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Police Launch Pedestrian Safety Decoy Operation

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 01, 2008

Berkeley’s Traffic Bureau came across a few snarls on the city’s streets this week. Not all were caused by clogged lanes and reckless driving. 

Police officers acting as decoys were booed, jeered and heckled while trying to monitor pedestrian right-of-way violations Tuesday. 

While some community members lauded the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) for their efforts, others said they should be chasing drug peddlers and robbers instead. 

“The community wants us to carry out decoys like this,” said BPD Community Relations Officer Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. “And yet when they happen there will always be a reaction ... there will always be some discomfort. Nobody likes getting cited.” 

The first of many focused enforcement projects kicked off Monday after City Manager Phil Kamlarz directed city officials to create a task force on traffic safety earlier this year. 

“Our goal is to collaborate and create a program of sustained education, enforcement and traffic engineering assessments,” Kamlarz told the Planet Wednesday. 

He added that he felt reasonably safe while walking on the city’s streets. 

“I have grown up walking on the streets,” he said laughing. “But there is a lack of awareness for pedestrian safety out there which we need to change.” 

Efforts to educate and enforce traffic laws on vehicle drivers, pedestrians and cyclists were carried out by the Traffic Bureau at Solano Avenue and Fresno Street—the site of two pedestrian fatalities last year—and Shattuck Avenue and Allston Way and Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street Monday. 

“We handed out over 2,000 informational flyers to community members,” Kusmiss said. “The focus in any traffic safety program is the 3 Es—education, enforcement and engineering. All three need to be employed to achieve some measure of success. The BPD Traffic Bureau always focuses on drivers, but we also know from our experience that pedestrians and cyclists also need some education and awareness.” 

Kusmiss pointed out that 16 of the 37 traffic collisions involving pedestrian fatalities that took place since 1984 were determined to be the pedestrian’s fault. 

“Of the four cyclists killed, all were the cyclist’s fault,” she said. 

Officers wrote 113 citations to pedestrians and cyclists on Tuesday.  

On Wednesday afternoon, the group carried out enforcement on drivers violating the pedestrian right of way at Shattuck and Berkeley Way using Officer Ross Kassebaum as a pedestrian decoy. 

“There are certain legal requirements we need to fulfill,” Kusmiss said pointing at two orange cones placed at a distance from each other on Shattuck Avenue. “They have been placed there in order to provide a vehicle with a reasonable amount of time to stop before the officer writes the citation. We don’t like to call it a sting, we like to call it focused enforcement.” 

As unsuspecting pedestrians jaywalked at the intersection of Shattuck and Berkeley Way with cellphones and iPods in hand, bike officers chased them down to applause from passers-by. 

“There were no cars coming so it was safe to walk,” said a teenager. 

“I jaywalked because there is a conspiracy going on with parking meters. It is espionage,” this from another young man. 

“I had to dash across because I left my baby in the car,” said a woman on Solano Avenue. 

According to Kusmiss, the woman was cited for leaving a 6-week-old baby unattended in her car while she went to get a bagel. 

Kassebaum, who had been out for three hours on Wednesday morning, admitted that there had been instances when he had been scared for his life. 

“Most of the drivers are not even looking,” he said. “They are either reading the paper or talking on the phone. Quite a few will even go by without seeing you. It’s impossible to read their mind.” 

Councilmember Dona Spring said she was concerned about the increase in the number of pedestrian accidents in the city. 

“Allston and Addison are the two most dangerous residential streets in the city,” she said. “The city needs to do something about that ... But again I don’t want overzealous enforcement. I think we need a pollution tax so that we can make drivers pay more and in the process create safety features for pedestrians.”  

Kamlarz said that a bike-pedestrian safety plan was scheduled to go before the City Council on Feb. 11. 

Julie Christiansan, who works in North Berkeley, praised the officers for their efforts. 

“It’s awesome,” she said smiling. “I have parked in this neighborhood for 20 years and I always cross the street with my life in my hands ... It’s treacherous.” 

“I just wish they would stop the robberies in the Southside,” said another gentleman who didn’t want to give his name.