From the Hemet city engineer’s office, to police, and all the way to Caltrans, state and city officials are gearing up to make Hemet driving safer.
■ By Bob Haunschild / Contributed
The tragic accident March 24 in which West Valley High School student Nick Tusant was hit by a truck at Mustang Way and Morgan Hill Road in Hemet while walking to school has raised new concerns about increased traffic and injury accidents in Hemet and the surrounding valley.
Coincidentally, I had been researching the conditions surrounding a series of fatal accidents along State Route 74 near Warren Road close to my home. As I am a regular contributor to The Valley Chronicle, I decided to look into what the city and state are doing to mitigate some of the dangers on our roads and highways that may be contributing to these accidents.
My first stop was with Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown, who outlined solutions the police department is working on to help with traffic enforcement.
Diminished Police Force
As we all know, law enforcement in Hemet has been diminished over the last decade so there are more violators than the police can keep track of and cite or arrest. Without enforcement, there is no impact on behavior.
To the average Hemet citizen, this in-your-face behavior 24/7 is particularly stressful. What we do not see are the crimes occurring at the same time that are even more disturbing, such as stabbings, shootings, home invasions, rapes, break-ins, thefts, kidnappings and sex trafficking.
There are solutions coming our way, however, according to Chief Brown. Over the next four years, Hemet will hire 40 additional police officers. Half of these will be experienced lateral transfers, and half will be new recruits fresh from the academy. While there have been a number of officers leaving the department, Brown believes Hemet can meet its goal because most of those officers eligible for retirement have already done so.
The additional police will have a noticeable impact on the more observable traffic offenses such as speeding, jaywalking and busting red lights, all of which result in heightened dangers to citizens and untold injuries. The city, however, is blessed already to have more than 70 civic-minded volunteers who currently help the department.
Brown also is considering recommending that the city adopt traffic cams. “It may be advisable to consider more camera usage in high traffic and accident locations,” says Brown. According to traffic studies conducted in Sweden, posting signs saying, “CAMERAS IN USE” has a large impact on reducing traffic fatalities.
My next stop was at the Hemet offices of newly hired City Engineer Derek Wieske and Principal Engineer Nino Abad. We discussed the intersection of Mustang Way and Morgan Hill Road, where Tusant was hit, and which has also been the site of numerous other traffic accidents and near misses.
Wieske and Abad said there are a number of design changes that could be considered to make the intersection safer, but a proposal would need to go to the city’s Traffic Commission. Such changes are never inexpensive, and it’s a question of how much the public wants the upgrades and where will the money come from.
There could be grant funds available for such improvements, they said, but someone would have to spearhead the project through the many hurdles involved. Wieske, who has been on the job only a few weeks, sounded concerned and said he would look into the matter with an eye toward helping prevent any other students from suffering the same fate as Tusant. The city earlier had installed a set of flashing lights at the intersection, but they reportedly have to be triggered manually by the pedestrian.
The additional police will have a noticeable impact on the more observable traffic offenses such as speeding, jaywalking, and busting red lights…”
State Route 74 and Warren Road
The intersection of State Route 74 and the Four Seasons entrance to Warren Road has been the site of no fewer than five fatal accidents in recent years. Because of this carnage, Caltrans District 8 has decided to “conduct a study of the location to address the possible need for striping, signal lighting and other improvements that may be warranted,” according to Terri Kasinga, public and media affairs director for Caltrans District 8. The district also may include a speed study in its investigation, and the CHP and Riverside Sheriff’s office will be contacted about possibly increasing enforcement.
John C. Bulinski, Caltrans District 8 director, noted that there are plans to add “a four-foot painted barrier at the Four Seasons intersection so the eastbound traffic coming into that community has an additional safety barrier from the traffic flowing into Hemet.”
Bulinski said work to complete the barrier will begin in the next few months, and by 2020, Caltrans is planning on installing a “raised curb” on State Route 74 between Interstate 215 and the outskirts of Hemet.
“The project will calm traffic and mitigate crossover collisions,” said Bulinski. Such raised curbs have been installed on other sections of state highways, he said, and is expected to “improve safety and driver behavior.”
Traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities are a worldwide problem. One project begun in Sweden nearly two decades ago has had a positive effect in reducing accidents. Called Vision Zero, it has resulted in a 40 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in Sweden, and project features are beginning to catch on in the U.S.
Human factors cause more than 90 percent of accidents. Speed kills, so speeding tickets and traffic enforcement have been the traditional way of controlling accidents. The Swedes decided that approach had reached its maximum results and that a new approach was needed.
Enter Vision Zero, which focused on those who design roads and intersections as a way to manage drivers and control speeds. Matts-Ake Belin, PhD, is the architect of the original Vision Zero, which now is being adopted by Los Angeles and San Diego and is under consideration by Santa Monica, Long Beach and Santa Barbara.
Among one of the most effective modifications to Sweden’s highways that dramatically reduced traffic fatalities was to install a strong median barrier. Heavy use of the “CAMERAS-IN-USE” signs also seems to have a significant impact on accidents in Sweden.
Clearly better designed roads lead to fewer accidents. Hopefully, Hemet will incorporate street and highway modifications into its future plans to reduce injury crashes. We will have a stronger, more populated police department to improve enforcement. Caltrans is stepping up to actively invest in our community. A new city engineer, who generously took the time to meet with this writer, will consider suggestions for intersection improvements. Mayor Linda Krupa says she will look into the improvements so successful in Sweden.
We all want to avoid the types of unnecessary accidents that put Nick Tusant in the hospital. Doing something about it will be a team effort, and personal driver responsibility can’t be underestimated.