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Hundreds of bike crashes near UC Berkeley over 5 years

A ghost bike marks the spot where Shlomo Bentin died cycling in Berkeley. Photo: Zusha Elinson/Bay Citizen

By Zusha Elinson / Bay Citizen 

Shlomo Bentin, a world-renown neuropsychologist, bought a bicycle last summer to commute to UC Berkeley from his home two miles away. An expert on facial recognition, the 65-year-old Israeli was on a one-year research sabbatical at the university.

“He took up biking in Berkeley because people in Berkeley bike,” said Lynn Robertson, a friend and colleague. “He was very cautious. He was the kind of bicyclist who would stop at stop signs and signal.”

On July 13, Bentin was riding home from the campus gym on Bancroft Way when he was killed. Police received reports that a dump truck might have hit Bentin west of Fulton Street. Jennifer Coats, spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department, said investigators are trying to determine whether the truck was a factor in the collision.

After learning of Bentin’s death, Robertson, a professor in the psychology department, drove to Bentin’s house to comfort his wife, Miri, until their three children could arrive from Israel. Robertson called Bentin “a giant” in his field and said his death was “shocking, and still is.”

Shlomo Bentin, who died while riding his bike in Berkeley on July 13. Photo: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Bentin’s death marked the second time in the past 10 years that a cyclist was killed in Berkeley, according to police. Bicycle collisions are far more common, especially on the congested downtown streets south of the campus where Bentin was killed, according to the The Bay Citizen Bike Accident Tracker. The tracker maps bike crashes that occurred between 2005 and 2010.

During that five-year period, there were 819 bike crashes in Berkeley, the fourth-highest count of any Bay Area city. There were five or more collisions at nine intersections in the downtown area, including one near where Bentin died, according to the data. Drivers making improper turns and cyclists riding too fast were among the most frequently cited causes of those crashes, according to police reports.

Berkeley, the 11th-largest city in the region, has one of the highest bike commuter rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 8% of Berkeley residents commute by bike.

Over the years, the city has taken steps to make commuting by bike safer, including establishing “bicycle boulevards,” designated side streets with less traffic and more room for cyclists. But bike advocates say the city needs to do more, especially near campus.

“Cal is bike central in the East Bay,” said Dave Campbell, program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “In the downtown area, we’re always going to have a lot of people, a lot of cars and a lot of conflicts. So when you have that, you have to reduce the speeds to 20 miles or less, or what we call ‘human speeds.’ ”

On the Bay Citizen bike accident tracker red balloons denote five or more crashes

Currently, the speed limit in downtown Berkeley is 25 mph. Campbell said the bike coalition wants to see a two-way bike lane built around the perimeter of campus so that cyclists wouldn’t have to mix with car traffic as much.

Campbell also suggested that the city could slow traffic and prevent bike crashes by replacing traffic lights at some downtown intersections with stop signs.

“Perhaps more of a European concept that streets are places rather than a means of moving people,” Campbell said. “The function of moving traffic should be a lower priority.”

Farid Javandel, Berkeley’s transportation division manager, said replacing traffic lights with stop signs isn’t feasible.

“With the volume of traffic on Shattuck, you would have a crazy traffic backup,” he said.

He said the city rejected a two-way bike lane for the north side of campus because there wasn’t enough room for the lane as well as pedestrians and bus stops.

But Javandel said the city soon will add flashing lights to intersections where bicycle boulevards cross major thoroughfares, such as Virginia Street and Shattuck Avenue, to signal that a cyclist is approaching.

The city is also considering installing a left-turn box for bicyclists at the intersection of Oxford Street and Hearst Avenue, according to Javandel. Such a box would allow cyclists to pull in front of cars at a stoplight in order to make a left-hand turn more safely.

Cyclists say it’s not just road design, but also road conditions that bother them. After Berkeleyside reported on the Bentin accident, many readers speculated that the pavement on Bancroft Avenue where he was killed was of poor quality.

But city officials and cycling advocates say that without knowing exactly what caused Bentin’s crash, they don’t know what changes could have prevented it. For now, a “ghost bike,” painted white, marks the spot where he died.

