Monday Morning Thoughts: An Accident a Long Time in the Making

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Second-StLess than ten minutes before the horrific and tragic fatal collision on Second Street and Cantrill Drive, I was headed east on Second by that spot on my way home. It is a route I often take and know well. So, later that evening when I received word about the collision, I was not surprised. If anything, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

To me this was a tragedy waiting to happen because of the confluence of several factors. When I first moved to Davis two decades ago, Second St. seemed more like a frontage road. It was a 45-mph zone along the highway, there were not many businesses and there was rarely any traffic.

But with the proliferation of neighborhoods, the building of Target, and the development some of the tech companies with their employees, Second St. has become far more busy than it was 15 to 20 years ago.

At first I was surprised to learn from the police chief that the average speed on Second St. is only about 46 mph. But that is easily explained in retrospect. There are times when the traffic is moving at a relatively high rate of speed, 50 to 55 mph. Then there will be times when you get caught behind cars that don’t realize the speed limit is 45, and they are going 35 or they slow down looking for their turn rather than using the center turn lane.

The perpetrator in this case, who had just been convicted of another crime and was out on bail awaiting a 13-year sentence, was intoxicated, driving at an excessive speed, and made an illegal passing of another vehicle prior to the collision.

While those specifics make this case unique, the two-lane road and the variable speeds of cars are conducive to some of these problems. I commonly see cars attempt to pass slower vehicles using the center lane, or more often see them whip around slow-turning vehicles into the center lane.

The bigger problem is people making a left turn from either Cantrill or Pena onto eastbound Second Street. Frequently those vehicles misjudge the speed of traffic. The congestion tends to make turning vehicles impatient, and they often attempt to jump the turn, often putting their vehicle in danger of oncoming traffic in hopes that the traffic will slow down and let them in.

Sometimes there are close calls. All it takes is one car that is driving too fast, one driver who is inattentive or intoxicated, and the gamble can turn fatal.

The courts will work out the specifics of this case. However, the bigger issue for the city of Davis is an infrastructure issue.

We have spent a lot of time pushing the city to act on infrastructure repairs to Davis. A lot of that is in the form of pavement repair which is expected to run about $8 million per year in costs, of which we are only funding about half that.

But pavement work is not the end of the story. The city has aging infrastructure. Roads that have grown and changed in use, but have not changed in form.

It took the city years and several grants to do the Fifth Street redesign. Prior to the redesign, Fifth St. was a dangerous road. It was outmoded in terms of its capacity to handle vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. It was slow and inconvenient to drive on. It took years of public pressure and push back to fix it.

This year we have focused on Richards Boulevard. The tunnel has often been the focus of discussion, but the current system of on- and off-ramps off I-80 are problematic and potentially dangerous, as cars, bikes and pedestrians merge into a point of heavy congestion. There are plans for a redesign there as well, moving to a tight-diamond formation.

There is also excessive back up on Cowell to Richards, produced by light sequencing that is ridiculously off-kilter. One day when I was driving from my kid’s school at Montgomery to the westbound on-ramp, I got hit by every single light – every single one. It took ten minutes to drive from Montgomery to the on-ramp and then eight minutes to get from the on-ramp to Woodland.

The incident on Wednesday reminds us that infrastructure is not a luxury, it is a safety issue. With outdated roads and intersections, it is not merely something inconvenient but something dangerous to public safety.

It is not that people did not know the hazards of Second St. – heck, the police station is on Cantrill and the police frequently use that intersection – but rather that we have not had the resources to study and fix these problematic intersections. Lack of resources are a public safety hazard.

And yet the council was once again hesitant to put an infrastructure revenue measure on the ballot. Some were pushing for a parks-only tax, which would have put money towards parks with the hope of freeing some more money for roads. Others wanted to prioritize roads.

