Public meeting to discuss safety on South Street

    Community members who signed a South Street safety petition last fall will finally have a chance to meet face-to-face with city and Caltrans officials at a public meeting scheduled for Jan. 31. The event will take place at Hawthorne Elementary School in SLO, from 6-8 p.m.
    Ruth Dawn Griffith says she created the petition in an effort to force the city into action. On Halloween night, an 8-year-old girl was struck by a car and killed in front of Griffith’s home on South and King Streets.
    “We went to the city council and at first they told us they couldn’t do anything because the street belongs to Caltrans,� says Griffith. But she and several neighbors gathered over 800 signatures demanding that something be done to ensure the future safety of school children on this busy street. As things stand, a mile separates the only two crosswalks on South Street.
    Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones says they’ve spent the last few months conducting traffic pattern studies, and they’ll provide those results, as well as a history of the road, and safety specifics related to motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, at Tuesday’s meeting. A question-and-answer period will give the public an opportunity to offer input on future plans for the road.
    “South Street is one of two main east-west arterial roads, so a big issue will be how to maintain traffic but still make it safer for pedestrians,� says Jones. Funding will also need to be taken into consideration.
    Preliminary suggestions by concerned community members range from the installation of streetlights to increase pedestrian visibility, to the addition of stop lights or a pedestrian bridge. Though Jones has said in the past that a pedestrian bridge would exceed Caltrans’ budget, Griffith claims that the federal government would refund about 78% of the cost for building such a structure.
    Jones says the meeting is one step in a lengthy process, and cautions that it’s unlikely that any concrete decisions will be made during the two-hour period. “It’s possible that follow-up meetings will be necessary, and we might even create a committee to come up with future solutions,� he adds.
    Griffith says she and co-petitioner Jason Cooper have already been asked to serve on such a committee, should one be formed. She says she intends to participate to her fullest abilities. “They say that only one person has been killed on this street in so many years, but I say that’s one person too many. And it was a child. It could have been my child. How would you feel if it was yours?�
    Jones encourages anyone interested in the final outcome of the situation to participate in the meeting. For more info, contact Caltrans at 549-3189 or the City of SLO at 781-7203.
                                —Alice Moss

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