Last Thursday, Anthony Cardenas was arrested by Vallejo police for felony vandalism. For a city known to have some crime problems, this wouldn’t be much of a story had it not been how Cardenas had vandalized state property. Cardenas is in prison for painting one crosswalk and adding cross-hatching to the three official ones.
Newspapers as far away as DC have reported the news, and for good reason. The prison time, including a $15,000 bail, is a scandal.
The intersection of Illinois and Sonoma, where the “vandalism” occurred, is dangerous, at least according to the residents who live there. (We don’t know for sure, as Vallejo doesn’t have crash statistics readily available.) People drive quickly on Caltrans-owned Sonoma Boulevard, also known as Highway 29, and residents say they don’t stop for pedestrians at this intersection.
The crosswalk that does exist, on the north side of the unsignalized intersection, is the only one for two blocks on either side. The intersections at Indiana and Arkansas don’t have any east-west crosswalks.
Not that this should matter, of course. In California, any intersection without a No Pedestrians sign counts as a crosswalk, whether there is one painted or not. The pavement markings just show what’s already there and tell drivers what to expect. In that light, it’s ludicrous that, the night the crosswalk was removed, Vallejo PD would actually station an officer at that corner to prevent people from crossing there. There would be nothing illegal about the crossing, but that fact seems to have escaped VPD.
Cardenas himself, according to KTVU, was heavily involved in the neighborhood, beautifying where he could, adding a bit of color to what is otherwise a drab stretch of Sonoma Boulevard. The new crosswalk, and the additional lines through the other three, were his guerrilla attempt to make for a safer, more walkable Vallejo. Every neighborhood, every city, needs people who care so much about their neighborhood that they take their own time to make it better. A neighborhood doesn’t just need monetary investment; it needs to be loved by the people who live there. Anthony Cardenas got arrested for that.
Caltrans has already sandblasted away the offending crosswalk and will actually repave the whole intersection to ensure any trace of it is gone. Cardenas is out on bail thanks to an anonymous donor. The Times-Herald asked him whether he would be painting any more crosswalks (this was actually his second attempt). No, he said. “This is not worth it… Even though I hate for people to be hit … I am not going to pursue this.” Given that his house is on that corner, I suspect he’ll get a front-row seat to the indifference of his city and state.
To be fair, there are official channels for street signage and street markings for a reason. It’s important that places have a common lexicon of street markings, signage, etc., so they know how to interpret the roadway and respond appropriately.
Had Vallejo and Caltrans been leaders, they would have already painted a crosswalk here and operated regular stings against drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians trying to cross. If traffic were too fast, they would have tried to calm it. Interstate 80, not far from Sonoma Boulevard, is designed to separate the cars from the people so those who need to speed through can. If there must be high-speed traffic, let it be on roads intended for just that, not through neighborhoods that already have enough problems.
Unfortunately, neither Vallejo nor Caltrans have shown that kind of leadership, choosing instead to squelch the community spirit Cardenas expressed and put the desires of through traffic above the needs of the neighborhood.
And so the crosswalk will remain unmarked and unenforced, pedestrians in West Vallejo will continue be hit by cars, get injured and die, and a benighted corner of the Bay Area will remain so. So much for loving your neighborhood.