The fact of the matter is that we need the money not only to fix the pavement, but to re-examine all of our roadways. The city has changed a lot in the last few decades and sometimes the roads were not designed for the level of use they are now receiving – Second St. and some of the side streets are some of those.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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53 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: An Accident a Long Time in the Making”

  1. Barack Palin

    One day when I was driving from my kids school at Montgomery to the westbound on-ramp, I got hit by every single light – every single one. 

    Davis, where the stop lights will drive you crazy.

    It’s not just Cowell, Covell is just as bad.  I don’t know who sequenced the lights in this town but they didn’t know what they were doing.  Part of the problem is too much attention is paid to side streets.  How many times do you see lights change immediately when one car pulls up on a side street?  Also,   F Street and Anderson stay green for way too long.  Often times I sit on Covell to watch only four or five cars go by while the lights stay green for those streets for what seems like an eternity.  Those are just some examples, but the problem is all over town.

     

    1. Topcat

       I don’t know who sequenced the lights in this town but they didn’t know what they were doing.

      Yes, I have noticed the same problem many places in Davis.  I am frequently in Woodland and I have noticed that the lights there are sequenced much better.  Perhaps Davis should hire the person from Woodland that does the light sequencing; or at least have them come to Davis and teach our Public Works folks here how to do it right.

  2. darelldd

    David –

    Before I can even comment on the content, I have to point out two “words matter” corrections that need to be made:

    1. You did a fine job in the body of the article, yet you couldn’t seem to avoid using the inappropriate word “accident” in the subject line. This thing was no accident. This was a (horrific) crash. STOP using accident. Put an entry in your auto-correct. Whatever you need to do.

    2. “high rate of speed” – This throw-away phrase just grates on me. Using the word “rate” makes it sound all police-official or something. In fact we heard this reported by the police as a “high rate of speed” problem. Rate of speed is meaningless at best, and simply wrong at worst. The phrase you are looking for is “high speed” or “excessive speed.” The driver approached the intersection at high speed. Speed is already a rate. A rate of a rate is an acceleration, so “rate of speed” would technically be an acceleration, I suppose – but written in a way that makes no sense.

    This was not an accident caused by a high rate of speed. This was a crash caused by excessive speed.

    Words matter.

    1. hpierce

      Excessive speed, a driver with a history indicating anger management issues, flagrant disregard for laws in general, an ill-conceived and illegal manuever in the vicinity of an obvious intersection, apparent use of drugs and/or alcohol, and the low sun angle at the time, basically in-line with the driver/perp’s line of sight.

      “Accident”?  Last thing I’d call all this…

      And Dan Wolk and David seem to think there is an engineering design solution to prevent those factors to never result in a fatal crash… if you believe that, please don’t drive… you’re ‘impaired’…

        1. Robb Davis

          hpierce – What would be the downside of well-designed traffic circles at Cantrell and Pena?  Slow traffic, create oblique angles for crashes should they occur (no T-boning). They seem to be the choice for intersection design in many places.  I realize that these are t junctions but still, they seem to work in such cases if drivers are required to turn slightly right then left (vs at the Police Station where west-bound drivers go into the “circle” essentially straight.

        2. hpierce

          Robb…  there is a huge difference between traffic circles and roundabouts.  I’ll try to contact you off-line about that, and the very limiting right-of way (particularly UPRR R/W) and drainage issues.  Traffic circles can work in local neighborhoods as a ‘traffic calming’ deterrent to cut-through traffic, but are damn near useless or hazardous as a traffic control measure, particularly on a high volume street.  Roundabouts, properly used, can be a very effective traffic control measure, and ‘may’ have some side benefits in reducing operating speeds… but not always… if we had a ‘blank slate’, roundabouts would be a valid option… we don’t have a blank slate here… we did in Wildhorse, and to an extent at the intersection of Drummond/Chiles/Cowell where one has been planned, the R/W acquired, and plans prepared.

        3. Robb Davis

          My bad hpierce.  Went through the whole roundabout v circle when I was on the BAC (Drummond).  I meant, roundabout here but also wondered about constraints re: RR right of way.  Still, the street is pretty wide… You are the expert…

          Thanks.

