Residents driving at night are beginning to see lights flashing like lightening bugs all over Berkeley.
The city’s Injury Prevention Program is sponsoring the sale of safety lights that make pedestrians, bikers and people using wheelchairs more visible in the dark.
Thanks to the city initiative, Wheelchairs of Berkeley on Shattuck and Ashby avenues and the Berkeley Bike Cage in the downtown Berkeley BART station, started selling various kinds of flashing lights at discounted prices two weeks ago. People can buy up to three items for approximately half their price. Instead of paying $40 for a safety vest, they can buy it for $17. The flashing belt costs $8 instead of $22 and the arm/leg band $6 rather than $16.
“People are getting them at the cost at which the vendor can purchase them,” said Dina Quan, director of the Injury Prevention Program, part of the Health and Human Services Department. Distribution of the safety lights are part of a five-year safety education campaign developed by the Health and Human Services Department as part of a city-wide effort to reduce Berkeley’s high rate of bicycle injuries.
In March 2000, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force reported that Berkeley had more than two times the rate of pedestrian and more than four times the rate of bicycle injuries compared with the state figures. “In comparison with 44 cities of a similar size in the state of California,” the report stated, “Berkeley ranks No. 1 in both pedestrian and bicyclist injury and death.”
So the task force recommended a number of initiatives, including the provision of affordable safety equipment for pedestrians, bikers and wheelchair users.
One of the main advantages of the program, Quan said, is that it benefits the disabled community. For years people with disabilities had asked the city to address their specific safety needs.
“This was a big issue among folks on the Commission on Disability,” said Quan. The Injury Prevention Program got continuous feedback from the commission in the process of developing the program to make sure the city-sponsored lights would be most suited to wheelchairs.
Unlike older safety lights, these products are not only reflective when a car shines its light on them, but include a small battery so they can cast light on their own. They can therefore be visible up to one mile away. Another advantage is that they can be attached to different parts of a wheelchair or a blind person’s cane.
Wheelchair visibility lights are usually designed for the back of the chair. In some situations that is not enough to avoid accidents. Last November, for instance, Karen Craig, former member of the Commission on Disability, was hit by a car despite her back lights. The driver couldn’t see them. Since using the new flashing lights, Craig said she feels much safer.
“I find it to be very effective,” she said. “When I cross the street now cars stop way before. They see me from far away.”