years.

“Once they removed the crosswalk, cars just don’t slow down as much,” said resident and mother Ginger Hobert.

On a 5-2 vote, Council decided to direct staff to repaint the crosswalk, and told staff later return to Council with a report of how much it would cost to build a safer, more visible crosswalk. Opposing votes came from Councilman Peter Arellano and Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz, who agreed with City staff’s report that said painting two lines on the street is an unsafe option.

Arellano didn’t understand why his colleagues were “looking at these studies like they were a bunch of hogwash.”

“If it requires $80,000 or $100,000 to save one life, it is worth it,” Arellano said. “I want to make this the safest crosswalk that money can buy.”

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