        4. darelldd

          >> So, darelldd… what infrastructure would/could have prevented this tragedy? <<

          I did not say nor intend to imply that there is infrastructure that would have prevented this tragedy (or all crashes, or all injuries, or all deaths, or whatever broad stroke you choose). There are, however, several ways to modify this intersection to lessen the chance of crashes, and reduce the severity of crashes that are inevitable. And you clearly  better versed in these treatments than most citizens, and don’t need me to telly about about them.

          While I am a student of street design, I am no expert. And I believe you are an expert in this area. I’d be thrilled to have a conversation about this particular intersection, or any of the hundreds of other crappy ones we have throughout town. But… I need to see the cards on the table. I don’t relish having conversations with people whose specific expertise and qualifications are unknown to me.

          Cheers,

  3. skeptical

    In this instance it was not the street but one of the users of the street that was the problem.  This particular user (now charged with murder) was a convict released back to society by a “judge” with a history of corruption, destroying families, and damaging and killing people.  Sam McAdam would be behind bars, if we had an honest district attorney.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Sam McAdam would be behind bars, if we had an honest district attorney.”

      That’s over-the-top, the Judge made a judgment call to allow the guy out on bail pending sentencing. Even if it was the wrong call – that’s not a criminal act.

    2. Frankly

      Thank you.   I hate it when some people take a single incident of lawless behavior and make a case for more restrictions on the 99.999% of people that already live safely within the constraints of the existing laws.

      I will say this too.  Davis is a freakin’ difficult place to move around in.   Nothing “flows”.  It is all stop and go with unorganized movement chaos.

      And the mix of older slower drivers, and younger distracted student drivers… more of them from out of the state and country without a clue for how to handle the Davis driving obstacle course… while adding a constant flow of bikes and pedestrians that think they don’t need to obey any laws and can cross where-ever and whenever…. it is a recipe for more frequent accidents and crashes.

      The 5th street road diet is a mess at rush hour.  The buses stop and back up cars for blocks… and it causes a problem with no no break/gap between light changes for traffic to safely cross 5th or turn onto 5th.  I have watched cars from C, D, E and F streets waiting for several minutes, having a car generously stop to allow them to cross, and not seeing the biker or car coming the other way and almost crashing.

      This is just one example of many where traffic does not flow.  It is backed up.  Which is what the bike extremists want.  The problem is frustrated drivers and movement chaos that results in accidents.

      But this tragedy on Second Street was 100% caused by criminal law breaking and not un-safe posted speeds.

      1. darelldd

        >> Which is what the bike extremists want.  The problem is frustrated drivers and movement chaos that results in accidents <<

        Cycling advocates want nothing more than smooth, efficient and safe travel for *everybody* (and note that at least 99% of them also drive cars in this town). And none of these issues results in accidents – including the fatal crash under discussion here.

    3. Jim Frame

      a “judge” with a history of corruption, destroying families, and damaging and killing people.  Sam McAdam would be behind bars, if we had an honest district attorney.

      Those allegations are too extreme to be credible on their own.  I challenge you to support them with facts.

  4. Alan Miller

    Frequently those vehicles misjudge the speed of traffic.

    I might have misjudged the rate of speed of a guy coming at me intoxicated with a car full of un-belted kids and adults and passing on a double-yellow line.  Such a scenario isn’t something that can be accounted for in street safety design.

    True, people pass over the double-yellow.  I’ve done it myself, usually when someone is tooling along at 35mph and it’s 2 miles to Mace.   Again, how do you design for the rudely slow as well as the criminally fast?

    My prediction is we get a stoplight there, which may be a good idea, or not as important as another project with our limited funds. What galls me is when politicians do street-design-by-tragedy, instead of examining and ranking safety issues more objectively.

    1. hpierce

      You never heard of someone ‘running a red light’?  With the givens of the driver, the only difference might be that the true victim would have thought she was “perfectly safe” and have shown even less care than she did.

