By Maria Herd
Special to the Herald
Growing up in Benicia, I was never allowed to play in my front yard even though it is considered to be a “safe” town. I played in the front yards of friends’ houses nearby, racing on bikes and scooters in courts and on the suburban streets. The difference between their houses and mine was that my house is on what my parents called a “busy” street. But it’s not just that Hastings Drive is busy, it’s dangerous because of how fast people speed up and down the hill.
One morning on my way to middle school, I saw a skateboarder get hit by a car in front of my house. The boy’s body lying motionless on the pavement and my neighbor screaming in her pajamas as she called 911 will forever be etched in my mind. The boy was airlifted by a helicopter and survived the accident.
In high school, my mom and some of our neighbors requested the city to put in a stop sign at Hastings and London Drive for over a year. After completing a traffic calming study, the city deemed it appropriate to make some improvements but said that a stop sign was unnecessary. They added a crosswalk by London Drive, upgraded traffic signs to be fluorescent and painted white lines on both sides of the street to psychologically make drivers slow down.
Well, the lines didn’t work.
In 2012, a caregiver who had been working too many night shifts fell asleep while driving up Hastings in the middle of the day, totaling my car parked in front of my house. While the bottom line is that no one was hurt in the accident, I was pretty bummed about the sad ending to my first car.
Fast forward four years later, I heard a crash out front one night, then what sounded like a truck reversing and driving away. I peaked out the window to see that my 2009 CRV, which I just purchased earlier that year, was smashed in the street. Not only was my car damaged, but the driver had clearly driven through our front yard, swiped the lamp post and took out our mailbox.
Two cars in four years, both totaled while parked in front of my house in a “safe” town. Kudos to Benicia PD for finding the hit-and-run driver. No one was hurt and I have a new car now, but Hastings Drive is still unsafe. My neighbors have also had their cars, boats and mailboxes hit by speeding drivers over the years.
According to a traffic collision report from the Benicia Police Department, there have been dozens of accidents in this area over the last few decades. Between 1994 and February of this year, there were 25 traffic collisions at the intersection of Southampton and Hastings Drive. Continuing up Hastings, where the street meets Mills Drive as well as Devonshire Drive, there were five traffic collisions at each intersection. At the London Drive intersection, there were 11 traffic collisions in total from 1997-2013. Furthermore, on the stretch of Hastings leading up to Capitol Drive, there have been 15 traffic collisions over the years.
However, I question the accuracy of these statistics. Because they are not very descriptive, it is unclear if my first totaled car or if the boy who was hit on his skateboard are listed. Overall, the report says that a total of 61 traffic collisions were recorded in the half mile stretch of Hastings Drive connecting Southampton to Capitol. About one in every three of those collisions resulted in an injury.
Anyone who has dropped off or picked up kids from school in this town has witnessed the high volume of traffic at peak hours. Hastings Drive connects many residents to Joe Henderson Elementary School, Benicia Middle School and Benicia High School. I believe the intersection of Hastings Drive and Southampton Road actually needs a stoplight. But today’s battle is a stop sign, and maybe we can have a stop light one day down the road…
What actually makes the city’s dismissal of a stop sign even more frustrating, is that there are pointless stop signs all over town. For example, at Bristol Court on Hastings Drive there is a stop sign. In my nearly 24 years in this world, I have never seen a reason to stop at Bristol Court.
In addition to the school traffic, there is also a surplus of pedestrians heading to the Benicia State Park from Hastings Drive. I’ve been running at the park and walking my dogs there for years, and I often see joggers and dog walkers going in the same direction.
My final argument toward the need for cars to slow down is for the wildlife in the area. I frequently see deer and turkeys in the open space near the street. We also have possums, raccoons and skunks that frequently turn into roadkill.
City officials against the stop sign have proposed putting up a roundabout or a speed bump instead. Both proposals sound overcomplicated in comparison to a pole with a red octagon and four letters that would actually force drivers to slow all the way down. However, if more Benicians would prefer a speed bump to a stop sign, I’m all for whatever makes our street safer.
Even if you do not use Hastings Drive very often, your fellow residents have been trying to make their neighborhood safer for years. Can you really be against a stop sign to improve the safety of your town in a major thoroughfare frequented by school children? Please visit https://www.change.org/p/city-of-benicia-we-need-a-stop-sign-at-london-hastings to sign the petition and improve safety in Benicia.
Maria Herd grew up in Benicia and graduated from Benicia High School in 2011. She will be pursuing her master’s degree in journalism this fall.