Doreen and Frank Garrity can see the rush of traffic on Highway 1 from the sidewalk outside their hilltop home.
They and other residents of eastern Half Moon Bay are reminded every day that the two-lane road bisects their lives. Without a traffic signal nearby, and with no sidewalks or pedestrian paths on their side of the road, the Garritys and neighbors have no way to safely navigate chores on foot.
Walking on the highway is “absolutely not allowed” in their household, Doreen Garrity said. To reach downtown shopping, she and her neighbors must cross the highway on foot or walk a stretch of Highway 1 on an unprotected shoulder.
Her neighbor, Pamela Fisher, said many residents prefer to take a detour to a signalized intersection rather than risk the shorter walk.
“I have adult neighbors who will get on a bike and ride a mile north to cross because they refuse to take a left onto the highway,” Fisher said. “You are really taking your life in your hands.”
Twenty-five of the 131 injury accidents on Highway 1 in San Mateo County occurred in Half Moon Bay, according to 2011 data collected by the Transportation Injury Mapping System within the University of California, Berkeley’s, Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. One of these incidents involved a pedestrian and two involved bicyclists. More recent figures were not available.
“We have issues that need to be addressed immediately, on an emergency basis,” said Fisher, who has called on the city to erect a temporary safety barrier for eastside Highway 1 pedestrians.
Half Moon Bay planners have revised the city’s master transportation policy document — known as the Circulation Element — with the goal of creating a “blueprint” for safety efforts and transportation alternatives. They also want to make the city safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The document calls for “complete streets” that emphasize safety features for both drivers and pedestrians. Additionally, it calls for extensions of existing pedestrian trails and the construction of a trail to the east of Highway 1, to connect now-isolated neighborhoods.
Officials said this document sets policy for the city’s transportation planners for at least the next 20 years. City officials say the next step is to find funding, perhaps in the form of grants, to defray costs.
Half Moon Bay has traffic lights at six Highway 1 intersections. An additional two signals with crosswalks have been in the works, as part of a series of measures to make Highway 1 safer for pedestrians.
One of the two proposed intersections, at Terrace Avenue, has been a neighborhood battle for more than a decade. This would be the traffic light closest to the Garrity’s home, yet neither they nor their neighbors expect to see it soon. “No one seems to know” when, or if, the traffic light will be built, Doreen Garrity said.
Debates like these are familiar to Patric Bo Jonsson, one of Half Moon Bay’s volunteer Planning Commission members. They shouldn’t overshadow the main need, which is to update the city’s dated design, he said.
“Half Moon Bay was designed back when walking a city was not a big priority. Using bicycles, walking, and using sidewalks and trails is our highest priority,” Jonsson said. “We know that’s the way of the future.”
For her part, Fisher is concerned civic divisiveness will rear its head again. “Often, nothing happens here until somebody gets sued,” she said. “That’s what we don’t want to happen on Highway 1. Now that we have kids from three neighborhoods walking the highway, we need to come up with a plan and implement it immediately.”
Veterans of highway planning efforts say that while they can be lengthy and contentious, such processes can also produce results. Len Erickson, who lives to the north of Half Moon Bay in El Granada, helped lead a Highway 1 “citizens committee” that advised San Mateo County on safety issues in 2011. “This is a long-haul process. It took 10 years just to put marks in the sand,” he said.
Stuart Grunow, an architect from Half Moon Bay who briefly sat on the Highway 1 committee, agrees, but is optimistic. “Highway 1 is our main street,” he said. “I wouldn’t relegate any of those concerns about pedestrian safety. Now, pedestrians are made to do the most ludicrous things to facilitate the ease of a car.”
Matthew Hansen is a graduate student in the Stanford University Graduate Program in Journalism and covers Half Moon Bay for the Peninsula Press. The article was reprinted from the Peninsula Press, with permission.