By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Parents and students at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley lined Ashby Avenue Wednesday to protest the city's two-year delay in erecting flashing warning lights after a 6 -year old girl was hit by a car there in 2009.
|Laura Todaro, a parent of a second grader at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley holds a sign Wednesday to try and get drivers on Ashby Avenue to slow down where kids cross the street on their way to school. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
|Gopal Dayaneni holds a sign during a parent and student rally at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley on March 10. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
The girl, who had a fractured skull, broken clavicle and a bruised lung when she was hit at the corner of Ashby and Ellis streets, recovered, but parents say the intersection is just as dangerous as ever and the city is to blame.
"At that time, the city, Caltrans and the school district promised changes, but little to nothing has happened," said Gopal Dayaneni, a member of the school's traffic safety committee.
"Lots of kids had been hit or had near misses before 2009, but that's when everyone mobilized."
Farid Javandel, Berkeley Transportation Manager, said with Caltrans approval, the city hopes to make improvements to slow cars down by the time school opens again in September. Those improvements will cost $54,000 and include a button-operated flashing sign at Ashby and Ellis streets that alerts drivers to a pedestrian getting ready to cross; separate flashing lights on both sides of Ashby notifying drivers they are in a school zone; repainted crosswalks and a string of painted triangles on the pavement in both directions that tells drivers a crosswalk is ahead.
Javandel said he submitted the application for the improvements to Ashby, which is a state highway, to Caltrans March 1 and hopes to have approval in mid April.
Why has it taken two years for the city to even submit the application?
"It's a matter of our workload," Javandel said. "We have other locations where people are getting hit, so we have to work on all those projects. In a vacuum, we should have been able to do this project right away. But when it's competing against other projects where we have money that may have to be given back and the city stands to lose millions because we haven't completed the project, we have to complete those other projects first."
Javandel indicated the improvements at Ashby and Ellis streets might have taken longer had it not been for parents at the school making a lot of noise.
"This one is fairly sensitive and we figured it was getting delayed too long so we decided to submit the application separately instead of waiting and bundling it together with other applications," Javandel said.
While standing on Ashby Avenue holding a sign, Gopal said "we'd like people driving to slow down in school zones, but more importantly, we'd like the city and Caltrans to slow them down, that's their job."
Javandel agreed it is his job, but "all the engineering in the world can't guarantee safety. When I review crash reports where someone is injured or killed, the most frustrating thing is when its human error and there is no engineering answer." Frank Cruz, the father of 5-year-old Zachary Cruise who was killed in a crosswalk on Feb. 27, 2009 at Derby and Warring Streets, told Malcolm X parents on Wednesday that the death of his child was due to poor engineering and human error.
He called on the city to hold a forum on pedestrian safety and take "immediate action on problematic traffic engineering here at Malcolm X and at Derby and Warring streets."
"My son knew the importance of safe walking, but that didn't protect him the day he lost his life because of a driver who didn't slow down," Cruz said.
"My son was hit and killed by a driver who rolled a poorly marked stop sign, through a poorly engineered intersection. He was in the crosswalk, holding hands, escorted by a grown-up when he lost his life." Cruz said just before his son was killed, he and his wife were planning Zachary's sixth birthday.
"Instead of a birthday party, my wife and I suddenly had to plan our son's funeral."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley