Page One

Lights OK; need better drivers

Ann Sieck
Tuesday August 21, 2001


So the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force thinks making people easier to see is going to prevent drivers from hitting them? I suppose more lights and reflectors can’t hurt, but as one who has been both driver and pedestrian in Berkeley for a long time, and used a wheelchair for years in crosswalks and bike lanes, I don’t think the problem is that drivers can’t see their victims. The problem is we’ve thrown in the towel on requiring motorists to behave themselves. We’re trying to manage traffic on the honor system, and it isn’t working. 

At this point, the driver who runs a red light is in far less danger of getting a ticket than the one who stops for it is of getting rear-ended by an SUV. And the gentle soul who slows for a child in the crosswalk may well see him get squashed by a fellow motorist swerving to pass at 40 miles an hour. 

Lights and reflectors certainly are a good idea, at least after dark, but if we want safer streets, what, exactly, is the argument against aggressive enforcement of traffic laws? I’m thinking of the laws against speeding and running red lights, and (remember this one?) requiring drivers to yield to people in crosswalks. Speaking from personal experience (years ago, when I was young and stupid, and bad driving was against the law), a flashing light in your rear-view mirror can result in lasting behavior changes. And though getting a ticket is no fun, it’s a lot better than accidentally killing someone. 

I don’t think having to slow down and let an occasional pedestrian escape would make driving in Berkeley any more frustrating than it already is, or even waste much time. What those fleets of cars are rushing to is the next light, and if they don’t stop for that one, they’ll have to stop for the one after it. 

Enforcing traffic laws would change what it’s like to get around this town. Whether the goal is getting people to come shop here, or getting them out of their cars, improving the experience of the undefended street-user, and her or his odds of survival, would help. Decorations won’t do the trick. 

Ann Sieck