'Clearly this is very dangerous': DUIs, collisions on Walton decrease in face of concerns

Mar. 17—After two alleged instances of drunk driving occurred within 12 hours of each other in early February, residents of Yuba City called to question the frequency of driving under the influence (DUI) in the area as well as the safety conditions of the collision site.

These separate DUIs both occurred at the intersection of S. Walton Avenue and Camino Del Flores, and left three severely injured and at least one dead. Upon learning that the alleged DUIs led to collisions at the same intersection, the amount of traffic collisions within the surrounding area of S. Walton Avenue have been called into question.

However, data from local law enforcement and the Yuba City Public Works Department suggests that while traffic conditions and pedestrian safety can be improved, the number of collisions on S. Walton Avenue is not as extreme as some believe.

S. Walton Avenue is a two-lane arterial roadway with signalized intersections at Franklin Road, Camino De Flores, and Lincoln Road, and a four-way stop at Bogue Road. Sidewalks are intermittent throughout the corridor.

Some parts of S. Walton Avenue leading south of Franklin Road are not within the jurisdiction of Yuba City Police Department, despite being an incorporated area of Yuba City, Sgt. Dennis Hauck said. This area is primarily monitored by the Sutter County Sheriff's Office, but according to Undersheriff Scott Smallwood, the Yuba City Police Department occasionally patrols the area.

Between September 2022 and February 2023, out of 108 traffic responses, the Sutter County Sheriff's Department responded to a total of three DUIs, four disabled vehicles, two non-injury accidents, one hit and run and 97 traffic stops. While the statistics seem high, Smallwood said that S. Walton Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods are not frequented by Sutter County deputies.

"That area is a heavy traffic area to be traveled, but with that said we don't get a lot of calls. This does not mean it is not a problem, but many people don't call to advise us. The other part of that is the city and (California Highway Patrol) might get some of those calls," Smallwood said in an email.

In a similar vein, Yuba City Police recorded 165 citations in the surrounding areas of Franklin Road throughout 2022, including 15 citations for speeding on S. Walton Avenue and one DUI in the agency's jurisdiction.

Both law enforcement agencies use the Transportation Injury Mapping System state database to record collision data. According to Public Works and Development Services Director Ben Moody, recent accidents, including the back-to-back DUIs, and 2022 data are missing due to the delays associated with updates to the state database.

"With Sutter County Sheriff being responsible for processing the collision reports along South Walton Ave., city staff is waiting to receive the specifics regarding the recent events for evaluation and potential countermeasures," Moody said in an email.

From available information, a total of 72 traffic collisions have been recorded between S. Walton Avenue, Franklin Road and Oswald Road between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2021. Of these crashes, 10 were a result of DUIs involving alcohol or drugs. Out of the total collisions from this time frame, three resulted in a fatality and 62 caused minor to visible injuries.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, the number of DUIs and victims of collisions resulting in injury or fatality recorded in Sutter County also steadily decreased between 2018 and 2020.

In 2018, 806 people were injured or killed in a traffic collision in Sutter County, with alcohol being involved in 122 of these collisions. In 2020, this number dropped to 638 people injured in an accident with 85 involving alcohol.

In Yuba City as a whole, alcohol contributed to 39 out of 321 collisions in 2020 as opposed to 47 out of 401 in 2018.

Steven Smith, resident of S. Walton Avenue, believes that outdated traffic layout contributes to a lack of safety for pedestrians and residents. Because sidewalks are intermittent, those walking in some segments of the road must walk alongside moving traffic.

"At the intersection of Walton and Lincoln, the intersection design as of 20-plus years ago makes it dangerous and at times impossible to cross Walton at the crosswalk to and from Lincoln School. ... Our neighbor to the north is basically forced to cross Walton Avenue in the middle of the block which is filled with oversized vehicles blocking visibility. Clearly this is very dangerous," Smith said.

According to Moody, segments of S. Walton Avenue have been studied in the city's Systemic Safety Analysis Report and Safe Routes to School Plan. Potential safety projects have been identified including pavement rehabilitation, installation of pedestrian crossings with enhanced safety features, sidewalks and raised medians

"The city is in the process of developing a Local Roadway Safety Plan which will evaluate collision history and identify 'hot spots' across the city. The city then can take this information to identify potential counter measures for implementation. Additionally, the city is in process to design/construct road improvements on Walton from Hazel to Lassen which will improve the road section including bicycle and pedestrian facilities to help minimize conflicts," Moody said.