When you serve 31 years as a Victoria firefighter and paramedic, you don’t need a traffic study to know the city’s most dangerous streets.
Raphael De La Garza takes this knowledge with him to the Victoria City Council, where he was elected in 2016. The vision of people splattered on the road is etched in his mind, making him uniquely suited to talk about the critical public safety issue before the council.
City Council members are considering a proposal by traffic engineers to dramatically improve pedestrian safety on U.S. 59 Business near H-E-B, 1505 E. Rio Grande St. The plan was put together by a traffic management team, including the Texas Department of Transportation, to reduce the number of pedestrians being hit trying to cross the state highway. It would add sidewalks leading to a pedestrian crosswalk protected by a traffic light.
The cost of the engineering change would be paid mostly by the state and by H-E-B. In addition, this would allow H-E-B to add curbside delivery at its Rio Grande location and expand even further in the future. This development would enhance the property values of all the businesses near the grocery store.
This is one of those rare opportunities when the city can enhance public safety and promote economic development. Even without the latter, the former reason is so compelling council members must rush to finalize this project and save lives.
As has been well-documented, Victoria is an old city with an archaic street system that puts pedestrians at risk at literally almost every turn. This location is particularly horrific because pedestrians are trying to cross a highway to get to the grocery store.
Victoria pedestrians are killed by traffic at a much higher rate than their counterparts at the state and national level, according to data collected by federal and state organizations. That’s a terrible reality council members should be doing all they can to change.
Yet, some council members hesitated at their last meeting because the plan calls for closing one end of the little-used Stolz Street. Only a handful of businesses dot Stolz, and they still would have easy access from Ben Jordan Street. Two of the main businesses also have front access from the highway.
Yet, some council members seemed during the meeting to think they were engineers instead of policymakers. They wanted to try to re-engineer the proposal, potentially delaying the safety improvement by years and adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost.
This led an exasperated De La Garza to finally point out that the council should listen to the experts and save lives. It’s a shame De La Garza wasn’t on the council five years ago when the council last seriously considered the deadly problem.
The council decided at that time to kick the pedestrians down the road and do nothing. Since then, six pedestrians have been hit in front of H-E-B. One was killed: Oscar Martinez, 73, a grandfather and beloved family member, died crossing the highway.
His body was so broken Martinez’s adult children tried to keep his wife from seeing him in the hospital. She went anyway and urged her husband to fight for his life. Sadly, he lost that battle.
Should the city of Victoria add a traffic light and sidewalks on U.S. 59 Business in front of H-E-B?
Council members need to look through the eyes of Martinez’s family when considering this proposal again Tuesday. They should ask De La Garza about the carnage he’s seen.
It’s an ugly truth they cannot afford to ignore again.