I am a Eureka homeowner on H Street near the high school, and I would like to contribute to ongoing discussions about the proposed H and I Streets project. I recognize that there are thoughtful people who disagree with me, and I welcome their feedback.
In considering the H and I Streets project, the first point to address is whether there is, indeed, a problem to fix. According to the project plan, there are more than three times the average number of collisions on H Street relative to comparable roads in California; I Street has twice the collisions of comparable roads. Of those collisions, injury rates are twice as high as statewide averages; in other words, more collisions, and more injuries. In my own experience, I have watched many highschoolers run across H Street while speeding motorists (going as fast as 50 m.p.h.) ignore their presence in the crosswalk. I have many personal anecdotes of trying to cross, all of which point to the shared endangerment of both motorists and pedestrians when pedestrians try to cross what is essentially a highway. There is no place for pedestrians on a very wide road with vehicles going that fast.
One proposed solution is to increase traffic enforcement. I support this, but it raises questions about an already-overstretched police force and its capacity to be everywhere at once.
There is a very rational solution offered by Option 1 presented and approved at the August 7 City Council meeting. Option 1 would reduce the number of lanes from three to two, and create a buffered bike lane and bulb-outs (extended sidewalks) for pedestrian crossings. Other roads with higher traffic volumes in our city are currently two lanes, and the estimated delay for vehicles (because they would be traveling the speed limit) would be just over 12 seconds. The traffic calming and safety evidence is abundant and available to review in the project document. In sum, Option 1 would make crossing the streets safer, it would slow traffic and reduce traffic collisions, and it would create two new biking lanes.
A logical question is: Are the project costs worth it? Our community has a lot of funding needs, and tax dollars come from us. The H and I Streets project would rely on federal and state grant funding specifically intended for construction of safety improvements for all roadway users. The funding could not be used for other purposes, such as roadway maintenance or to increase traffic enforcement. Applying for grant funding does not increase our tax burden. Rather, if we do not apply for grants we watch the funding go to other communities. I would prefer that my tax money come back to my town, rather than going to other places. Doing projects like this (and others!) allows us to work toward meeting California Transportation Plan 2040 requirements, which will further allow our community to improve roads. Investments now will beget investments down the road.
There has also been an ongoing argument about the history of H and I Streets. The streets have changed in look and function many times, from their initial establishment as grand boulevards for use by horses, to two-way traffic, to their current use — fast one-way traffic. I would argue that their use today, essentially highways in the middle of town, was not the original intent. And while Eureka’s history is important, we should be planning for its future, and no city engineer would design those roads as they are today for their current function.
I look forward to a calmer road, where people follow the posted speed limit. I also look forward to safer, more bike-friendly streets for everyone in town. The more bikeways that we build, especially connecting thoroughfares like H and I with the Humboldt Bay Trail, the more people who will try cycling or walking to get around town.
Getting out and enjoying our beautiful neighborhoods is part of a vibrant Eureka. I cannot claim to be from Humboldt County, but I have chosen to make it my home and I love it here. I think that the proposed H and I Streets project helps us to prepare for the future we want, rather than living with the infrastructure we are stuck with. Change is scary, but this town will change whether we plan for it or not, and I would rather see it change for the better.
Erin Kelly lives on H Street.