Go to The Bay Citizen’s Bike Accident Tracker

This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. More at baycitizen.org. Reach Elinson at zelinson@cironline.org

Related:
Neuroscientist Shlomo Bentin killed in bike accident
[07.16.12]
From the Data Library: Check out the Bike Accident Tracker 2.0 [07.10.12]
Berkeley approves number of bike-friendly initiatives [06.29.12]
Berkeley Enacts Cyclist Anti-Harassment Law [02.22.12]
Podcast: What exactly are Berkeley’s rules of the road for cyclists? [11.29.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • BerkeleyCitizen

    The City should continue the dedicated bike lane that stops at Oxford and Bancroft all the way down Fulton until it passes Dwight. They should create a no-parking zone on the West side of the street to accomplish this. And before people start going off about bad bicyclists, try to remember that there were at least three if not more pedestrian deaths via car during the same time frame.

  • Frank

    Data page won’t let one select city, so these are the numbers for Alameda county. 

    3,406 Total accidents
    1,231 Auto at fault
    1,561 Bicycle at fault
    225 Solo accidents

    Just saying.

  • The Sharkey

    Wow. I’m surprised that the fault is so evenly distributed between cyclists and drivers.

    I would have thought that car drivers would be responsible for a majority of the accidents.

  • Anonymous

    I imagine “fault” is a fiction of insurance like it is for auto vs. auto wrecks, not “responsibility for failure or a wrongful act”.

  • Frank

    Data comes from CHP not insurance companies.
    http://www.baycitizen.org/data/bike-accidents/methodology/ 

  • Charles_Siegel

    ” the city soon will add flashing lights to intersections where bicycle
    boulevards cross major thoroughfares, such as Virginia Street and
    Shattuck Avenue, to signal that a cyclist is approaching.”

    I don’t think that will work.  At the intersection of Virginia and Shattuck, the traffic on Shattuck has the right of way over the traffic on Virginia, which has a stop sign at Shattuck.  Whether lights are flashing or not, bikes on Virginia have to wait for a gap in the traffic on Shattuck before they can proceed.

    Bike boulevards are supposed to have convenient crossings of arterial streets.  At this intersection, that would either mean a 4-way stop sign or a bike-only stop light similar to the one at MKL and Channing.

    At many Bike Boulevard intersections, such as California and Dwight and Virginia and Oxford, 4-way stop signs seem like the obvious solution – and they are obviously much cheaper than these flashing lights.

  • Anonymous

     Yeah, I don’t know that makes it more or less accurate though.  E.g., if you are in a car wreck and there’s a police report written that assigns fault the insurance companies are not required take the officer’s determination into account when assigning “fault”. There are probably lots of reasons for that, both good and bad.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I will add that it is different to put flashing lights in for pedestrian crossings.  Pedestrians have the right of way, so it does make some sense to have a signal to tell cars that they should stop for a pedestrian who is crossing. 

    Bikes on Virginia do not have the right of way, so this signal does not make sense for bikes.

  • anon

    In places where the bicycle boulevards cross busy streets, a cyclist may wait a very long time (> 2min) before there is an adequate gap in the cars to cycle across.  Some cyclists will choose to step off the bike, and become a pedestrian, and cross in the cross walk.  Others take a risk and cross in a car gap that is minimal.  Others will turn right, and then make a left at the next intersection.  Milvia works because all the intersections have controls.  Other bike boulevards in Berkeley do not work, because they present crossing difficulties at Cedar, or San Pablo, or MLK, or Shattuck.  Even the BART path leaves without clear rules as it crosses Cedar and Hopkins and Marin and Solano.    Improving these connections would go a long way to safer, more separate, car and bicycle traffic.

  • Anonymous

     And then there’s Gilman.  The short stretch between San Pablo and Hopkins is insane and the Bike Blvd. signs are just a sick joke.

  • Tadol

    Every effort should be made to minimize accidents, but at some point the onus should be put on bicyclists to make sure that they are making a reasonable effort to protect themselves. Bikes should be required to have a license, and inspected to make sure they have all operational safety equipment – lights, reflectors, and brakes. Bike riders should be expected to keep their hands on the handlebars and not using a cell phone or texting, and should be required to wear a helmet. They should be expected to stop at stop signs, follow traffic laws while on the roads, give full right of way to pedestrians on sidewalks, and never allowed to ride on sidewalks in business districts.

    We have made alot of effort and spent alot of money making our streets more bike friendly, but we can make Berkeley a much safer place for bicyclists if we start raising expectations on the bicyclists –

  • Charles_Siegel

     I think you mean the sharrows.  There are no bike blvd. signs on Gilman that I know of.

    http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Sharrow

  • anon

    You could get a lot more improvement in safety by making car drivers do those things.  Car drivers in Berkeley do not stop at stop signs, they often have non-functioning brake lights and turn signals, they are on cell phones.  One headlight is out.  They speed.  They ad-lib their way through traffic with quick turns and strange maneuvers.  They overcrowd the roads.  They lose their tempers.  We should raise expectations for drivers. I suggest that as part of the driving test, a potential driver should have to cross a major street as a pedestrian in the cross walk — say Gilman under I-80, or a 6 lane section of San Pablo at rush hour.

