The city’s plan to remove a tree at the intersection of D and Taylor streets has many neighbors wondering if the nearby crosswalk should be removed.
City officials are preparing to remove the tree to install a curb ramp that will allow for all of D Street to be repaved. The plan, which was approved by the City Council in September, caused a stir with Gerstle Park neighbors, who oppose the removal of the tree and question the crosswalk’s safety at the T-shaped intersection.
“By leaving the crosswalk there, the city is luring more pedestrians to cross and is endorsing this as a safe crosswalk,” said Mike Hass, who lives close to the crosswalk and is a critic of the city’s plan.
In a preliminary study, city staff found that an average of 11,050 cars travel on D Street in one weekday, while the number of pedestrians at the peak hour was nine. Many of the pedestrians who use the crosswalk are school children on their way to Davidson Middle School or Short Elementary, as well as mothers pushing strollers and the elderly. In the past 20 years, no pedestrian vehicle collisions have occurred at the intersection, according to Leslie Blomquist, associate civil engineer for the city.
Many Gerstle Park neighbors are saying that the intersection at Bayview and D streets 174 feet south of the Taylor Street location is a safer alternative. That two-way intersection is controlled by traffic signals and is more accessible for people with disabilities, according to the Gerstle Park Neighborhood Association.
“The intersection at Taylor is an intersection to nowhere, as it is in the middle of the block on the west side,” the GPNA Board of Directors stated in a resolution against the tree removal.
Pedestrian volume, average daily traffic, the approaching speeds of cars and the distance to nearby controlled crosswalks were all factors in the decision to remove the Third and Cijos Street intersection in 2011.
“When driver cross the Bayview intersection, they don’t expect for a pedestrian to pop up in front of them several feet after that,” Hass said.
Despite the arguments for removal or relocation, the city decided to keep the crosswalk due to its 25-year history. Even if the white paint was removed, it would still be considered a crosswalk by federal regulations, according to Blomquist.
“The crosswalk still exists whether the white paint is there or not,” she said. “By keeping the crosswalk, we are increasing the awareness and safety for pedestrians.”
In 2009, San Rafael received approximately $1 million in federal funding to resurface and repave roadways. Federal regulations require cities to install curb ramps–inclines near street corners usually highlighted with yellow paint–to make sidewalks more accessible for people in wheelchairs and walkers. These ramps must be installed before street paving can begin.
The last time D Street was repaved was in 1999, and repaving is needed soon due to the street’s high traffic. Councilman Andrew McCullough said the choices were between removing the crosswalk and losing the federal funds for the repaving or keeping a potentially unsafe crosswalk. “It seems like both options are negative,” he said.
When city staff inspected the Taylor Street area, they noticed that the tree’s roots had broken up parts of the sidewalk and caused damage to the curb, gutter and sewer line that runs at the base of the tree.
While originally two trees were scheduled to be removed, the city will only be removing one tree for the curb ramp installation. The other will have to be addressed some time in the future, according to San Rafael Public Works Director Nader Mansourian.
“We are not advocating for the tree removal,” he said at a September council meeting. “We are just pointing to the facts.”
The tree is expected to be removed some time in the next four weeks for construction to begin.
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