City official wants to remove crosswalks
By Shirley Dang
Special to the Daily Planet
People get killed in crosswalks – so remove them.
That’s the thinking of the city’s new traffic engineer.
Jeff Knowles, however, has already found himself isolated in his recommendation to erase the white lines at some of the city’s busiest intersections.
Opponents of the theory called the
proposal “ridiculous” at a recent Public Works Commission meeting, arguing that crosswalk elimination saves lives only by discouraging people from walking.
Knowles, however, is fighting to test what he says studies have shown to be true – removing painted crosswalks reduces death and injuries. The traffic engineer would like to remove crosswalks at certain highly trafficked intersections on College Avenue and on Adeline Street.
In one Los Angeles County study, collisions dropped 100 percent, he said.
In Berkeley, 770 pedestrian-involved collisions occurred between 1994 and 1999. More than half of these were in crosswalks, according to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force report released earlier this year.
James Corless, California director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Surface and Transportation Policy Project is among those who are fighting against crosswalk removal.
“It scares people out of walking,” he said. “If you make people walk half a mile extra on foot, you undermine a walkable environment.”
Two weeks ago, the Surface and Transportation Policy Project released a study that called for a halt to crosswalk eliminations.
Zachary Wald, executive director of Oakland-based BayPeds agrees that crosswalk elimination is not the answer. Many seniors and disabled people will not go out unless there are marked crossings to protect them, he said.
While a five-year Federal Highway Administration study released last year said seniors are more likely to be hit in crosswalks than young people, Charlie Betcher, 79-year-old chair of the city’s Commission on Aging, told Public Works Commission members that is not a good enough reason to remove crosswalks.
“It’s a ridiculous assumption,” he said. “It’s another victory for the automobile.”
Some critics of crosswalk removal say that accidents will simply move to other marked intersections where people may feel more comfortable walking.
Proponents of crosswalk removal point to a September crosswalk study by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation which said collisions did not increase at signaled intersections near unmarked crosswalks. Injury rates still fell by half at unmarked sites.
But Wald argued that Berkeley, with its large numbers of pedestrians is unlike Los Angeles and San Diego where many studies have been carried out.
“It might be good in the suburbs, where there is essentially little or no pedestrian traffic,” he said. “But removing crosswalks is not a panacea for pedestrian safety.”
Knowles said there have not been studies that measure whether pedestrians avoid intersections without marked crosswalks. Counting pedestrian flow before and after line removal would be a part of his study, he promised.
Under state law, pedestrians have the right of way at any intersection, unless they are walking against a light. They do not have to be in a marked crosswalk.
Nancy Holland, chair of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force said more education is needed for both drivers and pedestrians.
There are many other options to protect pedestrians, including increasing walking time at traffic signals and slowing traffic by making streets narrower.
These ideas and others were recommended by the task force in April and approved as a part of a nine-point plan to increase pedestrian safety, however, little has been done to implement them.
The City Council will probably address the issue of crosswalk removal after the commissions have studied it further. Neither Councilmember Polly Armstrong nor Councilmember Kriss Worthington are in favor of the idea.
“It’s not a crosswalk without the lines,” Armstrong said.
Worthington agreed: “We should be adding protection, not removing it.”
Emotions are so charged, said Knowles, that people will not even test crosswalk removal as an option for pedestrian safety.
“It’s like the crusade to save the crosswalks,” he said. “But if I can save a life by taking out one crosswalk, why not go for it?”
Bike coalition plans new route to schools
By William Inman
Daily Planet Staff
Hank Resnick and Sarah Syed of the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition aren’t being quixotic when they say that their new project with the school district could do everything from improving student performance to alleviating morning rush hour traffic.
“Safe Routes to School” will offer safe transportation choices for students, reducing car trips to school and getting kids walking and biking to school again, they say.
Syed and Resnick authored a grant proposal that won the nonprofit BFBC a $25,000 state grant to launch the 17-month campaign that will plan activities aimed at reducing the risk of injury to schoolchildren who walk or bike to school.
The BFBC, the school district and the city say the project will provide transportation choices for nervous parents who add to morning traffic and parking problems around schools.
They also say that research shows that physical activities such as walking and biking positively affect student performance and skill development.
“Many parents worry about the safety of their kids because of traffic and crime,” Syed said. “We hope to work with each school to make maps for suggested routes to schools, among other things to make parents and kids feel safe to ride or walk to school.”
According to research by Berkeley’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force, Berkeley has more than twice the rate of pedestrian injuries, and four times the amount of bicycle injuries compared to the state average for cities near Berkeley’s size.
The task force also found that 10 -to 17- year-old pedestrians and cyclists are involved in collisions at twice the rate, or more, of any other age group, and the majority of pedestrian collisions take place within a quarter of a mile radius of a school.
Syed said that about 300 pedestrian and bicycle accidents are reported in Berkeley each year. Hundreds more aren’t reported.
“Before and after school, school zones citywide and surrounding local neighborhoods turn into danger zones for anyone venturing out on foot or bicycle,” Syed said. “This program will mobilize a community that has expressed great concern about the safety of schoolchildren to unite in support of specific improvements that will make Berkeley a more walkable, bikeable city.”
“Although the campaign focuses on the safety of schoolchildren,” she said. “Every member of the community – from child to senior citizen – who walks or bikes locally will benefit.”
Superintendent Jack McLaughlin agrees.
“Parents in Berkeley are driving their children to school in record rates,” he said. “A ‘Safe Routes to School’ project is critical in our community.”
McLaughlin, Syed, Resnick and city traffic engineer Jeff Knowles are set to meet Thursday to discuss plans for the project.
“We’re still in the planning stage,” Resnick said. “But it’s a great opportunity and a great challenge. It’s going to take a lot of work. We have 17 months to complete the plan, and develop a proposal to get an expanded grant.”
Resnick said that he likes Berkeley’s chances to get more state money to continue the work, but they’ll have to first change popular opinion.
“It’s a serious concern that parents are afraid to let their kids walk or bike to school,” he said. “It’s really a sad commentary.”
Resnick said that the project will compliment a resolution passed in the fall of 1999 by the school board that focuses on transportation issues around schools. The resolution calls for an attempt to reduce car trips to schools.
“Not a lot has been done since then,” Resnick said. “But they’re ready to get started.”
Syed said that a lot of the early plans involve the newly designated bicycle boulevards, such as Milvia Street between University Avenue and Russell Street.
She said that she hopes to incorporate the project with the children’s curriculum. Some of the ideas they’ve come up with is sending the safe route maps home with the elementary children and having the parents and children walk the routes together as part of an assignment.
Berkeley is one of nine communities to have received a grant from the Department of Health Services Active Community Environments Program, she said.
All schools will be invited to participate in the project. Parents, teachers and community members interested in helping form a “Safe Routes to School” team at a local school are encouraged to contact Sarah Syed at (510) 597-1235, or email at email@example.com.