      This was clearly a criminal act… hard  impossible to ‘stop’ criminals with lights and paint…

      1. Alan Miller

        You never heard of someone ‘running a red light’?

        I have heard of this phenomenon of which you speak.  My point wasn’t whether or not adding a light here was a good idea (indeed some of the other intersections to 2nd may be more deserving — or none at all), but my prediction would be the political reaction would be to add a stoplight here regardless of the merits.

    2. darelldd

      Sadly, all I heard was,

      blah, blah, blah…. “rate of speed” …. blah, blah.

      Come on, Alan! We can do better than this. It’s a speed. A high speed, a low speed. An excessive speed. It is not a rate of speed which is equivalent to the speed of speed.

      1. Alan Miller

        I was just using the same terminology as a foundation to make a point; while I agree about the terminology being lame, it’s nothing to get obsessed over to the point your brain turns to Jell-O.

  5. Ron

    If speed limits (and laws regarding reckless driving) were enforced, there would be fewer (overall) problems.  The police station is on the next block (5th Street).  Why are so many drivers allowed to go so fast, unchecked by enforcement?  (Presumably, tickets should offset the cost of enforcement.)

    Seems like there is much less enforcement than there used to be.  (For example, I-80 is essentially a “free-for-all”, with many drivers routinely traveling 75-80 mph or more.)  I remember when 55 mph was strictly enforced.  Why is it now o.k. to travel whatever speed you choose?

    Of course, it doesn’t appear that traffic enforcement would have helped in this particular case.

  6. Robb Davis

    Just FYI – There are four segments along second street with posted speeds of 45 in the section between Pole Line and near Faraday. The end sections are posted at 35.  The L Street to Pole Line section is posted at 35 but the “critical speed” in that section is 45, meaning that 85% of drivers are going 45 or faster.  The critical speeds in the posted 45 MPH section are 46 and 49 and the critical speed at the east end, near Target, is 37.  What this means is that all but the western-most portion of the street (L to Pole Line) are in compliance meaning that radar detection can be used for enforcement.

    1. MidCentury

      I believe the solution to a future tragedy already exists at the other end of Cantrill Drive; Traffic Circles should be added at Cantrill, Pena, Cousteau, and Faraday. This would have a speed calming effect on Second Street, make it easier for people wanting to enter the eastbound Second Street flow, and dramatically reduce the chance of serious injury accidents.

      It could be done extremely cost effectively without altering the roadway; only barriers and paint would be needed.

  7. Michael Harrington

    This crash was m-u-r-d-e-r.

    And there should be more radar enforcement of the speed limits on 2nd Street.

     

    The other day I was driving the speed limit (45 I think) and some crazy person got pissed off behind me and went tires-smoking careening into the middle lane and around me …. scared my son.

  8. ryankelly

    The only way to fix the street would be to develop it – build medians with left and right turn lanes, add traffic lights at key intersections or 4-way stops, widen the bike lanes with better separation from the car lanes.  This should have been done when Target was approved and side streets were developed to prepare for increased traffic, but the City Council at the time had no vision.   People will be less likely to pass cars on a developed street that feels less like a county road or frontage road.

    1. Alan Miller

      This street was already “developed”.  It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 15+ years or so?, that it was widened and street-lights added, from what was basically a two-line country rode with no shoulders. 

      I remember because I almost plowed into a pedestrian there, and the car behind me hit and killed them.

      1. ryankelly

        It needs to be “developed” more.  Median strips to keep cars from passing other cars, lights or 4 way stops to allow left and right turns, wider and more separation on bike lanes.  Just adding street lights is obviously not enough.

         

        1. Alan Miller

          There are five streets and several major driveways onto 2nd Street.  Do we put a stoplight at each intersection and block the driveways from eastbound turns?  I don’t believe there is a budget for that, and as more businesses have been added, I have not seen improvements on 2nd from development fees.  Do we put in a light only at Catrill, because the wreck happened there, even though it could have happened at any of the intersections?

