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Rally, march to educate about 'oblivious' drivers; seniors, disabled, children most at risk

Les Parker had just recovered from two fractured ribs when a driver struck him in a Santa Rosa Avenue crosswalk last year and tossed him onto the hood of her car, breaking his bones all over again.

Parker, 65, said he thought he'd looked right in her eyes moments before she turned into the crosswalk, but the first thing she said upon exiting her vehicle was "Where did you come from?" he said.

"People are just oblivious," Parker said Wednesday as he crossed Mendocino Avenue, its four lanes jampacked with bumper-to-bumper traffic and a throng of Santa Rosa Junior College students sometimes dodging and weaving to make their way safely across. "I'm saying this as a pedestrian and a bicyclist."

Hoping to sound the alarm that finally wakes up drivers, advocates for seniors, the disabled and anyone who travels by foot or bicycle are organizing a march and rally intended to raise awareness in a county dominated by vehicles.

Dubbed "Take Back the Streets," the downtown Santa Rosa event is scheduled for Oct. 3, a one-day demonstration that organizers hope will be part of a larger movement toward pedestrian and bicycle safety.

"There's just a real feeling that we have a crisis in some ways - that we have drivers out there who are not respecting pedestrians and bicyclists - and what we can do to reduce the number of deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists," said Shirlee Zane, chief executive officer for the Council on Aging and chief architect of the event.

Allan Brenner, chief executive of the Earle Baum Center of the Blind, one of many event co-sponsors, calls it the demise of common courtesy and said it's just plain dangerous out there.

He's already lost two canes to inattentive drivers who've run them over as he's entered crosswalks.

"It's scary," Brenner said. "You know that one of those days one of those cars is going to bump into you or hit you."

Those most at risk are also society's most vulnerable: the aged, the disabled and children, organizers said.

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