What do you do when friends are seriously injured in an accident in the canyon section of Highway 178? Do you just send a get well note? Do you send flowers? Or do you have a meeting of their friends to discuss what can be done to make the road in the canyon safer? Well, such a meeting was held, attended by a bursting room full of friends of that couple, by officers of the Highway Patrol and by a representative from CalTrans, which is the California state roads department.
What happened at that meeting of a large groups of friends of the injured couple was the organizing of a group of valley residents that is now known as Fellow Travelers of the Kern River Valley, but referred to as just “Fellow Travelers.”
A steering committee was formed for Fellow Travelers. State and county elected officials were asked by the Steering Committee to join Fellow Travelers in efforts to decrease the carnage on local roads. With the assistance of some of our elected officials, a relationship with Caltrans, the State Highway Department, was established. Locally based Highway Patrol officers immediately began cooperating with, advising, and supplying information to the Steering Committee and they continue to do so.
Many local organizations and clubs have invited members of the Steering Committee to present safety information programs to their members. These presentations include displays of posters with safety information, photos of accidents, photos of incidents of law infractions by drivers and safety brochures. Invitations from other groups to present programs are eagerly sought. Also there is an email list of over 100 supportive residents who periodically receive updates on Fellow Travelers activities.
At the meeting of friends of the injured couple, mentioned above, the fact that there were signs along the canyon section and the valley section of 178 saying “use turnouts,” but that actually there were no turnouts in the canyon section, or other local sections of 178. To have code compliant turnouts created in the canyon section of 178 was the first mission of Fellow Travelers. CalTrans promptly installed, in the canyon section of 178, a number of code-compliant turnouts and additional safety signs. CalTrans has since also installed code-compliant turnouts and accompanying signs on Highway 155 going north from Highway 178 to Wofford Heights where 155 turns west to go into the mountains.
Rumble strips, which warn drivers they are, against the law, going over the double yellow lines in the canyon, have been approved by CalTrans, but not yet installed.
The Steering Committee anticipates working on additional safety features in the valley on Highways 178 and 155 and ultimately on county roads. We also will be increasing our safe driving education programs. And, we will attempt to enlist the support of KCOG for solving communication problems in the 178 canyon section and from Onyx to Walker Pass, now that call boxes have been removed by KCOG.
There will be future monthly articles in The Sun in which Fellow Travelers additional safe driving suggestions will be made and projects that are on the back burner will be described.