Safety, Transportation

Paint a crosswalk, go to prison

Cardenas Crosswalk

The offending crosswalk. Image from VPD.

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 basics

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.

Now what?

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.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

8 comments to Paint a crosswalk, go to prison

  • [...] Cardenas, who was arrested for painting a crosswalk in Vallejo last Thursday, reminded me that often it’s not a rational decision but a [...]

  • Kevin Chiang

    You realize that the state is 100% in their right of way. While this man did an honorable deed, there is likely no engineering backing behind his decision. Pedestrians usually cross at points that make their walking distance easier. Therefore, if people tried to jay-walk over the four lane highway, and get hit, that’s not the city’s fault. Its the stupid decision of the jay-walkers playing chicken with cars.
    Did you know that at most signalized intersections, the pedestrian time is not arbitrarily set. It is determined by an avg walking speed of a slow pedestrian (grandma,etc), the time it would take that walker to go from the sidewalk, to the white edge line of the opposite side of the street. If Caltrans didn’t build a walkway when the intersections was first constructed, likely it was because there is no way to put in a cross walk without a set of stop lights, pedestrian lights, pull boxes (for wires), loop controls. So before you know it, you are looking at a $10,000-$15,000 cost to allow pedestrians to cross ‘safely’.
    Source: I work for a State DOT, specifically within the Traffic Department.

    • In California, this is an unmarked crosswalk. A pedestrian crossing at this point is well within their rights and the driver who strikes them would be liable.

      The width of the street is nearly the same on the north and the south side. Since Caltrans found fit to mark the crosswalk on one side, it should have found fit to mark it on the other, especially since signalization is absent from this intersection.

      As well, one of the reasons Cardenas painted his crosswalk and added stripes to the three existing crosswalks was to increase their visibility to drivers.

      I realize there are reasons there is not a crosswalk on this side of this intersection; I just don’t think they’re sufficient. If I’m wrong and they are sufficient, then there are mitigation measures Caltrans and Vallejo should have undertaken to ensure the safety of that intersection and its one existing crosswalk.

  • we live in Vallejo, that whole Street has a jay-walking problem, and crosswalks are rare…..we had a blind intersection near us that I once fantasized painting curb red so cars would not park blocking view onto street, leaving cars and pedestrians no choice but blindly pulling into traffic. There were accidents (our dog even got hit there) Finally they fixed it by putting up stop signs. Much better now, glad I waited, avoiding arrest, fine, jail time. Someone listened to us apparently because they finally fixed our intersection. I hope they listen and make more crosswalks on Sonoma St.

  • [...] 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. … prison time, …. $15,000 bail … Read from the whole story from David Edmondson at Vibrant Bay Area. [...]

  • [...] Cardenas, who was arrested for painting a crosswalk in Vallejo a couple of weeks ago, reminded me that often it’s not a rational decision but a [...]

  • [...] Read from the whole story from David Edmondson at Vibrant Bay Area. [...]

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