Laurel Street, a major avenue to the downtown area, will be receiving some major improvements.
Between California and Pacific Avenue, Laurel Street is a bustle of activity: Cars, buses and bikes on Laurel Street are constantly turning, changing lanes and entering cross-streets. Pedestrians head to and from their homes, students head to the local restaurants and bookstores, and almost everyone heads downtown. This activity only increases at night, as people stream to Pacific Avenue, and this can be dangerous.
Over a year ago, 60-year-old Harish Tailor was struck and killed at Felix and Laurel, on a dimly lit crosswalk. At this crosswalk and at another one a block east on Blackburn Street, the city will be paying for a step-up in safety.
The plan, intended for summer, will include a raised island with curbs in the middle of the street, bisecting the crosswalk. This will also create room for left-turn lanes and will be funded by a $50,000 grant from the California Transportation Development Act, which was created in 1972.
Mayor Ryan Coonerty said the daily activity on Laurel Street presents safety concerns worth addressing.
“On Laurel, traffic goes too fast, and people are always crossing, and this is a good step we can take to make things a little safer,” Coonerty said.
Both streets are lined with apartment buildings and homes, which house many UCSC students who must cross the street in order to take the bus up to campus.
Local resident and second-year economics and mathematics major Jaime Martinez explained the problems with the current crossing situation.
“It really can be scary,” Martinez said. “There are always cars coming fast down the hill, and at night there is definitely a lot of traffic.”
Second-year electrical engineering major Steven Telles, another student and resident of Felix Street, said that a turn lane would be especially helpful.
“The cars coming from downtown are battling to turn with the cars coming down the hill,” Telles said. “You don’t know when one might just drive around a car that’s about to turn.”
Vice Mayor Don Lane understood safety’s importance as well.
“It’s a great idea to slow traffic coming down the steep hill from California Street,” Lane said in an e-mail. “Clearly, we need to do as much as possible to protect all the folks who are crossing the street at the bottom of the hill.”
Denise Acosta, an employee at the Salvation Army off of Blackburn Street, is optimistic about the plan because it will help a variety of Santa Cruz residents.
“Not only is it unsafe for UCSC students, but there are children as well, since there is a high school and junior high nearby,” Acosta said. “Also, we do get a lot of elderly with walkers who will get off the bus and cross the street. Some even have strollers with kids.”
Lane explained why the city is improving Laurel Street.
“There was a fatal accident there last year, and we don’t want to see that happen again.”