Is it a main street or a highway? Sometimes it’s both.
Last year, Cal Walks worked with the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency and local partners to conduct walking assessments at two schools in the rural communities of Waterford and Empire. At Empire Elementary School and Lucille Whitehead and Richard Moon Elementary Schools in Waterford, parents shared repeatedly their concerns with children having to walk along and across Yosemite Boulevard. Parents shared horror stories of high speed traffic and near misses on Yosemite Boulevard when drivers failed to yield to children and parents attempting to cross or when drivers traveled too close for comfort where there are no sidewalks. The Waterford School District representative noted that children must walk along the shoulder and that adding a sidewalk and crossing improvements would help children navigate along and across the state highway. There is little understanding, however, of how to accomplish this given issues with right-of-way and operation of the highway.
You might be asking why are drivers traveling at such high speeds on a road near schools? Or what kind of approval would even be needed to make changes to a local street? Well, that’s because Yosemite Boulevard is also California State Route 132 (CA-132), owned and operated by Caltrans. So while Yosemite Boulevard is a Main Street that serves as a school route for Waterford and Empire children, the state has designated this route as a highway for commuters to get to the Bay Area from Modesto and other neighboring towns. What this means in practice is that any safety improvements or maintenance duties must be reviewed, approved, and in many cases, carried out by Caltrans. Unfortunately, internal teams at Caltrans responsible for these streets often prioritize roadway “efficiency” over the safety of some our most vulnerable residents and children.
But this is not an isolated incident. In fact, Caltrans owns hundreds of streets across the state that function as local streets and in many places Main Street. That is why, Cal Walks—along with our partners California Bicycle Coalition, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and the American Heart Association—are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 127 (Senator Wiener, District 11) to ensure that Caltrans is planning for and implementing projects that make it safer for residents to walk and bike on state highways that function as local streets. The bill also requires that Caltrans include local stakeholders in the project teams that plan each project in order to ensure that Caltrans team members understand the local context and community mobility needs. This would ensure that local stakeholders, like parents and school officials from Waterford and Empire, are included when an engineer in Stockton—an urban city 45 miles away—makes decisions on whether or not Yosemite Boulevard (CA-132) will get sidewalks or improved crossings. SB 127 will help keep all residents safe whether navigating their morning commute or walking to school with their children.