Traffic Collisions at Intersections are a Significant Strain on Modesto’s Emergency Resources.
How might we reduce the amount of traffic collisions at the intersections in the regions that have the highest frequency of collisions? Each collision requires a response from multiple organizations. Law enforcement is required to divert manpower from other duties to direct traffic, write reports, and maintain public safety in these situations. Emergency services are also required to respond, some of which are tax-payer supported.
About the Problem
We are focusing on the number of traffic incidents near intersections in Modesto that occurred in 2019, and comparing them to the total number of intersection accidents in Stanislaus County in 2019 as the primary support for our argument. We have also included statements from community leaders gained through interviews, as well as citing various articles related to the to the problem. In our Problem Gallery you will see data for 2020 and 2021. This data is provisional and subject to change, but we have provided it to demonstrate how future projections might look. However, for this submission, we will only reference data from 2019.
In interviewing community leaders and Lt. Steve Stanfield of the Modesto Police Department, our team was informed that traffic collisions present challenges for the department in multiple ways, most significantly the amount of resources that are needed. These resources are therefore not available for law enforcement activities. Lt. Stanfield mentioned that staffing their organization is difficult due to several reasons, and that the problem is on both local and national levels.
Although this problem was primarily identified in the team’s interview with law enforcement, many stakeholders in the community are affected (and in different ways). For law enforcement and emergency services, responding to collisions strains the department’s limited resources. Drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists are exposed to an increased risk of injury. For taxpayers, it means higher taxes to fund public entities such as police departments and fire departments (the City Council is considering adding a 1% sales tax increase to the November ballot). For all drivers, more collisions mean higher insurance premiums.
Our team interviewed Francis Baldonado, Assistant Engineer for the Traffic Engineering Division of Stanislaus County Public Works. He directed us to the TIMS (Transportation Injury Mapping System) program which is a GIS interface that provides crash statistics for the state. In Stanislaus County, the following statistics were obtained from TIMS: 1. In 2019, there were 3197 reported accidents in Stanislaus County, 1467 of which occurred in Modesto. 2. The intersections with the highest concentration of accidents in Stanislaus County are located in Modesto. 3. The intersection with the most reported accidents was Briggsmore/Evergreen with 17 collisions.
This issue of traffic collisions has been present ever since there has been transportation in automobiles. This team has chosen to focus on the number of collisions, types of collisions, and location of collisions that occurred in 2019 (before traffic patterns changed due to COVID-19).
According to our TIMS query, there were 1467 reported accidents in Modesto in 2019. These accidents resulted in 14 deaths and 2186 injuries. Consider that Modesto’s Traffic Safety Unit only has five officers to call on (Modesto Bee, May 09, 2022, Kevin Valine, "Stats confirm what Modesto motorists already know: Traffic is terrible. Who’s to blame?"). We are not police, but when these five traffic officers are all called out to different incidents at the same time, and a new incident occurs, we can safely assume the police department will respond in one of two ways: - note the new incident and wait for a previous incident to be resolved before reassigning one of the traffic officers. - pull an officer from a different unit off their current task to see to the new incident. The disruption begins as a traffic incident and propagates into other areas of police responsibility.
There is no doubt that the community is aware of excessive traffic collisions as thousands of Modesto citizens participated in them in 2019. In an article posted by the Modesto Bee on May 09, 2022, written by Kevin Valine, titled "Stats confirm what Modesto motorists already know: Traffic is terrible. Who’s to blame?" it is reported that “… Modesto was ranked second-worst among its peer cities in 2018 and worst in 2017 …” In the article, they interviewed Sergeant Dan Starr of Modesto’s Traffic Safety Unit and reported that the complaints he receives are citywide. https://www.modbee.com/news/local/article261096602.html You will need a subscription to see this article online.
Allow us to call your attention to an image in our problem gallery titled “County Map and Data”. The problem is citywide but through the TIMS website we can see that the six intersections with the highest concentration of collision incidents are: 1. Briggsmore Ave & Evergreen Ave - 17 2. McHenry Ave & Orangeburg Ave - 13 3. Briggsmore Ave & Carver Rd - 12 4. Lander Ave & Linwood Ave - 10 5. McHenry Ave & Morris Ave - 10 6. Bodem St & Scenic Dr - 8 Furthermore, in 2019, 3197 accidents occurred in Stanislaus County and 1467 of those accidents occurred in Modesto. 46% of Stanislaus County’s traffic accidents occur in our city.
The number one stakeholder is the Modesto Police Department whose resources are stretched thin by the number of traffic collisions they must respond to. Other emergency services (medical and fire) are certainly feeling a similar strain. Drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, taxpayers, and insurance premium payers are all affected and ask for a resolution from community officials and leaders.
Addressing the Problem
In an article posted on the City of Modesto website on May 06, 2022, titled "Iteris Awarded $3.3 Million Contract for Smart Mobility Initiative", the following information was bulleted: City of Modesto leverages sophisticated detection technology to improve safety and mobility for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians Sixty (60) key Modesto intersections will be upgraded with state-of-the-art, above-ground detection equipment with advanced dilemma zone mitigation technology in the first phase of the program https://www.modestogov.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1159&ARC=1805 On a national level, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan along with Senators Mitt Romney (Utah), Brian Schatz (Hawai’i), and Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire) introduced The Smart Intersections Act of 2022 which is intended to reduce traffic congestion and fuel costs for drivers, while improving roadway safety and efficiency as well as emergency response rates.
Iteris received their contract from Modesto last year, so any solution from them is going to occur far in the future. Part of the reason this has been identified as a problem is that MPD has limited resources to address this issue. According to Modesto Bee, budget cuts forced an approximate 75% reduction of the Traffic Safety Unit’s staff. Currently, they only have five officers in that unit. Without an appropriate budget, a deficit in resources is created. Without a stronger police presence on the roads, drivers tend to violate traffic laws more often, and we have been seeing the results for years. Technology-based solutions (cameras, sensors, etc) are often expensive and funding can be an issue. According to Lt. Stanfield, not all intersections have the correct infrastructure (power, data lines, etc) to support technology solutions without major construction projects which are expensive and slow to complete.
In 2019, TIMS reports there were 4,705 injuries and 70 deaths due to traffic accidents in Stanislaus County. Consistent yearly reductions in the total number of accidents and resultant injuries and deaths would be considered a success. An instant solution to a problem that has been gaining momentum over the course of years is unrealistic, but consistent improvements over a period of time may indicate that a given solution is pushing us in the right direction.