Why did the homeless woman cross eastbound 120 Bypass perhaps 200 feet east of the Main Street on ramp pushing a baby carriage?
I unfortunately found out the answer Saturday at 4:10 p.m. Apparently — based on what appeared to be a pair of empty 5-gallon water containers in the stroller — she was taking a shortcut to get supplies to her illegal encampment in an open field along the freeway.
I was in the left lane heading to northbound Highway 99. I had slowed to 45 mph because the righthand lane as usual was slowing down as traffic neared the transition toward Ripon.
All of a sudden, the cars in the right lane started hitting the brakes hard. As one usually does, I started slowing down too not wanting to be caught off guard by a vehicle making an evasive move to avoid rear-ending someone.
Imagine my surprise when perhaps 15 car lengths in front of me a woman pushing the baby carriage stepped into view from a now stopped Chevy Suburban. She kept walking and waving — I assume to the SUV driver that came to a stop to avoid hitting her — as I slammed on my brakes.
I assume she made it safely across the westbound lanes as no fire engines were dispatched in the following minutes.
For anyone keeping score not only is this segment of the 120 Bypass deadly for motorists but the homeless have their own little tally going. The impromptu homeless crossing is just east of where a solid waste truck some 15 months ago struck and killed a homeless man taking a shortcut across the 120 Bypass.
You would be wrong to assume the 120 Bypass is the only place in California where homeless hoof it across freeways going to or from their illegal encampments either in Caltrans right-of-way or private property adjacent to freeways.
And I was wrong to assume that was the only potentially dangerous homeless encounter to the motoring public I’d encounter in the next 5 minutes as I continued on my way to Home Depot after coming back from Tracy.
As I came out of the loop ramp that requires slowing down to 20 mph and accelerated as I passed beneath the overcrossing, the unofficial State of California mascot — a homeless person pushing a shopping cart — was headed the same direction I was. Fortunately, he stayed on the shoulder.
At 60 mph I’m not so sure I could make the assessment he was stable but he gave no sign of squirrely behavior as I passed by. I wasn’t too eager to hit the brakes out of an abundance of caution as I had someone fairly close on my tail.
That wasn’t the case with the next homeless person encounter. No, I wasn’t panhandled at the red light at the end of the ramp like back in the good old days when that was as intrusive to traffic flow the homeless where around freeways.
Instead, another homeless individual pushing a pirated shopping cart stepped into the crosswalk at the onramp as cars were turning. Given the light turned green for me literally seconds later it was clear he started crossing long after he should have.
It is true non-homeless people do this too.
But rarely do you see what happened next from a “sheltered” person unless they were strung out on meth or bombed out of their mind from alcohol.
This time a shirtless individual— not 100 percent sure they were homeless although they had the hardcore homeless tan that George Hamilton would be jealous of — had started walking into traffic from the north side of Yosemite Avenue where the Best Western Inn is located.
Not only was he walking against the light but you can’t legally cross at that spot.
As I sat in the turn lane waiting to tun onto Commerce Drive, I looked in my rearview mirror. He had reached the median where he was making erratic movements including kicking motions. By this time traffic had backed up and was no longer moving.
He continued doing somewhat of a strung-out jig stepping in and out of the inside travel lane. When the light turned green and I had to move the last thing he was doing was standing between two cars.
Saturday wasn’t the first time — and I’m sure it won’t be the last time — that I’ll see homeless using freeways and adjacent roadways as if they were promenades designed for their pleasure or use the shoulder as a bike lane to reach their illegal encampments.
A week ago, on my way back from the Red Cross donation center in Stockton I called 9-1-1 after seeing a woman sitting on a guard rail on Interstate 5 just before the onramp from Diablo Avenue.
It is close to the Crosstown Freeway (Highway 4)/Interstate 5 interchange in Stockton that is an even bigger magnet for the homeless than the area in and around the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange.
Over the past few years, I’ve come across homeless walking across the transition ramp from Highway 4 to northbound I-5 and camping where they pleased on Caltrans right-of-way. There was even once where a tent was set up in the median at the edge of the Highway 4 bridge across a surface street.
Anyone familiar with this area knows the St. Mary’s dining hall and shelter — an example of how a city should not address its homeless problem unless they are willing to sacrifice a neighborhood as collateral damage — is located nearby.
Caltrans has been able to reduce the homeless being traffic hazards by installing wrought iron fencing to secure the state right-of-way to reduce illegal encampments. It is much like some of the work Caltrans did last month along the 120 Bypass in Manteca and Interstate 205 in Tracy.
Perhaps instead of conferring sacred cow status on the homeless while society tries to improve the situation and stop the spread of the cancerous blight they create, the fine folks up in Sacramento might want to take a billion dollars or so of the obscenely large state surplus and try to homeless-proof freeways in urban areas.
More wrought-iron fencing is a start. But what is really needed is giving cities the green light and legal authority while working with the CHP and Caltrans to do sweeps every three or so days of state right-of-way clearing everyone and everything out as they go. That would include the funding for police and public work crews’ overtime.
No illegal encampment in a freeway right-of-way should be subject to notices before they are cleared out. The great minds in Sacramento surely can find a way to do that without running afoul with the courts.
Yes, we need to treat the homeless not as criminals but as human beings that have to do certain things to live such as sleep. Yes, we need to get to the root of the problems as to why people are homeless and address them.
This, however, doesn’t mean they can do virtually anything they want to do in order to do what they need to live including sheltering along a freeway that imperils the public’s safety as well as their own safety.
The 9th District Court of Appeals’ basic ruling was to treat the homeless as humans who have little choice but to break a myriad of laws by the simple fact they are alive. The court, however, did not confer sacred cow status on them.