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Pedestrian death prompts city to review street safety

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday May 21, 2002


Residents of central Berkeley say a recent pedestrian fatality could have been averted if city leaders wouldn’t have strayed from a five-year-old pledge to reduce traffic in the neighborhood. 

The May 7 death of a 72-year-old nun struck by a car on the 1600 block of Addison Street was the result of inadequate efforts to keep commuter traffic off of residential streets, say some members of the neighborhood group MAAGNA ( McKinley, Addison, Allston, Grant Neighborhood Association). 

“We’ve been trying to get improved safety measures for 30 years,” said MAAGNA Secretary Wendy Alfsen.  

Alfsen said traffic-diverting devices were planned by the city in 1997, following a decision to build a new public safety building on Addison Street and MLK Jr. Way, but were never carried out. 

“Had the city been on that timeline, the car [that struck the woman] would not have been on the street,” Alfsen said.  

Tonight, City Council is scheduled to consider a plan put forth by Councilmember Dona Spring to immediately install concrete diversion devices on Addison, Allston, and Jefferson streets. 

Spring acknowledged that there were recent delays in effecting traffic-calming measures in the central Berkeley neighborhood and attributed them mostly to high turnover in the city’s traffic engineering posts. 

“And there have been other traffic issues that have needed to be addressed as well,” she added. 

Neighbors say Spring’s proposed steps should have been taken up long ago by the city, but said they’re better late than never. 

“I trust that if other neighborhoods have had devices put in and made safe, the same thing can happen here,” said Mary Holland, noting that it was unfortunate it took a tragedy to propel the city to action. 

The May 7 accident occurred when Richmond resident Christine Bennett left the 7:00 a.m. mass service at St. Joseph the Worker Church, at 1640 Addison Street. Bennett was on her way to retrieve a book from her car when she was hit by a car driven by a 25-year-old woman, according to Father Bill O’Donnell. 

The Berkeley Police Department would not return phone calls regarding investigation of the accident. 

O’Donnell described Bennett as “quiet”, “very faithful” and someone who had a “huge heart for the poor and struggling.” She had been attending a weekly study group at the church for more than 20 years, O’Donnell said. 

Bennett’s death represents the first pedestrian fatality in Berkeley in nearly a decade, but Councilmember Dona Spring says that within Census Tract 30, where the accident occurred, there have been many pedestrian injuries. 

Addison and Allston streets, between MLK Jr. Way and Sacramento Street, are the two most dangerous residential streets for pedestrians in Berkeley, Spring said. 

Drivers use the streets to get between the downtown and west Berkeley, avoiding congested arteries like University Avenue, she explained. 

“We need this to stop,” she said.