Less than two years ago, Calvin Bird and Ben Vichi were nearly run down by a speeding truck in a crosswalk as they walked home from Northwood Elementary School.
On Thursday, the two boys — now sixth graders — returned to the crosswalk on Linda Vista Avenue to celebrate the unveiling of new blinking lights that will help increase pedestrian visibility.
Calvin’s mom, Debby Bird, still remembers the day her son and his friends came home “all jittery.” She credits her friend and fellow parent, Laura Gregory, with saving the kids’ lives.
Gregory was buckling her own children into their car seats, when she saw how the truck and kids were headed for a collision. Gregory said later that all she could do was slam on her horn and “pray.”
The horn caught everyone’s attention. The boys jumped back, and the truck slammed on its brakes.
Bird feels forever thankful for her friend’s actions.
“If she hadn’t done that, it could have been a horrible ending,” Bird said.
The jarring experience that afternoon motivated the boys to take action. They wrote a letter to the city and also created a school science project focused on finding solutions to making the crosswalk safer.
Accompanied by their teachers, Calvin and Ben later presented their evidence and suggested solutions during a City Council meeting.
The city provided enhanced striping and additional signs — including a small pedestrian crossing sign in the middle of the street, but the sign was hit a few times by cars.
“It’s not very comforting,” Bird said.
It wasn’t until last week that Bird received the news: The city planned to install blinking lights at the Linda Vista crosswalk.
The crosswalk at Linda Vista has many challenges, Northwood principal Dana Page said.
The crosswalk is located in the middle of the street — not at a traditional intersection. Trees and shrubbery reduce visibility, as do cars that park illegally in the red zone near the crosswalk.
Page said the school is working to inform parents not to park in the red zone when they drop off or pick up their children. Parking in that zone reduces visibility for other drivers and endangers the children trying to cross the street.
“With the red curbs we’re trying to create a line of sight for motorists in the road and pedestrians in the crosswalk,” said Jason Holley, a senior civil engineer with the City of Napa.
Holley said it is illegal to park in the red zone for any purpose — including temporary parking or unloading.
“There’s no parking there,” he said. “Zero. Ever.”
Thanks to the city and the Napa Valley Unified School District working together, the lighted pedestrian crossing on Linda Vista was officially unveiled Thursday.
The lights, which are solar-powered, are officially called Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons.
There will be one lighted sign facing north and one facing south toward approaching traffic. When activated by pedestrians pressing a button, lights will flash to alert motorists.
The city owns and will maintain the lights, which cost about $5,000 to install. The school district provided the funds to purchase the materials, which cost approximately $10,000, Holley said.
These are the first Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons to be installed in Napa, Holley said. The city is exploring other locations and hopes to work with the school district in increasing pedestrian safety around other school campuses.
The city has other types of flashing lights for pedestrian safety at several locations, including Browns Valley Road at Austin Way and on Permanente Way near Kaiser clinic.
Bird said she’ll feel much safer having Calvin cross the street with this new installation. Calvin, who now attends Redwood Middle School, still uses the crosswalk to get to and from school.
Bird said the lights not only alert drivers, but by having to push a button, it reminds kids to look both ways before crossing the street.
“It’s good for the kids and for the cars,” Bird said.