Community Members Gather to Promote Pedestrian Safety Month

Photo: Nora Dolin holds a sign at Malcolm X Elementary School during a rally to promote careful driving and pedestrian safety.
Jeffrey Joh/Photo
Nora Dolin holds a sign at Malcolm X Elementary School during a rally to promote careful driving and pedestrian safety.

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Parents, students and other members of the South Berkeley community carried signs at the busy intersection of Ashby Avenue and Ellis Street, urging commuters to slow down early Wednesday morning in a rally promoting Pedestrian Safety Month.

The nearly 200-person rally, which began at 7:45 a.m. and soon moved to the courtyard of Malcolm X Elementary School, featured speakers advocating for pedestrian safety education and asking the city to take action to improve pedestrian safety. A representative from Councilmember Max Anderson's office and a representative from Assemblymember Nancy Skinner's office were also present.

"I'm here today to stand with you," said Frank Cruz, the father of Zachary Cruz, who at 5 years old was killed when he was hit by a truck at the intersection of Warring and Derby streets. "And to remind people in Berkeley that pedestrian safety matters."

According to rankings from the state Office of Traffic Safety, Berkeley had the most pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths out of 56 similar-sized cities in 2009. Malcolm X Elementary School's location next to state Route 13 is particularly dangerous, said Jenne King, chair of the school's Traffic Safety Committee.

"Around 8 o'clock, people start going crazy," said committee member Guillermo Prado, referring to commuters passing through the same intersection at Ashby and Ellis where a 6-year-old girl was hit by a Toyota 4Runner in January 2009.

In 2009, the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore Coalition - a community group formed in opposition to the agency's plan to expand the Caldecott Tunnel - sued Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over Route 13, over safety concerns based around increased traffic flow along Route 13 and Ashby. Though a portion of the coalition's $2 million settlement with the agency was supposed to be allotted to improvements for pedestrian and bike travel along the route, King said the only improvements made to pedestrian intersections around the school have been funded through the Safe Routes to School program, which gets most of its funding from Alameda County's half-cent transportation tax.

Several parents also said they feel that the city - along with Caltrans - has skirted its responsibility to fund safety improvements near the school.

"The problem in my mind is that the city is using (the Safe Routes to School Program) as their only voice," said Douglas Frey, former chair of the committee.

Parents are hoping the city will respond to the rally's message.

"I've spent the last few years since my son died wondering why the city hasn't put new paint on the signs at the intersection," Cruz said. "I've told them that I will go out there and paint it myself if they give me the paint."

The city's Public Works Transportation Division sent a request to Caltrans for a permit to place a flashing beacon at the intersection on March 2, but increasingly significant budget problems may slow the agency's response, King said, even though the project would be funded by the city.


Contact Damian Ortellado at [email protected]

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