Eliminating collisions: Vision Zero in Napa County

In the aftermath of two pedestrian deaths, less than a week apart, NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller writes about eliminating collisions in Napa County:

Twice recently, I witnessed the aftermath of two automobile collisions involving pedestrians – both resulting in deaths.

On the morning of July 31, I was riding my bike on the Vine Trail at 5:45 a.m. and police had closed Highway 29 at Wine Country Road because a pedestrian was hit trying to cross the highway at 5:15. The police investigation closed the highway for 6 hours.

We learned later that the pedestrian was Katherine Elizabeth MacMahon, a 28-year-old Napa resident. We don’t know why Katherine was out that early trying to cross a busy highway, but we do know that speed, drugs or alcohol were not involved.

Similarly, speed, drugs, or alcohol were not involved in the death of Maximilian Alamanza, the 2-year old who suddenly ran out in front of a truck on Aug. 6 on Buhman Road. The toddler simply got away from his caregiver. Nevertheless, many collisions do involve speed and distracted driving.

The Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) Board supported Vision Zero principles in its Napa Countywide Pedestrian Plan adopted in August of 2016 and the Countywide Bicycle Plan adopted in September 2019. Vision Zero concepts and principles will also be central in the Countywide Transportation Plan, Advancing Mobility 2045, currently being developed by the Authority.

Vision Zero is an internationally recognized movement to eliminate fatalities caused by automobile collisions on highway, streets, and roads. It involves both rethinking how we design automobile, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and working with elected officials and law enforcement to establish and enforce transportation-related safety laws.

Each year in the United States, there are 6 million collisions involving automobiles; 3 million people are injured and over 36,000 people die. Of those injured, 137,000 pedestrians are injured, and almost 6,000 pedestrians and 900 bicyclists die. Vision Zero is premised on preventing fatalities.

Napa Valley’s city and county jurisdictions have made a lot of effort to improve the way our streets function. The city of Napa has put in place many new bicycle boulevards and bicycle lanes. The city is also working on the Third Street Vine Trail Gap and developing the First Street/State Route 29 bike/pedestrian underpass.

The city and the county also partnered with NVTA and the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition (NVVTC) to complete the Vine Trail connection between the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. The town of Yountville completed its own Vine Trail section.

NVTA is also working with the cities of Calistoga and St. Helena, the county of Napa, and the NVVTC on the Vine Trail section connecting Calistoga and St. Helena. NVTA is now taking comments on the Imola Corridor Complete Streets Plan – a joint effort with the city of Napa, the county of Napa and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The draft plan includes safety and traffic calming improvements, as well as aesthetic improvements to make the corridor a more pleasant way to travel for all modes.

The cities and county are improving circulation as part of their general plans. The city of American Canyon has identified parallel roadways that not only reduce congestion on Highway 29 but also provide safer and more enjoyable options for bikes and pedestrians. NVTA is working with American Canyon and Caltrans to make operational and functional improvements on Highway 29.

NVTA just adopted the Highway 29 Comprehensive Multi-modal Corridor Plan that will serve to guide improvements on Highway 29 between Imola and American Canyon Road in the future.

The city of Napa is also working on improving circulation. Last year, city of Napa staff supported opening up Linda Vista to First Street and Browns Valley Road. This improvement would have greatly reduced traffic on Browns Valley Road and provided access to a number of neighborhoods encouraging more bicycle and pedestrian use.

Nobody knows if the two pedestrian fatalities could have been prevented. I do know that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Napa Valley is seeing a lot more people out walking, running and biking. So the next time you take your car out, adhere to the traffic laws, and be mindful about the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.

NVTA would like to hear from you – go to NVTA.ca.gov to view plans in the works. You can also contact us at info@nvta.ca.gov.

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This piece was published in the Napa Valley Register on August 10, 2020.