Paul Dahan wanted one thing out of the Sept. 15 San Luis Obispo City Council meeting: a traffic light for his busy neighborhood. He didn’t get it.
The vote was 3-2 against the light, which would have allowed pedestrians a legal and secure way to cross Madonna Road at Pereira Drive to get to the Laguna Village shopping center and the neighborhood behind it. Walkers can go 330 feet down to the intersection of Los Osos Valley Road, but many take a shortcut instead. There used to be a crosswalk there, but the city removed it years ago to improve traffic flow at the busy roadway.
“I see people cross there every day, kids you know,” said a weary Dahan at the end of a 51/2-hour meeting that ended long after his normal bedtime.
Dahan, a small man in his early 80s, knows all about the dangers of walking the shortcut. Accidents there nearly killed him. Twice.
“I broke both my legs, broke my back, and suffered a concussion,” Dahan said sheepishly after the meeting.
Others speaking before the council wanted a traffic light for other reasons.
In 2007, the city took away a left turn lane that allowed easy access to the mall for northbound cars on Madonna Road. Business owners say that move made the old shopping center tough to get to, what with all the traffic caused by the opening of Costco and other box store giants moving into the neighborhood.
And then came the police, hunting for customers who tried to enter the shopping center via the now-prohibited left turn lane.
“The police handed out $80,000 worth of traffic tickets,” said Kristie Molina, who owns the shopping center and sunk millions of dollars into improving the place. She worries that with the increase in traffic and the new corporate behemoths in the neighborhood, her life’s work may be doomed.
She even offered to pay for cost of the stoplight.
City traffic engineers opposed the light, it would interfere with the intersection at Los Osos Valley and Madonna roads. The intersection is one of the busiest in the city—traffic grew 11 percent there in the last 2 1/2 years.
The traffic engineers said the best solution was to widen the entrances to the mall and create some new traffic paths to smooth flow. Still, the city didn’t want to put in anything like a crosswalk, which officials said would slow down the traffic flow.
City engineers said a traffic light would “take away flexibility from future changes” to nearby roads. At the previous city council meeting, the members approved major changes for the new Target coming soon at the Prefumo Creek Commons project just down the street. The developers have pledged to pay for those.
After hours of presentations and wrangling, two council members voted for the traffic light: Allen Settle and Mayor Dave Romero.
“That signal will make it safer,” Romero said to a hushed audience, adding that children run across the busy road to go to school. “The staff proposal would not be safe. Old men like me and Paul just can’t walk that far down to the station.”
After the vote, the council voted unanimously to have traffic engineers look more closely at the stoplight proposal and bring it back to them in a few months.
Dahan said the light wouldn’t be just for old men.
“I saw people running across that street today, children after school gets out,” Dahan said.
After the meeting, after everyone else in the audience had left, Dahan slowly walked up to the council members to thank them for listening. Council member Jan Howell Marx smiled at the old man and gave him some advice: Don’t cross the street anymore.
Dahan laughed as the mayor sidled up to them.
“Don’t worry,” Romero said. “He can’t run that fast anymore.”