A woman who survived a horrific vehicle collision on Highway 154 and neighbors coping with trauma after being first at the scenes of violent crashes pleaded for improvements at intersections in Los Olivos.
During a Wednesday night meeting in Solvang, the Highway 154 Safety Committee heard powerful statements from residents urging immediate attention to the intersections with Foxen Canyon Road, Figueroa Mountain Road/Grande Avenue and Alamo Pintado Avenue.
“I can stand and I can talk after a cardiac aortic injury,” crash survivor Danae Lancaster said, before ticking off the shoulder, knee and neck injuries plus a concussion from a crash.
“Look at me. I’m OK, but others aren’t. I don’t want them forgotten in your plans, and I mean it,” she added Wednesday, which was one month before the first year anniversary of the crash. “We, as people who have been in these accidents, are not just a statistic or an injury report, a news story, a lawsuit or a bodily injury claim. We’re more than that. And we care.”
A woman who lives on the corner of Highway 154 and Foxen Canyon Road said she often ends up being the first person at the scene because of her proximity to the intersection.
When a law enforcement officer died in a crash, “I held him with his last breath,” the woman said.
The smells and sounds, including sirens, screams and helicopters, linger long after wreckage has been removed, she said, adding that she and her husband witnessed a vehicle slam into two people walking bikes across the highway.
“We need something done. I can’t sleep at night. My daughter is 18, and she has PTSD because of this,” she said.
Another Foxen Canyon Road resident also shared about the trauma of being a first responder to the scene of bad crashes.
“You must take swift action to mitigate danger and prioritize the well-being of our residents,” neighbor Kim Schmitz said. “The families that live near the highway are not first responders, but because of the unsafe conditions we are forced to witness these tragedies month after month. It’s unfair to the innocent lives lost and our community.”
Those who live near the highway doubted crash data provided during the meeting, with one woman calling them “very wrong.”
“We’re not traffic engineers, but we do know that pulling out on that road is life and death,” longtime resident Mark Herthel said. “It’s amazing the statistics reflect the way they do because there’s a lot of near misses. There’s a lot of pedestrians crossing as well as cyclists, and we’ve seen fatalities as well as near misses.”
Resident Rick Clifford agreed that the statistics don’t reflect the reality of what residents experience.
“We have tactics to get through the weekends,” Clifford said. “That’s maybe why things aren’t as bad as it is because we have tactics to avoid the conditions we have to live with around 154.”
California Highway Patrol Officer Lt. Eric Zivic, commander of the Buellton-area office, said the information came from documented traffic collisions where reports were taken.
“I apologize when we talk about statistics involving crashes it’s very easy to lose the humanistic factor of what is actually happening to you in your community,” Zivic said, adding that near misses aren’t reflected in data.
“And that’s huge,” he said, adding that he lives in the community.
Several residents asked for Caltrans to implement more all-way stop intersections in hopes of slowing traffic.
Residents also questioned why the roundabout, planned at the intersection of Highway 154 and Baseline Avenue/Edison Street, had moved to the top of list instead of the Los Olivos projects.
The committee, led by Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, also includes Second District Supervisor Laura Capps, the mayors of Solvang, Buellton and Goleta, along with representatives of Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, state lawmakers and more.
A previously completed Santa Ynez Valley Traffic Circulation and Safety Study recommended some type of improvements at the three intersections — Foxen Canyon Road, Figueroa Mountain Road/Grand Avenue and Roblar Avenue.
The panel last met in September 2021, a gap that also prompted comments from residents who questioned the time span between meetings.
Hartmann, safety committee chair, said she intended to raise residents’ concerns in a meeting with a top Caltrans District 5 representative, adding the powerful statements presented by residents.
Different agencies have responsibilities related to the highway, but Hartmann noted the energy and pressure to make the improvements.
“While we’ve heard a range of problems, we really are focused largely on one intersection and there’s a number of different things that could be done so we take one thing at a time. That’s going to be my focus,” Hartmann added.