        2. ryankelly

          How about median strips, so cars don’t pass slower cars.   Most streets don’t have a stop light on every intersection, just a few main ones.  Even one along that street would serve to slow the traffic down.

        3. Miwok

          having a car generously stop to allow them to cross, and not seeing the biker or car coming the other way and almost crashing.

          this is as bad as bicycles riding against traffic, as many do on Fifth and around town.

          Do we put a stoplight at each intersection and block the driveways from eastbound turns?

          Of Course, Alan, at $2mil per light intersection, we just used up one years’ budget for something not even in the list.

          Here is a clue: Do the oldest stuff first and see if it improves the things on the wish list. Even paint is expensive in this town as they can eat up $75K a block without improving pavement at all. Then, of course, they have to tear it all up when they fix the pavement. Twice the cost, because you want to do things out of order.

           

        1. Alan Miller

          Yes.  I don’t remember the date but it was probably late 90’s.  I was driving westbound on 2nd (then Road 32-A), which had no streetlights or shoulders, late evening, maybe a quarter to half mile west of where Target is now.  There was a guy walking west who was about 1/3 of the way into the street, wearing dark clothes, and I swerved and narrowly missed him.

           

          I pulled into the post office a few minutes later, and while driving home saw more police cars headed east down 2nd Street then I thought existed in Davis.  I called the police and asked if someone hit a pedestrian on 2nd and they said yes, and I said “whatever happens, it’s not the driver’s fault, I almost killed the guy myself”.

           

          A few weeks later the family’s lawyer called me.  He said they wanted to know what really happened and I shared my story.  My recollection was that someone told me the guy had mental-health issues, but I can’t swear by that.  I don’t see the death listed in “Tragic Events” on the Davis Wiki.  Does anyone reading remember more about this incident?

        2. Alan Miller

          I should add “the car behind me” was way behind.  When I turned off 2nd, I saw headlights coming around the corner where Target is now, in my review mirror.  I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t hit that guy”.

        3. Frankly

          Wow.  That would be a burden to live with.  I’m sorry.

          This brings up a point that mistakes and bad judgement on the road can cause more damage than just the actual injured or killed.

          About 15 years ago I was at a stop sign waiting to make a right turn.  There was a line of traffic moving left to right.  I noted my opening, looked right to make sure nobody was coming into the crosswalk, and then left and started to make the turn and bumped a runner as he put his hands on my hood and knocked him down. I was lucky having quick reflexes and good peripheral vision so I stopped very quickly.  He was running fast and appeared in the crosswalk after I looked and saw nobody.  He got up quickly and was not hurt but he was pissed.  I let him yell at me until he was done and told him that it was my mistake for not seeing him, but he was almost dead and I would have to live with having killed him, so please be more cautious crossing in-front of a car when running.  He flipped me off as he was starting to run again, but I know I made my point.

          I have never been involved in an accident.  I have never hit anyone else… except that time.  (knocking on wood) I drive like I played sports growing up… seeing the entire field and being extra sure to know where everyone else is and how they are moving.  Yet I made that mistake that day not seeing one of the players and knowing how he was moving.

          And even though in Davis I would have been at fault if he had been hurt, it was the bad choice made by the guy running that day that almost ruined a whole lot of lives.

        4. Alan Miller

          That would be a burden to live with.

          Appreciate the sentiments, but no burden on my part.  I wasn’t the one walking in the road.  I might have felt different had I actually been the one who killed the guy, but hey, person who killed the guy, if you’re out there:  it wasn’t your fault, could have been me.  It wasn’t until later in hind-sight I replayed his behavior and realized it was irrational and maybe I could have stopped the guy behind me, but in a normal circumstance the guy would have got out of the road once a car almost hit him the first time — which is why I don’t think this was a normal acting person in the road.

