Two recent resignations have hamstrung the Transporation Department’s ability to keep up with pending projects, according to Deputy City Manager of Transportation Peter Hillier.
Associate Transportation Planner Carolyn Helmke resigned Friday. Associate Traffic Engineer Si Lau resigned three weeks ago after working for the city of Berkeley for less than a year.
“We are falling behind on complaints, projects and inquiries,” Hillier said. “The result is frustration from neighborhood groups and frustration from the City Council, although they have been very understanding.”
According to Hillier, Lau accepted a job with the city of Oakland. And Helmke accepted a job at Stanford University as the campus bicycle coordinator.
Despite the city’s selective hiring freeze, City Manager Weldon Rucker has approved filling the vacant positions.
“We have to have some flexibility because some positions are more important than others,” Rucker said. “We have a backlog of projects that neighborhoods are concerned about and we’re right at the point where we can implement them once staff is stabilized.”
Rucker said some of the projects include the installation of traffic circles, traffic lights and Santa Rosa-styled lighted crosswalks.
The city’s traffic department has been plagued with resignations in recent years. In 2000, city traffic engineer Jeff Knolls quit after working for less than eight months. In 2001, the city’s first traffic planner, Joe Kott, quit three weeks after he was hired.
Both Kott and Knolls cited internal conflict between the Department of Planning and Development, Public Works and at least three transportation- and traffic-oriented commissions as partial reasons for their departures.
To address ongoing staffing problems, Rucker established the Office of Transportation in his office and in 2002 hired Hillier, who was the manager of operational planning and policy for the city of Toronto.
One of the main goals of the Office of Transportation was to deal with traffic safety. In a 2000, 119-page report, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Task Force determined that Berkeley ranks number one in the state for bicycle and pedestrian deaths and injuries.
Mayor Tom Bates said the recent resignations are a disappointment but that he is committed to supporting the Office of Transportation.
“It’s a difficult department to work in because there are a myriad of problems to deal with,” Bates said. “Peter Hillier is doing a good job and I want to support his efforts.”