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Safety Lights Disabled on Busy Street

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 06, 2006

Some pedestrians using the crosswalk at Ashby and Piedmont avenues said they feel endangered crossing the street during busy traffic hours, because the Santa Rosa lights at that intersection have been dismantled. 

Embedded in crosswalks, Santa Rosa lights blink to warn cars when a pedestrian is crossing. They first gained prominence in Berkeley when former Councilmember Polly Armstrong, together with residents, pushed to implement this system at the corner of Claremont Avenue and Brookside Drive, following concerns about the dangers of crossing at busy intersections. 

On Wednesday, Peter Hillier, Berkeley’s assistant city manager for transportation, said the lights were working at the intersection of Asbhy and Piedmont. But a reporter visiting the site Wednesday afternoon confirmed reports from residents that the lights had been not functioning for months. 

The button to turn the lights on had been removed and the electrical connection had been taped up rendering them non-operable.  

Earl Crabb, a resident who lived a few blocks down, said he has had trouble crossing at the intersection. 

“The cars just seem to whiz by without noticing you,” he said. “At least with the lights on they would stop before. But now I have to take my chances when I need to cross. It looks like an accident is just waiting to happen.” 

Crabb said he noticed that the lights had been dismantled towards the end of July.  

“I am not sure if the city did this or whether they were vandalized,” he said. “But if it was indeed the city, then I want to know why it was taken off and when they will put it back. It’s just a matter of checking the wiring and putting the buttons back to make the lights work again.” 

About five years ago, a disabled woman in a wheelchair was killed crossing the street at the intersection.  

“I remember the incident quite well,” said Suzy Thompson, who has lived in the neighborhood for the last 15 years. “It was late in the afternoon and the lady in the wheelchair was crossing at the west corner of Piedmont and Ashby. But she wasn’t using the crosswalk and the driver of the car who hit her did not see her. He had the sun in his eyes. It was very unfortunate.” 

The Santa Rosa lights had been installed at the Ashby and Piedmont intersection by the city around a year ago. 

Thompson added that she thought the Santa Rosa lights were something of a mixed bag.  

“During the day the cars cannot see the lights too well and it ends up giving you a sense of false security,” she said. “I don’t really trust them and am always on the lookout when I cross the street. I have a disabled child who doesn’t walk very fast and therefore I am ultra-cautious when I am at that crossing. It would be great if the city could fix them. They really help at night.” 

Andrea Blake, a water meter reader for East Bay MUD, said that she spends about six hours in the area everyday and the cars hardly stop to let her cross the street. 

“It’s like I am getting in their way,” she said. “Since it’s Highway 13, the cars speed a lot. I would hate to think what would happen if they didn’t stop in time to let me cross.” 

“This is news to me,” said Hillier, when the Planet informed him on Thursday that the lights were indeed not working. “I will have to send someone down there to see whether they had been vandalized or what the case is. That is all I can say at this moment.” 

Hamid Mostowfi, the city’s supervising traffic engineer told the Planet on Thursday that the electrical wiring at the location had been giving the city recurring problems. 

“It has proven to be a maintenance issue,” he said. “We are considering replacing the system with some other form of pedestrian warning, but we do not have any funding at this time.” 

In the meantime, he said, the city has removed the activation button to prevent giving pedestrians a false sense of safety. 

“The advance pedestrian warning signs equipped with LEDs have been turned on to permanent flashing, to warn drivers of pedestrians crossing at this location,” Mostowfi said.