Street smarts: Cities' campaign offers friendly advice

By Jim Staats
Marin IJ, March 20, 2008

Bike crossingJoe Kitterman of Mill Valley can understand why the intersection of East Blithedale Avenue and Lomita Drive is considered dangerous.

"I saw one episode where a woman on a bike was almost run over by someone who just didn't even stop for a stop sign," said Kitterman of an incident about two weeks ago. He crosses the same intersection on his bike about three times a week.

In response to such incidents, Kitterman and other residents of Mill Valley, Corte Madera and Larkspur can expect a blitz of light-hearted traffic reminders popping up in the near future.

Those regions will serve as pilot cities for the "Street Smarts" traffic education program that the Transit Authority of Marin hopes to roll out countywide. Banners, posters and signs offering messages of caution for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are slated to appear in late summer.

"Think 'Get Ready' with considerably more messages," said Deborah Cole, of transportation consulting firm Parisi Associates, referring to the bright yellow signs of the "Get Ready Marin" disaster training program.

The Transportation Authority purchased licensing rights to the campaign, which melds bold messages over a blue-sky background, for $2,000 from the city of San Jose, which began the program in 2001. The traffic campaign has also been used in Santa Rosa and parts of Contra Costa County, said Eric Schatmeier, the county agency's planning manager.

Crossing SignalSchatmeier said the $100,000 countywide "Street Smarts" deployment is being initiated through the $20 million in federal funding received by Marin as one of four nationwide communities selected for a nonmotorized transportation pilot program.

"We want to make sure the strategies we're following and message we put out there have some impact," said Schatmeier, explaining the three-city pilot. Financing is also coming from Measure A sales tax revenue earmarked for the Safe Routes to School program.

Schatmeier said city selection was based on ability to devote resources to the program rather than high levels of traffic issues.

In a presentation to the Mill Valley City Council this week, Cole, whose Mill Valley firm has been contracted by the Transit Authority, said the campaign infuses levity to lighten the tone.

"The idea was to approach this very serious topic in a somewhat light manner," she said.

Campaign phrases include "Add Years to Your Life, Use the Cross Walk," and "Spandex Isn't Armor, Exercise Caution."

Presentations before the Corte Madera and Larkspur councils will be in the coming months.

Issues being addressed include speeding, traffic signal violations, right-of-way violations, distracted driving and bicycle safety. Signs, expected to be up for six-week to two-month periods, will target "hot spot" sections for infractions, based on accident and citation data, and school areas.

Marin ranks among the highest in traffic fatalities and injuries caused by speed as well as incidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians, according to a statewide county comparison by the state Office of Traffic Safety. The county's 517 traffic injuries due to speed-related incidents in 2006 is ninth highest among the state's 58 counties, based on population figures.

"Speed is going to be one of the primary (issues), along with pedestrian and bicycle safety," said Twin Cities police Sgt. Sean Smith. "In just about every jurisdiction, speed is going to be one of the leading causes of accidents, and it can spill over into your pedestrian problems."

Jill Barnes, Mill Valley senior civil engineer, said problems such as jaywalking do not always show up in citation statistics.

"It's a combination of the five bad behaviors plus the overriding distracted driving that tends to lead to the other violations," she said.

Debra Sue Johnson, Corte Madera's public works manager, said all issues are equally evident in the town.

"Our goal is public outreach and education," she said. "We're just hoping to carry that through in our pilot."

Hamid Shamsapour of Larkspur's public works department is pleased the program addresses all modes of transportation and hopes it will have a lasting impact.

"My ultimate goal is once this education part takes hold, kids get educated on it," he said. "The goal is to have one small police officer in every vehicle. They remind their parents and become good drivers themselves in the future."

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