  9. Michael Harrington

    I think Frankly nailed it: there is a mix of totally different driver demographics.  The other day I was driving home south on F St just about dark after picking Mickey up from after school program … and a loud muscle car got onto my bumper and aggressively followed me south, when I turned into the Coop parking lot to be sure I was in a public place.  The car followed me in there, and slowly passed by, hard looks from the guys ….  Brand new muscle car, loud thumping, filled with young thuggish looking guys … very expensive car.  College students?  I don’t think so, but hard to say.   More of the same out of town thuggish feel of people coming into the downtown?  Definitely.  Blondies is going to be a disaster. Thank you, Brett Lee.

  10. The Pugilist

    There is a level of absurdity in this discussion.  There is a reason why we put controls on intersections.  They don’t eliminate accidents altogether, but they decrease them.

    1. darelldd

      >> They don’t eliminate accidents altogether, but they decrease them. <<

      First, no. Controls will not decrease accidents, though I suppose there’s a chance that proper controls can decrease collisions. Controls are generally employed for traffic efficiency. And if done correctly, they can also increase safety.

      Second… what indication do you have of this obvious “reason” for traffic controls? There are hundreds of examples inappropriate traffic controls all across Davis. Adding random/gratuitous traffic controls at intersections has not show to be effective at increasing safety.

      1. Alan Miller

        Adding random/gratuitous traffic controls at intersections has not show to be effective at increasing safety.

        Such as four-way stops at every downtown intersection.

        And bulb-outs . . .

  11. Ron

    I’m still a reluctant supporter of a commercial-only development for MRIC.  However, if it is approved by voters, traffic will increase substantially on 2nd Street (as well as Mace and Covell, etc.).

    At some point, traffic controls of some type will need to be installed on 2nd Street, to allow drivers from side streets to enter.  (Hopefully, not at every single intersection.)

    Since MRIC will contribute to this problem, it seems that MRIC should also contribute towards a solution.

    Of course, this particular incident was particularly violent and hopefully rare. However, traffic/congestion problems (such as difficulty entering onto 2nd from side streets) are a result of “densification”, and sprawl.  It will become more and more difficult to move around the city, as a result.  (More inefficient/wasteful stop-and-go driving, etc.)  (Does anyone believe that Nishi will “improve” traffic flow?)

  12. Misanthrop

    A few things. I saw someone pulled over yesterday on Second. I assume enforcement is being stepped up. There is a sign notifying people that Cantrell will be closed at night for work starting tonight. I hope they are installing a traffic signal and I hope they put one at Pena too. They might even look at lowering the speed limit.

    It is also interesting that David fails to mention that traffic has increased on Second because of the mess around the tunnel. People get off at Mace and drive in on Second to avoid the daily traffic jams caused by the tunnel on Richards.

    One thing that is bothering me is all the jumping to conclusions about the perp. David even says he was “awaiting a 13 year sentence” instead of facing up to 13 years pending sentencing. A lot of people want to jump to conclusions when we haven’t seen the toxicology results yet. I’m not defending the guy I don’t know enough about the facts but perhaps we should let the process play out before jumping to conclusions based on press reports.

    1. Frankly

      From the Enterprise:

      A review of Hendrix’s court records in Yolo and Sacramento counties shows an extensive adult criminal history dating back to 2002 on charges including vehicle theft, burglary, domestic violence, child abuse, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and various drug-related counts.

      Hendrix received a two-year prison sentence in 2012 after violating the terms of his probation in a felony burglary conviction, court records show.

      He was out by 2015, when West Sacramento police arrested him on suspicion of strangling his girlfriend during two separate arguments in April and June of that year. He was convicted on Feb. 19 of two counts of felony domestic violence as well as a “strike” for the prior burglary conviction.

      Judge Samuel McAdam did not remand Hendrix into custody pending his April 7 sentencing at which he faced a 13-year, eight-month prison term. McAdam, through Yolo court officials, declined to comment Friday, citing restrictions against doing so under the California Code of Judicial Ethics.

      I don’t think anyone is jumping to conclusions having the opinion that this guy is not a good person.

      Even if he wasn’t under the influence, he is obviously guilty of a crime here.

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