I live just over the fence from the ECHO homeless shelter and across the mall from the Atascadero Bible Church. There is a short portion of the mall that runs from Highway 101 to the entrance to Atascadero High School at Atascadero Avenue.
The sidewalk on the south side of the mall in front of the church and North County Christian School connects the pedestrian tunnel beneath the freeway to the high school. The north side includes a telephone company facility, numerous apartments and single-family dwellings right up to the football field fence, and the ECHO facility. There is a portion of this area where there is no sidewalk and the pathway is blocked by a giant elm tree.
I drive that area many times a day.
Bruce Van Housen lives in one of the apartments in the center of this block. I met his neighbors, Doris, 87, and Harold Siler, 91. They explained the difficulty getting across the mall to either attend church, or in Bruce’s case, get to the pedestrian tunnel and downtown.
Van Housen said he contacted the city months ago about the situation, asking for a pedestrian crossing in the middle of the block, through the raised historic median. He said he never heard back from anyone except one city staffer who said they couldn’t put a crosswalk across the median because of its historic status.
I met with Van Housen and his neighbors. Bruce has cerebral palsy and walks only with the help of crutches. The curbs in this area are extremely high for even an able-bodied person.
So I contacted the city on Bruce’s behalf to see what could be done. I look out the window many mornings to see mothers pushing baby strollers leaving the ECHO center. There is no place for them to get across the street to the pedestrian tunnel without jaywalking.
Initially, City Manager Rachell Ricard told me and Bruce that it is the city’s policy not to put crosswalks in the middle of a block. Traffic experts have determined that such crosswalks actually cause more accidents than they prevent. Bruce counters that the traffic here moves slowly, unlike on El Camino Real.
When the ABC Church is in session or there’s a game at the high school stadium, hundreds of people walk this area. The uneven pathway would be even more difficult at night.
The city told me that the property owner is responsible for the sidewalks. In this case, the property owner is the ABC Church. There is a section of about 100 feet of walkway that is dirt, weeds, the big tree blocking the way and trash receptacles.
The city of Los Angeles recently settled a $1.4 billion class-action lawsuit regarding its responsibility to repair broken sidewalks that impair safe navigation by the handicapped.
I talked to someone at the ABC Church who acknowledged that perhaps they (the church) should do something about removing that non-native tree. That is encouraging.
Just a few days ago, I got a call from the city manager, who said the city has looked at the situation, that there will be a pedestrian crossing installed near the entrance to the ECHO center and across a portion of the restructured historic mall, “as a safe zone.”
That is the good news.
The unbelievable bad news is that design and funding won’t address the problem until late 2016 or 2017. Maybe the city could make it easy for the church to remove the tree and redo the sidewalk while we’re all waiting for the crosswalk project.