WTC: waiting to cross

Work Training Center wants a crosswalk installed across busy Fair Street

Michelle Ely, director of client services for the Work Training Center, is joined by Devon Saul (center), a recent WTC client, and Wes Olson, the WTC client council representative.

Michelle Ely, director of client services for the Work Training Center, is joined by Devon Saul (center), a recent WTC client, and Wes Olson, the WTC client council representative.

PHOTO by tom gascoyne

The Work Training Center, a nonprofit agency that serves those with developmental and physical disabilities, straddles Fair Street in south Chico where it has facilities on either side of the busy four-lane road. With such a setup, a number of its clients have to cross the street on a daily basis, but the only existing pedestrian crosswalks are about a quarter-mile walk to intersections to the north (East 20th Street) or to the south (East Park Avenue).

WTC, which has been located on Fair Street since the mid-1970s, has lobbied unsuccessfully in recent years to try to get a more conveniently located crossing for its clients and employees, who receive services and work in offices and businesses on each side of the street. That effort has increased in the last year or so, but apparently without gaining much support from the city. The only current assistance crossing the street are signs near the WTC buildings that say “SLOW Pedestrian Crossing.”

Last October, Wes Olson, who serves as the chairman for the WTC’s client council, sent a letter to the Chico City Council members and candidates, alerting them to the situation. It was a follow-up to a letter sent in June to then-Mayor Mary Goloff, which Olson said received no response.

“Crossing Fair Street continues to be difficult and dangerous, especially for those of us with disabilities,” the letter reads, noting that the street is “really busy” and that a crosswalk “would remind drivers and give staff and clients of the Work Training Center a safe way to cross the street.

“We again urge you to take action to correct this dangerous situation before someone is injured or killed,” the letter concludes.

(Olson said two council candidates responded to the letter. Forough Molina, who was not elected, said she had passed the matter onto the local Independent Living Services of Northern California and Andrew Coolidge said he would get back in contact if elected, which he was. Olson said he has yet to hear back from Coolidge.)

“We have multiple facilities that we interact with on a daily basis,” said Devon Saul, a recently hired WTC employee who is confined to a wheelchair. “It’s tough going from here to across the street when there’s no crosswalk and no sidewalk and I use a wheelchair.”

Saul, who came to the WTC about a month ago, said he personally has to cross the street at least a couple times a week.

“It’s very interesting going from here to across the street,” he said. “I have to be in the lane where the cars travel because there is no sidewalk and then there’s no place for me to safely cross. While I’m traveling maybe 50 yards from door to door, I’m sitting there thinking there is a legitimate chance I’m going to get hit by a car on my way just to do my job.”

He said he approached Michelle Ely, director of client services, early on regarding the need for both a crosswalk and a sidewalk for the clients. This was not news to her.

Ely said at any given time the facility employs between 200 and 250 people and serves between 450 and 700 clients and that there are at least 20 to 30 street crossings a day.

Olson said he’s almost been hit at least three times in the five years he’s been with the WTC.

“It’s crazy trying to get across,” he said. “The speed limit is 35 mph, but people don’t want to go 35—they want to go at least 50.”

Ely said that Ruben Martinez, the city’s director of Public Works, attended the WTC’s most recent client-council meeting and told them he had looked into the matter but had concerns about a mid-block crosswalk.

“He said there might be a perception that they were safe when they weren’t because drivers aren’t looking for something right there,” she said. “His other concern was that it will cost a lot of money because only one part of our street has a sidewalk and there is a large portion that doesn’t. Any time that you put in a crosswalk you have to improve both sides of the street and it has to meet up with ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements.”

Martinez said the situation is complex.

“Our take is that the crosswalk would be in the middle of a big commercial street and that is inherently dangerous,” he told the CN&R. “Putting a crosswalk there could create a false sense of security.”

One option, he said, would be to put a crosswalk where 23rd Street connects with Fair Street, creating a three-way intersection much closer than walking all the way to East Park Avenue.

“Traffic studies would need to be conducted to discover what the best avenue would be,” he said. “I saw a letter from several years ago that the 23rd Street [crossing] is really the preferred option. But with the requirements the city would be under, it would be extremely expensive—a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

He said he has invited WTC reps to join the city’s ADA committee.

“We are updating our 2009 transition plan and I think making sure their conversation is part of that is the best thing we can do right now.”