Page One

Are flags enough?

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Tuesday December 18, 2001

A pedestrian was reportedly hit by a car Friday morning at the intersection of Russell Street and Claremont Avenue, the very spot where flags had been placed with much fanfare the day before in order to make pedestrians more visible as they cross the street. 

As a result, some are asking if flags are enough, and if more radical traffic re-engineering might be necessary on busy Claremont Avenue. 

The details of the accident, according to The Associated Press, are as follows:  

Pedestrian Susan Wood, 53, was struck at about 10 a.m. Friday by Maya Bacha of Pleasant Hill, who was driving a Jeep. Bacha was cited for failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian. Wood sustained minor injuries. 

Police have not yet released a report on the incident and will not comment. 

One other pedestrian vs. vehicle accident at the Russell Street and Claremont Avenue intersection was reported in November 1999, according to statistics covering the five years between Jan. 1, 1994 and Dec. 31, 2000. During that time, 17 vehicle vs. vehicle accidents were recorded. Seven injuries and no deaths were recorded as a result of the accidents.  

Councilmember Polly Armstrong, the force behind the flags popping up at various intersections around the city, still believes that the heightened pedestrian visibility will pay off in the end. Her district covers the intersection of Claremont and Ashby avenues – a block north of Claremont Avenue and Russell Street – through which 20,000 cars pass each day.  

The councilmember said the flags were never intended as “the solution to pedestrian safety.” That’s up to drivers who need to pay more attention. And to pedestrians who, even though they’re carrying a flag, still need to make eye contact with drivers of oncoming vehicles to make sure they’re seen, she said. 

“It’s just a check mark on the side of the power of pedestrians (vs. cars),” Armstrong said. 

But there are those, such bicycle activist Sarah Syed, who say greater changes need to be made, such as re-engineering Claremont Avenue. A proposal came to the Transportation Commission a few years ago to make a section of the busy Claremont Avenue south of Ashby Avenue a two-lane, rather than four-lane street. Syed said it would have slowed down traffic. (The stretch of Claremont where the pedestrian was hit is already a two-lane street.)  

The plan was opposed by nearby neighbors and eventually defeated in the Transportation Commission. 

Re-engineering “is likely to be more effective than putting out little flags,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who had no plans at present to bring back the controversial lane-reduction proposal to City Council. 

Dean Metzger, who lives in the Claremont neighborhood, recalled the fight over the plan. “It was going to back the traffic up to Oakland,” he said. “It’s the only street that still works in Berkeley.” 

The re-engineering might have slowed down the traffic, Armstrong said, but the question is not speed, at that intersection. Rather, it’s a problem of distracted drivers talking on their cell phones or changing CDs. 

Armstrong said she’s had a positive response to the flags from neighbors living near Russell and Claremont. “We’ve just got to keep trying. We all have to be more careful.” she said. 

“I feel good about the flags, but bad about Ms. Woods.”