Sebastopol residents expressed outrage and bewilderment Tuesday that one of their most vulnerable residents was killed last month in a crosswalk where the speed limit was increased in 2008 following a community effort to get it reduced.
The Sebastopol City Council held a town hall meeting Tuesday to explain how speed limits are set and to give the public a chance to share their ideas in the wake of two major back-to-back accidents on busy city streets.
On Aug. 24, Julie Reibel, a 27-year-old graduate of Analy High School and Santa Rosa Junior College, suffered fatal injuries when she was struck by a car as she crossed Bodega Avenue in a wheelchair.
The very next day, another pedestrian was hit on Highway 12/Sebastopol Avenue near Barnes Road in a painted crosswalk at the eastern entrance to downtown. She survived and has been released from the hospital.
Mayor Una Glass said the meeting was not only in response to these two high-profile accidents, but also due to the innumerable close-calls that she regularly hears about from constituents, including one from a woman who escaped major injury by leaping onto the hood of a car.
“These kinds of accidents seem to be happening very frequently in our community,” Glass said.
The meeting sought to outline the city’s efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Residents were confounded, however, to learn that speed limits in the area were increased from 35 mph to 40 mph in 2008, a move many said makes no sense and has directly led to the dangerous conditions on Bodega Avenue.
Glass stressed that there was no indication that speed was a factor in the accident that killed Reibel. Police say she was in an uncontrolled intersection when struck by a 79-year-old motorist, traveling about 10 mph below the posted speed limit. Glass acknowledged, however, that speed continued to be a huge concern for residents.
“What happened to Julie should never had happened. Period,” said Jessalyn Nash, whose son was killed in crash on Fulton Road at Highway 12 eight years ago.
“Why can’t we be at 30 mph, or 35 at a least!” said Patti Freman, who lives near the intersection of Bodega Avenue at Ragle Road.
Police Cpt. James Conner explained that most local speed limits are set under state criteria after a traffic survey that reviews the speed of at least 100 vehicles in an area. The speed limit is then set using a formula that is based on the maximum speed driven by 85 percent of drivers through the area, with reductions made for mitigating factors such lack of sidewalks or accidents that cause injuries, he said.
The 85 percent guide is “based on the belief that generally people drive no faster than is prudent for safety,” Conner said, drawing howls of disbelief from the crowd at Park Side School, not far from the accident.
The area of Bodega Avenue between Ragle and the city limit has long been 40 mph, Conner explained.
In 2007, the community sought to reduce the speed limit on Bodega Avenue between Ragle Road and Pleasant Hill Road and install a crosswalk. While the crosswalk was installed the following year, the city did not lower the speed limit — but raised it from 35 mph to 40 mph.