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Watsonville
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November 30, 2021

City, district pass plan for street improvements

WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved the Safe Routes to Schools plan, a 472-page document that outlines numerous potential pedestrian and traffic safety projects at 15 Watsonville schools.

Also known as the Complete Streets to School Planning Project, the plan outlines infrastructure improvements such as bike and pedestrian paths, crosswalks and traffic calming. It also suggests bike and pedestrian safety education programs.

See part one of the plan at bit.ly/2Tkvh2q, and part two at bit.ly/32wENnj. Both are large documents and take several minutes to load.

Perhaps most significant for PVUSD is a bike and pedestrian bridge crossing Highway 1 at Harkins Slough Road for students traveling to Pajaro Valley High School. The congested road leading to the high school has been a sore spot for parents, students and drivers since the school was built. Hordes of students regularly spill into the narrow bike lane and onto the road before and after school.

Pajaro Valley sophomore Vince Vasquez said the current situation has led to some “unsafe” moments.

“When it’s crowded, and you’re in a hurry, you have to walk around crowds and walk into the street,” Vasquez said.

He was walking with three classmates on Wednesday. The sidewalk that leads to and from the school was not wide enough for the quartet to safely walk shoulder-to-shoulder.

Vasquez said he lives roughly four miles up Green Valley Road. He said the Main Street and Green Valley Road intersection is also a dangerous spot for students after school, as many vehicles try to make right turns while students use the crosswalks. Because of that, many parents fight the traffic to pick up their kids at school or the streets surrounding the Green Valley Cinema.

“Parents want to avoid the traffic [at the school] because it gets really cluttered in there,” he said. 

If the city secures funding for that project, construction could begin in 2022.

The plan allows the City of Watsonville and district to prioritize future projects and assists with securing project funding. It includes existing conditions within Watsonville, a list of citywide recommendations, data for each school site and a list of recommendations for each school.

Construction will begin later this year for pedestrian safety improvements on Lincoln Streets between Beach Street and Riverside Drive, Watsonville Principal Engineer Murray Fontes said.

The City has installed green bike lanes throughout its streets and plans to install a flashing beacon on Beach Street near Marchant Street to aid people crossing the street there. 

But most of the projects in the plan are not yet funded. Instead, the document is meant as a roadmap for future planning efforts.

“This plan is meant as a high-level, long-term planning document, and really as a resource for the district so that as you implement projects in the future you can have a resource and some suggestions of possible improvements,” said Amelia Conlen, a planner with Santa Cruz-based Ecology Action. 

That organization contributed to the plan, along with PVUSD and the City.

The plan passed unanimously, with Trustee Jennifer Schacher absent. 

“Watsonville, for the size of the community we have, has far too many deaths associated with vehicular accidents,” Trustee Kim DeSerpa said. “Anything we can do to make sure everyone is safer, and in particular children, it’s something we can all get behind.”

Trustee Georgia Acosta noted numerous serious traffic collisions that have occurred in Watsonville recently.

“We all want to see improvements, in particular in the city limits of Watsonville,” she said. 

These Watsonville High School students cross East Lake Avenue as a car speeds through the crosswalk on Tuesday afternoon. — Tony Nunez/The Pajaronian

The City Council on Tuesday also unanimously approved the plan.

The pedestrian bridge for Pajaro Valley was a topic that drew the Council’s interest. Fontes said the City has twice applied for an Active Transportation Program grant to fund the project but has come up short both times.

During the last go-around, the City tied for first with four other agencies, but the eventual grant recipient was further along in the planning process than Watsonville and the other finalists, Fontes said.

“The one that got the money was the one that was ready to build,” Fontes said. “We’ve sharpened our pencils, put on our thinking caps, found more partners and we’re going for it a third time. Hopefully, it’s a charm.”

The $12 million project would require approval from the City, as well as County of Santa Cruz and Caltrans, which is spearheading the design, Fontes said.

Improving its streets has been a top priority for Watsonville since landing near the bottom of the state in pedestrian safety for cities its size in a recent report by the Community Traffic Safety Coalition.

Along with the Safe Routes to School Plan, the Council also took action on two other street-improvement plans on Tuesday: the Downtown Complete Street Plan and the Safe Streets Save Lives-Vision Zero Action Plan.

The Safe Routes to School Plan is primarily funded through a $321,280 Caltrans Sustainable Communities Transportation Planning grant, which received Council approval in 2018.

City staff updated the Council in November of last year and then moved ahead on the final plan.

Parents of students who attend school in the downtown area banded together in a recent petition that gathered more than 500 signatures. Maura Carrasco-Leonor, a mother of a 14-year-old at Ceiba College Prep Academy, presented the petition at Tuesday’s meeting and demanded the City make drastic safety improvements to various streets.

“We want our kids to come home safe,” she said.

Editor’s note: Tony Nuñez contributed to this report.

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