DINUBA – After a man died while walking his granddaughter home from school last month, pedestrian safety has been on the minds of Dinuba residents; yet Dinuba is one of the safest communities within the region when it comes to vehicle-to-pedestrian safety.
Between 2017 and 2020, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) reported a single instance of a pedestrian being killed or injured from a car crash within the city of Dinuba. That’s not to say that residents don’t have reason to be concerned; however, Dinuba city staff and council members continuously work to ensure pedestrian safety is a top priority as the city continues to grow.
“We’ve had way too many unfortunate accidents, and it’s not because the city is not trying to do everything we can,” Councilmember Linda Launer, who represents district 5, said. “We try to anticipate, but the community plays an extreme role in pedestrian safety — they’ve got to slow down.”
There are multiple strategies a city can deploy to increase safety for its pedestrians, including implementing specific roadway design elements, evaluating high-traffic areas for safety and following guidelines from state and federal traffic agencies.
Jason Watts, an engineer with the city, said some elements of roadway design that the city can implement to increase pedestrian safety include roundabouts, high visibility crosswalks and raised median islands with pedestrian islands in the middle. Cities can also use road diets — which is the reconfiguration of a road to have narrower or fewer travel lanes — and curb bulb-outs that reduce the space a pedestrian needs to cross and force drivers to slow down when turning.
These considerations are known as traffic “calming” techniques, and in addition to evaluating existing areas that are of concern to residents, the city evaluates how it can implement these measures when building new housing subdivisions, schools, commercial developments and other public spaces.
Launer said the city council always considers how safe an area can be for pedestrians when approving new developments. The city looks at calming pathways, the length of neighborhood streets and the width of roads, because wider roads make drivers more comfortable and tend to encourage speeding, Launer said.
This type of work can include requiring developers to include traffic calming measures in their plans, working with the city’s engineering and public works departments to study traffic patterns in a given area and speaking with residents in neighboring developments about any safety concerns they may have.
“It’s a combination of everybody trying to do what they can to limit the dangers,” Launer said.
Traffic safety rankings
OTS has rankings for counties and incorporated cities across the state that show the number of fatalities and injuries caused by vehicular crashes across different categories, such as crashes involving pedestrians, bicyclists or alcohol. Developed to help a jurisdiction identify where they may have safety concerns, the rankings also show how areas compare to others of similar size.
The rankings are based on the Empirical Bayesian Ranking Method, according to the OTS website, which “adds weights to different statistical categories including observed crash counts, population and vehicle miles traveled.” Population and vehicle miles traveled show traffic exposure factors that impact crash occurrence and crash count numbers reflect “all influential factors containing even the unrecognized or unmeasurable” factors.
County rankings are positioned against counties across the state, while city rankings are positioned against other cities within groups based on population. Dinuba has been within two groups as its population data has fluctuated between less or more than 25,000 people: group “E,” which includes 101 cities with populations of 10,001-25,000, and group “D,” which includes 94 cities with populations of 25,001-50,000.
Rankings are ordered from worst/highest number of crashes to best/lowest number of crashes, so a city that is number one has more instances of fatalities or injuries from crashes than a city that is number 50.
OTS is careful to note that rankings are only indicators of possible problems and “there are many factors that may either understate or overstate a city/county ranking that must be evaluated based on local circumstances.”
Additionally, city rankings only include crashes that occurred on local streets within the city and state highways that run through the city with shared jurisdiction between the state and the city, not freeway or highway crashes where cities do not have jurisdiction.
It is also important to note that the most recent data on the OTS ranking dashboard is from 2020.
For overall fatalities and injuries caused by crashes, Tulare County’s ranking has been in the middle ground of all counties since 2017 and rose in 2019 and 2020. In 2017, Tulare County was ranked 33 out of 58; in 2018, 34 out of 58; in 2019, 25 out of 58; and in 2020, 22 out of 58.
Compared to the county’s rankings, the city of Dinuba is one of the highest ranking cities of its size in overall fatality and injury-causing crashes, meaning it had the fewest compared to other small cities. In 2017, it was ranked 101 out of 101 group E cities; in 2018, 94 out of 97 group D cities; in 2019, 94 out of 94 group D cities; and in 2020, 98 out of 103 group E cities.
When judging these rankings against smaller group E cities in Tulare County, such as Farmersville and Exeter, Dinuba looks to be much safer. In the years where Dinuba was also in group E, Farmersville had a total of 29 fatality or injury-causing crashes, putting it at rank 23 out of 101 in 2017, and in 2020 it had a total of 16 crashes, putting it at rank 46 out of 103.
Further, when judging the rankings against Reedley and Sanger — similarly-sized cities within the area but in a different county — Dinuba has significantly better scores.
In group D between 2017 and 2019 and group E in 2020, Reedley was ranked as 71 out of 94 in 2017; 49 out of 97 in 2018; 46 out of 94 in 2019; and 55 out of 103 in 2020.
In group D for all four years, Sanger was ranked as 26 out of 94 in 2017 with 71 fatality or injury-causing crashes; 32 out of 97 in 2018; 20 out of 94 in 2019; and 31 out of 91 in 2020.
A continuing priority
As the city council continues to place an emphasis on pedestrian safety through development approval processes, residents are also able to go to their council members with concerns about specific areas, and the city can study an area to see what can be done about safety in that location.
Watts said that while the city can choose to place a crosswalk at any point, new stop signs and adjusted speed limits require longer processes. He said that to install a new stop sign, the city has to conduct a stop warrant analysis, which follows the requirements from the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
“If the analysis says it is not required, the city cannot install a stop sign,” Watts said.
For speed limit changes, an Engineer Traffic Survey (ETS) must be performed, after which a civil engineer will complete an analysis based on the California Vehicle Code and propose a speed limit to the city. The city engineer then has to take that proposed change to the city council for acceptance.
Watts said the city places crosswalks at roundabouts, school crossings, stop sign and signal controlled intersections, areas of concentrated pedestrian traffic and where pedestrian accidents are occurring. The city follows recommendations from the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Transportation and uses research analysis that shows which pedestrian crossing features are the best for a specific area.
Crosswalks come in many different designs, with simple painted stripes, flashing lights on crosswalk signs and full stop lights. As more involved crossings cost more, these materials are generally funded through grants the city applies for, while small pedestrian enhancements can be covered through local funds, Watts said.
“On the high end, an overhead traffic signal can cost approximately $350,000, while installation of just signs can cost approximately $5,000,” Watts said.
For Launer, while the city does everything it can to ensure pedestrians have safe passage throughout Dinuba, youth and adult drivers need to be properly licensed, know the rules of the road and be vigilant at all times.
“People go about their business and they forget that we have pedestrians in the street,” Launer said. “It’s a two part thing. The city is trying to provide the best signaling … (and) a variety of different measures to bring awareness, but it’s going to take our community to do their part, too.”