Public Comment

Readers Take on Pedestrian Safety

Tuesday January 29, 2008



Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Jan. 25 Planet commentary, Michael Katz attacks traffic circles as traffic diverters rather than safety enhancements. But he summarily dismissed the idea of area-wide traffic calming. Increased parking charges and congestion fees for non-residents can make a real difference to Berkeley’s quality of life. Instead of debating traffic circle safety, let’s focus on area-wide traffic calming.  

Scott Mace 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kudos to Michael Katz for his thoughtful commentary on Berkeley’s efforts to improve traffic and pedestrian safety. It is refreshing to read an account that avoids easy generalizations. As a frequent traveler on Spruce, Marin and Solano avenues, I have often pondered the net result of the “improvements” that have been attempted in recent years. These improvements certainly leave much to be desired, but have they made the situation worse? I honestly don’t know.  

Effective solutions are sometimes counter-intuitive. Witness a recent report on European cities that appear to have safely solved their traffic problems by actually removing curbs, stop-signs and traffic signals: 

John Lutterman 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recently I just about hit a pedestrian who was crossing a street while wearing jeans and a dark hooded sweatshirt which made him nearly invisible under low-light conditions. Another pedestrian warning is in order: Please, please, please wear light colors in the rain and at night; at least use a white hat or scarf. Never talk on a cell phone while crossing a street. Never buy a black or navy blue raincoat or parka. Also, if you are walking at night please carry a flashlight and turn it on when crossing streets. Remember that current steeply sloped windshields on recent models of cars have major blind spots just to the sides of straight ahead. 

Judith Wiese 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My kudos to Michael Katz for a thoughtful article on the dangerous life of pedestrians. The new Marin Avenue configuration may look more bucolic, but it has not benefited pedestrians. At problem intersections such as Colusa I definitely feel much less safe now: First, because the four-lane configuration is de facto still at work here due to turning cars. Second, what was formerly a predictable four-lane behavior has now been rendered more chaotic by motorists’ last-minute swerves to turn. 

Also, the entire crossing now has to be accomplished on one light, or good bye life! And I am not a slow walker! A solid widened, elevated median strip with the formerly predictable four-lane pattern in place would make me feel much safer. 

My personal caveat to pedestrians everywhere: A reflective vest will enhance your chances of survival! I wear it regularly around my sidewalkless home turf, and my motoring neighbors appreciate it too. As a driver myself I too often have experienced heart-stopping moments at night. Especially crossing traffic with dark clothing on rainy nights has got to be an absolute invitation to suicide! Do you believe in Darwin? 

Juergen Hahn 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We could help prevent future pedestrian deaths using the simple, inexpensive form of traffic calming that has recently been implemented on Oxford Street at Virginia. 

When I lived on this street, residents used to complain that cars treated the street like a freeway and that it was impossible to cross at Virginia. 

Recently, the city has added bright green signs saying that cars must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk in the middle of Oxford at Virginia. These signs are placed at many dangerous crossings, but at this intersection, the city has also striped bulb-outs next to the sidewalks and put little plastic stanchions with reflectors at the edge of the bulb-outs, narrowing the space that cars pass through to the width of the lane. 

I have often heard that narrowing the street slows traffic, and this visual narrowing proves it: cars slow down to near the legal speed limit when they go through this intersection, even if no one is crossing. I think it would be even more effective to have the bright green yield-to-pedestrian sign at the edge of the bulb-out, since it is so prominent visually. 

Because it only involves striping and plastic stanchions, this intersection treatment would be less expensive and less controversial than most traffic calming devices, and far less expensive than enforcement. Of course, it only works on two-lane streets where cars speed—but there are plenty of those in Berkeley. 

We could add this treatment to many of our dangerous intersections very quickly—maybe quickly enough to prevent another death. 

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I believe Michael Katz is correct when he says that those who advocate for traffic circles have more on their minds than preventing pedestrian fatalities. I live in the Le Conte neighborhood, and have since before there were any traffic calming measures. I remember what Fulton and Ellsworth were like when they served as urban freeways to and from the university, and I surely have welcomed the change. (Before people lay down in the street to demand major change in the early seventies, they had been begging for years for stop signs, to no avail.) 

Here are a few points I’d like to make. 

First: How could we calculate the number of children (or adults) who have NOT become victims because the whole area has less cars, and overall they are not going as fast? Mr. Katz conceded that investigators determined neither of the tragic recent fatalities in north Berkeley was caused by traffic engineering issues. Believe me when I tell you I know my neighborhood is safer and more livable for residents with the changes that have come here in the past three decades. Granted Shattuck and Telegraph are busier, but even without bollards and circles here, they would have high volume traffic, and they are more business-focused. Yes, there are residents, but not nearly so many families with children. 

Second: Fulton Street, sporting three traffic circles, is a major bikeway. I use it myself, and it is far superior to the various paving-striped bike routes where cyclists have to compete with cars cutting them off, buses, long waits at red lights, and “bike lanes” that abruptly end amid heavy traffic. 

Third: Yes, this is California, not Finland. I think there are some drivers who are not slowed down much by the circles, just as there are people who run stop signs or execute “California rolling stops.” There is also some confusion over which intersections on Fulton have stop signs in which direction. So no, it is not a perfect solution. But I do believe that overall it has gotten better gradually for residents, pedestrians and bicyclists in this area with the advent of diverters, circles, and other traffic calming measures in the past thirty years. 

Donna Mickleson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There were a number of misleading claims about traffic calming research in a Jan. 15 commentary by Michael Jerrett (“Implement Area-Wide Traffic Calming in 2008”). 

Jerrett’s claim that there is overwhelming evidence traffic calming reduces accidents and saves pedestrian lives is not true. Traffic calming research acknowledges the large variations in studies around the United States. 

In fact, a study by the ITE and FHWA, “Traffic Calming State of the Practice,” states: 

“Traffic calming in the United States is largely restricted to low volume residential streets. Collisions occur infrequently on such streets to begin with, and any systematic change in collision rates tends to get lost in the random variation from year to year. This limits our confidence in drawing inferences about safety impacts of traffic calming.” 

Research from Portland, Ore., one of the first cities in the country to use devices such as humps and circles, showed a reduction in accidents of only 5 percent, and even that was statistically insignificant. 

Mr. Jerrett praises a study in Oakland by then medical student, June Tester, which has been criticized. The conclusions of this study were found to be falsely interpreted and the methodology, flawed. 

Dr. Tester’s study claimed children who lived on a block with a speed hump were 50 percent less likely to be hit by a car—either on the block, or strangely, as far away as 1/4 mile. However what the numbers actually show could be interpreted as humps making children less safe. The results had a 95 percent confidence level that a child living near a speed hump was between 85% less likely to 6% more likely to be involved in a pedestrian accident. This is an indication that the sample size was too small to show with any real certainty, anything about safety at all. The full critique can be found at: 

Dr. Tester did her study solely using a database of hump installations from 1995 and later. But Oakland began installing speed humps in 1994—a fact not mentioned in the “Limitations” section of her analysis. Therefore the study was done without truly knowing whether an incident had occurred near a hump, or not. 

Mr. Jerrett ignores studies on the other side of the issue. Two studies, one from Boulder, Col., and one from Austin, Texas, show that risk to resident survivability is many times greater from delay by devices such as humps and circles to emergency responders to time-critical emergencies, than from cars—speeding or not. 

A measured approach to addressing the problems of speeding in communities is what research on traffic calming has advised, not the emotional one-sided argument presented in Mr. Jerrett’s commentary. 

Kathleen Calogne 

Boulder, CO