  • guest

    YES AND YES to both comments above.  We should all be more cautious and follow traffic laws on foot, bike, motorcycle, car, etc.

  • The Sharkey

    I still can’t believe how many cyclists I see riding without any lights at night. It’s insane.

  • Mbfarrel

    I can’t believe how many pedestrians I see crossing unlit intersections at night dressed head to toe in black.
     As a motorist I really wonder how many I didn’t see.

  • The Sharkey

    Driving in Berkeley in general is an awful experience for everyone involved. Arrogant and ignorant drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians abound.

  • Mbfarrel

    I just smoke a lot of pot and drive slowly.

  • Berkeley Native

     We all recognize that some demented auto drivers do not stop at stop signs.  Most though slow down.  Bike riders do neither.  I don’t know why, but bike riders think that the rules of the road don’t apply to them.  How many of the accidents in Berkeley are the result of the bike rider failing to observe laws applicable to all vehicles (including bikes)?

  • Anon

    Yes, most demented drivers slow down.  However, I think if you look carefully, you will see that even cyclists and pedestrians of average intelligence slow down or stop, at least enough to continue to live until the next intersection.

  • Tzedek

     Everyone in our family carries small pocket flashlights to use crossing streets.  

    Once in a while, someone will roll down a window and call our “Good idea !” but, to date, we don’t see any others with flashlights.

    Four bucks for a flashlight and taking time to make sure you actually carry a small flashlight with you could save your life  …

  • Greg Merritt

    I am an avid cyclist and I agree. The solution for the cyclist is to dismount, become a pedestrian, and take the right-of-way as a walker. It’s so awesome!!

  • Greg Merritt

    Yes, many. All? No.

  • Greg Merritt

    Reflective ankle bands are even better, plus they’re cheaper and greener.

  • Anonymous

    No, I mean the bicycle Blvd signs on Gilman in the area I described. You can probably see them in Google street view if getting out of your car is too onerous.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Don’t forget to talk on your cell phone also.

  • Charles_Siegel

     If I had a car, getting out of my car might be too onerous.  Instead, I find your sarcastic and ill-informed comment onerous.

    I bicycle as my main means of transportation, and I was one of the people who got the bike blvd system built – which is one reason that I know Gilman is not a bike blvd.

    The list of bike blvds is at http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=6650  and Gilman is not on the list. 

    Maybe there are bike route signs on Gilman, rather than bike blvd signs.  Do you know the difference?

  • Charles_Siegel

     That is the only solution currently available at the intersections of many bike boulevards with major streets.

    Of course, bike boulevards are supposed to be a quick and convenient way of bicycling across town – and they would obviously be quicker and more convenient if you did not have to dismount. 

  • TN

    I take my LED bicycle headlight off my bicycle and carry it when I walk my dog at night. I used to wear a blue colored wind breaker but I have switched to wearing only bright yellow jackets. Blue is as invisible as black in night time light.

    It is surprising to me that so many bicyclists wear all black and use no lights at all. Some bicyclists on the other hand are lit up like Mardi Gras parade floats using multi-colored LED string lights. I appreciate being able to see them as mostly a pedestrian and occasional bicyclist or driver at night. I don’t want to run into any body especially as a pedestrian since I’m likely to be the most injured.

  • guest

    Is Gilman a bike blvd?  I am pretty sure it is not….

  • Prinzrob

    Fault has been shown to be disproportionately skewed toward cyclists in bike/car collisions, as the driver is usually available on the scene to provide a statement and testimony whereas the cyclist (if they survive at all) is often carted off to a hospital and either unavailable to provide a statement at the scene or mentally incapable of doing so due to physical trauma.

  • Prinzrob

    I think the solo crash data shouldn’t be taken very seriously. Even when it resulted in considerable physical injury or damage to their bike, I don’t know very many cyclists who have ever reported a solo crash to the police. I personally have been involved in zero collisions with other vehicles but just one significant solo crash that damaged my bike, and I don’t think I even considered reporting it. The police probably would have just laughed and hung up, anyway.

  • Prinzrob

    But try telling that to a senior cyclist with limited mobility, or a parent with two kids on the back of their Xtracycle, or several panniers loaded with heavy groceries. Dismounting and remounting is not always a simple or safe proposition.

