Brentwood’s increasing traffic problems are a fact of life that residents and members of the Police Department continually struggle with. There have been some infrastructure improvements — most notably the Hwy. 4 redirect, which residents still incorrectly refer to as the Bypass, and this year’s opening of the new four-lane section and especially the Balfour/Hwy 4 intersection.
However, we can’t simply build ourselves out of our traffic issues. No amount of road construction could meet the demands of our mobile population that increased from 23,302 people in the 2000 census to 51,481 in 2010. That is an increase of 121 percent in the decade. Of course, we didn’t stop growing when the census ended. There are now an estimated 62,400 of us, so it is no wonder that “beep-’n-creep” traffic situations are so common.
In 2018 there were 445 traffic accidents serious enough to get a police report, which comes to more than one serious accident every day of the year, some of them causing injuries. There were probably twice as many never reported fender-benders. We identified four causes for collisions. The findings contained some surprises. For example, making unsafe turns was the cause of more accidents than speeding. Both turning and speeding were responsible for more than half of the accidents reported. DUI and red-light violations together were responsible for just over ten percent of the remaining accidents.
It is no surprise that the city gets more complaints about traffic than anything else. People have a right to complain. At the Brentwood PD, we have always made traffic management our highest priority We decided to attack the traffic issue from a new perspective, so last month the Police and Engineering Departments began a traffic improvement program, called “2019/2020 Traffic Safety Strategic Initiatives” with the goal of reducing travel times within the city and lowering the number of traffic violations. The Traffic Safety Campaign component will focus on the Three E’s of traffic safety including Engineering, Education, and Enforcement.
The project included three Traffic Safety Strategic Initiatives. The first, Intersection analysis, will include updating and installing better delineators at school sites plus using painted lines, arrows, and words on the pavement to direct children away from roadways and intersections. Members of the Traffic Safety Unit with the Traffic Engineer are making detailed assessments of school sites to determine safest routes for students and improving signage around the sites to direct vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
We are also planning crosswalk improvements including installing street lights to help better insure nighttime pedestrian safety. We will install more speed limit signs, both beside roads and painted on the roadway surfaces. We are analyzing intersections, and will be installing and updating state-of-the-art traffic safety devices, such as LED pedestrian crossing signs. We are also examining red light timing to smooth traffic flow on such streets as Balfour and Lone Tree Way.
One of the main initiatives, both low-cost and effective, is our plan for educating and informing the public. We are planning a School Safety Symposium at Liberty High. We will conduct driver education sessions and some auto shop training at both high schools.
We updated enforcement procedures by analyzing last year’s moving citations. The biggest, of course, was speeding, which at 1,776 citations was 400 more citations than the totals in the other four categories. A little surprising, perhaps, is that 594 violations were issued for Texting while only 229 for Cell Phone. As many people were cited for texting as for running stop signs and red lights together.
We are encouraging obedience to the law with an “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine!” Traffic Safety Campaign Slogan. We also are creating a sign showing the specifics for “Pay the Fine” — $162 for not wearing a seatbelt or texting, $239 for running a stop sign, and a whopping $490 for running a red light. We will be posting these at a couple dozen strategic points around the city.
We will be presenting our plan for improving traffic to service organizations such as Rotary, Soroptimists, and the Chamber of Commerce. We are also planning to conduct two community traffic safety presentations. We’re getting the message out on social media by posting Traffic Talk messages through emails, texts, and tweets. We’re covering 13 topics including such things as Distracted Driving, Motorcycle Safety, and Teen Drivers.
Our plans won’t “fix” Brentwood’s traffic problems, but we’ll be making it easier for residents to move from one Brentwood location to another in their cars and making it safer for their children to go to school. We’re relying on people listening to our message and changing their attitudes and behaviors when they are behind the wheel.
In other words, each of you will play a part in helping make “Better in Brentwood” as true of our traffic as it is of our business and agriculture. Plan to do your part.
Beginning in childhood, I knew that I wanted to be a cop. My dad was a career police officer with the Walnut Creek PD and worked his way up to a position with the California State Department Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. I really loved the job as I saw it through his eyes. I was drawn to his “to serve and protect” attitude. I knew that he was making the world a better and safer place. That’s what I wanted to do.
After graduating from the police academy, I began my career in 1991 as a rookie with the Ft. Bragg PD. However, I didn’t begin in the usual way, because my first assignment was with the Mendocino County Narcotics Task Force. The commanding officer saw something in me, I guess.
After three years I was assigned to patrol and had the opportunity to work as a Field Training Officer, Community Oriented Policing Officer, and a Motorcycle Traffic Officer before being promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1998. Ft. Bragg is a coastal community with only 6,000 residents, most of whom had a supportive and welcoming attitude towards members of the local police force. Before long I seemed to know most of the people I would run into. I made a lot of good friends and became lifelong friends with some of them.
“WE ARE ENCOURAGING OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW WITH AN ‘Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine!’ ”
I might have remained a Ft. Bragg police officer until retirement if I hadn’t run into a former schoolmate who lived in Walnut Creek. My brother Gary was married in 2000. I was best man at his wedding and the maid of honor turned out to be Collette Sekulich, who had been a friend of mine when we were students together at Los Lomas. We had a friendly reunion. The next year I was planning a houseboat trip on the Delta. Gary and his wife Dorene were going. I knew Collette liked the Delta and she was obviously close friends with Dorene, so I invited her to join us. Collette and I enjoyed our time together so much that we became an item. It was tough with her living in Walnut Creek and me being 180 miles away in Ft. Bragg.
I had known the Brentwood Chief of Police, Tom Hansen, since we were teenagers. We had a lot in common. We grew up together in Walnut Creek, I had been a sergeant at Ft. Bragg the same time that he was a Brentwood sergeant, so we were at the same sergeants’ school together. Like me, Tom had been a motorcycle officer. He and I ran into each other one day and he invited me to come by and see if he could find a place for me with the Brentwood Police Department. There turned out to be a place, I made a smooth transition from Ft. Bragg to Brentwood, and married Collette the next August. I’m a family guy and currently enjoy spending my free time with Collette and our three kids — 13-year-old Dougie and with our 10-year-old twins, Cruz and Shayne. We enjoy camping on the Delta or attending the kids sporting events.
I brought my passion for traffic to Brentwood and was assigned to manage the Traffic Unit which included three motorcycle officers. As lieutenant, I managed the project along with a sergeant, so there were five of us in the unit. Both the sergeant and I will sometimes go on patrol with one of the motorcycles when it is not being used.
Traffic has always been a high priority for the department and for me personally. Last fall a man named Jeff Simpson spoke at a Council Meeting. It turned out that Jeff had experience in traffic engineering and suggested the city start a Traffic Campaign. Chief Hansen, who was there, immediately thought the suggestion was a good one. He assigned me to head up the project. I was glad to take over the task and, in fact, would have volunteered for it if he hadn’t asked me first. I set up some meetings with Simpson to discuss details, getting some idea of what might be involved, how it might look, and methods we could use to roll it out to the community.
Two other officers were assigned to help. Lieutenant Walter O’Grodnick and Sergeant Mark Louwerens. Mark did a lot of the legwork, and compiled the data to create statistics we could use for analysis and design.
It feels good to be part of something that really will make our community a better place to live.
Photos by Ron Essex