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Pedestrian death spurs safer streets appeal

By John Geluardi
Thursday June 21, 2001

Three co-workers of Jayne Ash, a pedestrian who was killed by a cement truck at Shattuck and Hearst avenues last March, urged the council Tuesday to approve funds to implement bicycle and pedestrian safety measures. 

Ash’s friends and co-workers, Melissa Ehman, Lisa Pascopella and Elizabeth Lawton, addressed the council during a public hearing on the city’s biennial budget, which is scheduled to be adopted by the council on June 26.  

They asked the council to approve $200,000 over the next two years for safety measures that were approved by the council over a year ago in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety report. The report was compiled by a six-member task force and endorsed by a host of city departments and commissions, including the Community Health Commission, Commission on Disability and the Transportation Commission. 

The 119-page report calls for an action plan that includes safety education, the re-engineering of dangerous intersections, stepped up traffic enforcement and the creation of a pedestrian safety plan. 

Bicycle and pedestrian activists say very few of the safety projects have been accomplished since the council approved the plan on May 9, 2000. 

“While we’re urging the council to approve funding for the comprehensive safety plan, our bigger message is that the city needs to get its act together,” Ehman said Wednesday. 

The three women, who work for the State Department of Health, cited traffic statistics from the report and noted that Berkeley ranks number one in the state for bicycle and pedestrian deaths and injuries. 

“If this were an infectious disease it would be public health emergency,” Pascopella told the council. 

Since the plan was approved only a  

few of its recommendations have been implemented. The Health and Human Services Department has arranged for banners to be placed on Shattuck and University avenues, which will encourage drivers to slow down; there will be a discount coupon program that will allow pedestrians, bicyclists and people who use wheelchairs to purchase flashing safety lights, and a web site will be launched sometime this summer, according to Chandra Sivakumar, the city’s health educator. 

Safe Routes to School Project Manager Sarah Syed said these projects are a drop in the bucket. “The city is notoriously unmotivated on these issues and there seems to be no comprehensive plan,” she said. “The city isn’t even going after safety grants that could help fund safety projects because they don’t have the personnel.”  

Syed said an example of the city’s lack of action is the list of high-hazard intersections in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety report. She said that despite the identification of the most dangerous intersections, nothing has been done to make them safer. 

City Manager Weldon Rucker said in a June 7 interview that he is aware of the problem in addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues and has taken steps to correct the improve the city’s response to the problems. 

Rucker said the city’s Planning and Public Works departments have been plagued with a series of personal problems that have delayed traffic safety projects. The city’s traffic engineer, Jeff Knolls, quit in December for a better-paying job after being employed by the city for eight months. Then last May, the city’s first traffic planner, Joe Kott, quit less than a month after he was hired. 

Kott, who returned to his former job in Palo Alto, cited organizational problems as the reason for his departure. Knolls said his decision to leave the city was partially based on similar issues. The city’s bicycle safety officer, Rochelle Wheeler also recently quit to pursue other career options and the Health and Human Services coordinator for educational projects, Dina Quan, has just returned from a four-month maternity leave. 

Rucker said he will reorganize traffic safety efforts by putting the new traffic planner and traffic engineer in the City Manger’s Office, once they are hired, so he can directly monitor their progress. 

Police and California Highway Patrol records show that four pedestrians were killed in Berkeley between 1997 and 2000. During that same time, 523 pedestrians and 610 bicyclists were injured. There were no bicycle deaths during those years, according to the report. 

According to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety report, University and Shattuck avenues is the most dangerous intersection in the city for both pedestrians and bicyclists. From 1994 to 1998, there were 17 pedestrian and 12 bicycle accidents at the intersection.  

Other dangerous intersections include Durant and Telegraph avenues, Gilman Street and San Pablo Avenue and Ashby Avenue and Sacramento Street. 

Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz said much of the $200,000 budgeted for bicycle and pedestrian safety programs will go to hiring a new staff person and to re-engineer the high-hazard intersections. 

Ehman said she felt compelled to address the council because of Ash’s death while legally crossing Shattuck Avenue during a coffee break.  

“We got involved with this because of Jane and because we cross the same streets all the time,” she said.