    I agree that walking a bike across an intersection is better than waiting forever for traffic to clear (although car drivers failing to yield to peds is another can of worms), but even better than both is demanding that intersections on bike routes be engineered with the same level of service and efficiency that are designed into car arterials by default.

  • Anon

    Try switching your bike head lamp to strobe function when you walk.  That’s sure to get everyone’s attention and to give you and possibly your dog too a headache.  Do dogs get headaches?

  • Anonymous

     I’m not even sure what a solo crash is.  The worst bike wreck I’ve had since I was probably 13 was a few years ago on the Ohlone greenway when I swerved hard to avoid a little toddler that ran out into the path from behind one of the BART track pillars.  I narrowly missed the kid but destroyed my front wheel, got some nasty road rash, smashed the laptop in my backpack, and have a shoulder injury that still hurts sometimes. The mother was so into her game of Angry Birds or whatever it is people are constantly doing on their phones that she didn’t even look up much less ask if I needed some help or was OK.  It never would have occurred to me to call the police unless I thought they’d pepper spray the mother for being such a horrible parent.

  • Anonymous

     I just rode down it and I sit corrected.  It has the big bike street markers which suggest that bikes are encouraged to comfortably ride out of the door zone but it is not a blvd. nor are there any signs as I claimed.  Please accept my apologies for being an ass.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Seven or eight years ago,a BPD officer pulled me over on my bike for riding after dark without lights.  I had them, but a battery needed to be replaced.  She wss right to do it and I wish it happened more often.

  • Anonymous

    Sneezed coffee out my nose.
    Thanks, anon.

  • Anonymous

    Mmm.
    Automobiles weighing a few tons & going at excessive speeds often kill on impact. 
    Bicycles not so much.
    See why we are more concerned about cars?

  • David D.

    There are many deficiencies in Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards. However, this is not one of them, as Gilman Street is not a bicycle boulevard.

  • David D.

    I am an active walker, bicyclist, and driver around town. There are a mix of issues that Berkeley is facing:

    1. Serious infrastructure gaps. There are several points within the city that simply fail in their design and/or upkeep. The pavement on the south side of campus is in poor condition. The pavement in the bicycle lanes on Delaware Street is much rougher than the pavement in the regular traffic lanes. Crossing San Pablo Avenue on the Virginia Street Bicycle Boulevard is downright scary, even if one dismounts and pretends
    to be a pedestrian. The Ohlone Greenway crossings at Cedar Street, Rose Street, and Santa Fe Avenue are not for the faint of heart.

    2. Drivers who do not respect bicycles as vehicles. I’ve had many close calls with cars driven by people who only barely stop at stop signs. This happens to me fairly regularly at California & Hearst and Gilman & Santa Fe, for example. My latest experience at the latter intersection nearly sent me to the pavement.

    3. Bicyclists who do not respect the rules of the road. For example, once while driving south of campus, I hit a bicyclist at the corner of Channing & Ellsworth. I was making a left turn–signal on and everything–after coming to a complete stop. It was dark, he didn’t have a headlight, he did not stop at the stop sign, and he was not wearing a helmet. Luckily he didn’t suffer any head trauma.

    4. Uneducated bicyclists. I am referring specifically to bicyclists who ride on “regular” streets rather than much safer bicycle boulevards, not the ones who break traffic laws. I regularly see bicyclists weaving in and out of traffic on Cedar, Sacramento, and San Pablo when they (and the cars they are dodging) would have a much safer and more relaxing journey if the bicyclists used Virginia, California, and 9th instead.

  • Mbfarrel

    2bzy txtng

  • Mbfarrel

    Hard to see coming from behind when a motorist is making a right turn.

    But they are cheaper. Not greener than a ride in an ambulance.

  • Genea Barnes

    On the heels of Shlomo Bentin’s death, I feel like it is an important time to talk about bicycle safety and draw attention to people trying to make a difference.  I am thoroughly impressed with you Bike Accident Tracker.  Such a great tool to help the community determine where we need to make the roads safer for cyclists. More attention needs to be paid to the Ghost Bike movement, these memorials get people to asking questions, and are a reminder to keep each other safe.  I am currently working on a photo project entitled The Ghost Bike Project.  I am doing a fundraiser on kickstarter to fund a trip to finish the shooting for this project.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1004330446/the-ghost-bike-project.  The Ghost Bike Movement sends a message, and I am so very glad that one has been installed at the site of this tragedy.  Many are removed after just a short span of time, I truly hope this one remains as a reminder for quite some time.