Farmer's Market installs protective dragnets

The city of Santa Monica is installing safety nets at their weekly Santa Monica Farmers Markets in lieu of a tragedy that occurred eight years ago, when an elderly man drove through the outdoor market killing ten people. A first in farmers market history, Laura Avery, the Farmers Market Supervisor, was told they had to install barriers that would "physically stop a car," which no other market in the world has had to do before. In a study done by the National Transportation Safety Board, just months after the fatal accident eight years ago, the NTSB concluded that there was not an adequate barrier strong enough to stop a car.

"We had the police cars out there for five years, just blocking the entrance," Avery said, referring to how police were asked to use their cars as blockades after the NTSB's decision came out. "But then the police presence became very expensive."

In an effort to save funds, the Santa Monica Police Department asked the Farmers Market to find a way to keep cars from entering the market that did not involve the police department's deputies and vehicles to be used every week, unnecessarily tying up officers who could be on patrol. Avery and her team at the Santa Monica Farmers Market conducted a large project, and as a result found an independent traffic engineering firm to help with the problem.

"They were told to come up with a vehicle arresting barricade system that would be able to stop a car from entering a market," Avery said of the traffic engineering firm. The firm spent time researching what an effective barrier would consist of, and  three years ago the project was officially given the green light.

"They came up with a system which we're using today, called a dragnet," Avery said.

The dragnet, as Avery described, "is like a stainless steel, chain-link tennis court net that goes all the way across the street." To anchor the dragnet, four-foot deep holes had to be dug into the street. Each hole can be covered by a small, removable cork. They are then attached to a steel cable rolled up in a spool.

"When a car hits this, it will go forward for only nine feet before the cables play out," Avery said. "Then they're fully extended and they immediately stop the car."

Additionally, the dragnet system doesn't pose a lethal impact for the driver of a car that crashes into it. "It's not like hitting a pole; the driver walks away and the farmers and customers are all safe," Avery said.

The design, which was approved by the Santa Monica City Engineers office, made its debut this past Saturday, May 14, with a dry run on Friday, May 13. As of last Thursday, they were manufacturing the carts, which will carry all the street closure supplies.

"They're very heavy. One street closure set weighs about fifteen-hundred pounds," Avery said.

Each street closure set contains one double dragnet consisting of two nets side by side, four anchor posts, and four 50-pound pulleys. A group of five feet high by eight feet wide barricades are also in the set. These barricades will go ahead of the nets and include signs that notify the public of road closures.

To ensure that pedestrians do not walk through the barricade, the five-by-eight barriers will be on both sides of the dragnet. The "impact absorption zone," as it is being called, will be a nine-foot-long stretch of empty space between the street and the market to protect farmers and patrons from impending danger.

"We're working on designing a cart system," said Avery. "We had to build an extra storage system to store these things."

In addition to hiring more employees, the Farmers Market staff are currently training their employees how to open and close the storage units for the carts. The dragnet system that will be used is unique to the West Coast. The system originally came here from New York, where similar sets are utilized for temporary road closures due to construction on freeways and coinciding freeway off-ramps.

"I believe that the installation and the utilization of these safety nets will bring confidence to the people who frequent the farmer's market and have so for many years," said Lieutenant Jay Trisler of the Santa Monica Police Department.