Total traffic collisions in San Luis Obispo are at their lowest level since the city started putting out a Traffic Safety Report in 2001, but driving under the influence arrests (DUIs) have increased slightly, a new report shows.
The city released its 2016 version of the report last week, showing collisions have dropped 58 percent since the city started compiling safety information.
Since the program’s inception, total traffic collisions in the city peaked at 1,256 in 2002 and hit a low of 482 in 2016, according to data in the report.
“We’ve been doing this for about 16 years,” said Jake Hudson, the city’s transportation manager, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “It’s a program that we’re very proud of. It has been an incredibly successful program, and we have a good partnership with the Police Department.”
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City transportation staff works closely with the San Luis Obispo Police Department to monitor intersections and streets throughout the city for collision patterns, and then prioritizes infrastructure fixes to increase safety.
One fatality occurred in 2016, however it wasn’t on a city street. A pedestrian was struck and killed by an Amtrak train while listening to music on his earbuds while crossing the railroad tracks on Foothill Boulevard near California Boulevard.
Traffic injury collisions are down 36 percent since 2001, when the city first began putting out traffic safety reports, to 197 cases in 2016. Injury collisions decreased 10 percent from 2015, which saw a total of 220.
Bicycle collisions are down 11 percent from 2015 to 2016 and have fallen 32 percent from peak levels in 2009, when 73 crashes involving bicycles were recorded.
Cyclist Kennedy Love, a 22-year-old Cal Poly student, was killed in August 2017 in a hit-and-run incident while riding on Foothill Boulevard near Ferrini Road. The alleged driver, Gianna Brencola, who was 17 at the time, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and she’s in custody in lieu of $165,000 bail awaiting a pre-trail hearing. That incident will be documented in the city’s 2017 report.
Drunken driving arrests are up
Although collisions are down, arrests for drunken driving have risen in recent years.
The city reported 401 DUI arrests in 2016 compared with 393 in 2015. Those numbers are notably higher than totals from earlier this decade.
For three straight years between 2009 and 2011, DUI arrests in the city were in the 200s. But that information doesn’t necessarily reflect overall driving behavior as it can relate to police resources and how many officers are monitoring city streets.
In recent years, the police department has focused on DUI patrols, particularly during holiday and special event weekends.
Half of the DUI arrests involved drivers who were between 18 and 25 years old and over three-quarters were between the 18 and 35 years old.
“Driving-under-the-influence violations have been a focal point of enforcement in an effort to reduce injury traffic collisions,” the report noted. “Since 1999, the Police Department has averaged 362 DUI arrests each year.”
Traffic citations climbed slightly as well, increasing from a total of 6,162 in 2016 from 5,552 in 2015.
Where the crashes occur
As would be expected, 63 percent of all city collisions take place at intersections, with 70 percent of those occurring at intersections with traffic signals.
“The Highway 1 corridor by Foothill near the Cal Poly campus is a hot spot,” said Matt Crisp, a city transportation planner. “Downtown is another one.”
The intersections with the highest bicycle collision rates were Santa Rosa and Olive, California and Monterey, Foothill and Santa Rosa, Broad and South, and California and the northbound Highway 101 ramps.
Five intersections along Santa Rosa Street were ranked the highest for collisions involving pedestrians over a five-year period. Those included: Santa Rosa and Montalban, Santa Rosa and Walnut, Santa Rosa and Olive, Foothill and Santa Rosa, and Santa Rosa and Monterey streets.
In recent years, green bike lane extensions were installed in three of the locations (Santa Rosa and Olive, California and Monterey, and California and Highway 101) to help prevent collisions.
The city recommends painting crosswalks across Montalban on both sides of Santa Rosa Street to more clearly define pedestrian rights-of-way and where vehicles should stop and wait.
At Santa Rosa and Monterey, “yield to pedestrian” signs were installed in 2011, and flashing yellow arrows were installed in late 2016, among other improvements.
“No pedestrian collisions occurred after the installation of the flashing yellow arrows,” the city reported.
The other three intersections that ranked highest for pedestrians crashes are under state jurisdiction and the report’s information has been sent to Caltrans for further review. Those were Foothill and Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa and Olive and Santa Rosa and Walnut streets.