We need to make Victoria a safer place

By the Advocate Editorial Board
May 9, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Updated May 9, 2017 at 10:10 p.m.

Encarnacion "Chon" Munoz was doing almost everything right.

Wearing his reflective vest, he stepped onto Rio Grande Street at Goldman Street about 11:30 p.m. April 24.

That decision turned out to be his last.

The 67-year-old was struck and killed by a vehicle and sadly became the victim of a bigger problem facing Victoria's pedestrians - poor street engineering. Less than 24 hours later, a second Victoria man was struck and critically hurt while trying to walk across John Stockbauer Drive.

Far too often, we are reporting on auto-pedestrian wrecks in the city, and numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Texas Department of Transportation show the harsh reality - auto-pedestrian crashes in Victoria are three times higher per capita compared to that of the rest of the state and nation.

Some want to blame the victims, but the real culprit is we've built streets designed only for vehicles. Anyone trying to walk or bike has the odds stacked heavily - and sometimes fatally - against him or her.

Many of Victoria's streets lack proper lighting, crosswalks, pedestrian signals and sidewalks. This poor engineering, worsened by some Victoria drivers' aggressive and hostile attitudes toward pedestrians, creates deadly conditions for pedestrians.

Part of the city of Victoria's 2035 vision is to incorporate a Complete Streets policy. This national movement is part of Smart Growth America, an organization that works with leaders to make the city a safer, healthier place to live. A Complete Street keeps the pedestrian in mind by providing sidewalks, bike lanes and frequent and safe crosswalks. Simply put, this approach acknowledges people use streets for walking and biking, too.

Victoria is an old city, so the problem developed decades ago. But the city must push now for progress and not wait for more people to die.

In the death of Munoz, some were quick to point out he did not cross the street at a crosswalk. But when the city you live in has few crosswalks, what other option do you have?

Goldman Street, where Munoz was struck, does not have a crosswalk. In fact, the closest major intersection - Navarro and Rio Grande streets - lacks a light-controlled crosswalk. Some pedestrians contend it is more dangerous to cross at such an uncontrolled intersection because walkers have to face drivers turning in front of and behind them with no regard for people who might be there.

To cross at a crosswalk, Munoz would have had to walk about half a mile northeast on Rio Grande Street to Laurent Street, which does have a pedestrian signal, assuming it's always working.

We can only hope it works because late last week at least one major intersection in the city did not have a working pedestrian signal. A mother and child were at a standstill trying to cross at a crosswalk at Loop 463 and North Navarro Street for 30 minutes. Ultimately, they had to call 911 to have an officer escort them across the road.

Do we really expect pedestrians to walk half a mile to more than a mile away along a street with no contiguous sidewalk to arrive at a crosswalk with a signal that may or may not work? That's not reasonable, and Munoz knew this. That's why he took a calculated risk. His family said he even carried a flashlight and was safety-conscious.

It's sad Munoz had to do so much to ensure his safety when crossing the street because the city's street lighting is so poor. That's not acceptable, and yet, by not enhancing our streets, we've made it seem OK.

Lights down Rio Grande are a dim yellow and spaced too far apart. The lighting looks more like what you would expect to see in a residential neighborhood and not on a business highway.

Diane Dohm, Metropolitan Planning Organization coordinator for Victoria, is working to obtain grants to help make the city more walkable. While recently auditing Rio Grande's street conditions, she saw about 10 people cross the road mid-block. She also said drivers yelled at her while she was trying to properly cross the pedestrian-signal crosswalk that Munoz could have walked to.

Along with urging the city to push harder to turn a Complete Streets policy into reality, we ask that drivers pay more attention when driving. Even when pedestrians are crossing improperly, drivers need to be on the lookout and yield to those not surrounded by two tons of metal.

Munoz was known and beloved across Victoria for his volunteer work, most notably with the Salvation Army. In his casket, a bell was placed so he could ring it in heaven, as he had done so often for the Salvation Army.

When discussing the dangerous condition of Victoria's streets, we need to ask not for whom the bell tolls. Poet John Donne's words from "No Man is an Island" still ring true.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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