A fourth-grade girl from John Muir Elementary School was hit by a car Tuesday night in a crosswalk on Claremont Avenue that parents have long complained is poorly lit and needs the city’s attention.
A car struck the 9-year-old girl as she and her mother were crossing Claremont at Claremont Crescent, right in front of the school, according to an email sent out by John Muir’s principal, Audrey Amos. Both of the girl’s legs were broken and she was treated at a local hospital.
According to Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats, police received multiple 911 calls about the collision at 7:40 p.m. The woman and her daughter were walking west in the crosswalk when a taxi driver traveling north on Claremont hit them. Coats said both the mother and daughter were injured, but that the girl’s injuries were more serious. Both were taken to a local hospital for treatment. The driver stayed at the scene and was cooperative, and was ultimately cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the crash.
The accident happened right after a PTA meeting, and has renewed calls for lighting at that crosswalk. The Berkeley Police Department pays for a crossing guard to help students across Claremont before and after school. But many children participate in the after-school program and there is no one to help them cross the street around 5:30 or 6 p.m. when it is dark. Claremont Avenue is four lanes across with a speed limit of 25 mph.
“In the evening, as people are driving up Claremont to get onto the 13 or the 24 to get home, they are not in the mood to stop,” Elise Proulx, who has a child at John Muir, wrote to City Councilwoman Lori Droste in November.
Proulx made her emails to city officials available to Berkeleyside to show that there has long been concern about crossing Claremont, which is a major thoroughfare. “I’ve MANY TIMES seen cars zoom through the crosswalk even with a parent/child combo standing in it. Cars will also stop IN the crosswalk rather than waiting to allow pedestrians to cross. I’ve been called a number of awful names by drivers who were insulted by my putting a hand out to request that they stop before the crosswalk.”
Proulx has launched a petition drive on Change.org calling for the city to install pedestrian lighting at the crosswalk.
The crosswalk where the young girl was hit is marked in yellow paint and there are yellow-painted signs on the street stating “School” and “Xing.” There is a “School Xing” sign that hangs above the avenue a few yards away from the crosswalk lit by orange lights. There are also some vertical signs indicating that children cross the road. Proulx and others want flashing pedestrian-activated beacons installed in the intersections around the school. The pedestrian-activated lights, which are mounted on poles at driver level, flash yellow when someone is crossing and a recorded voice tells pedestrians who might have vision problem when to cross.
The city of Berkeley has taken numerous steps to improve pedestrian safety on Claremont Avenue. Some measures have recently been funded, while other attempts to get money have failed, according to Matthai Chakko, city spokesman.
Berkeley has applied to the Safe Routes to School Program to install sidewalk bulb-outs, crosswalk safety beacon improvements, signs (including a speed-feedback sign), pavement striping and pedestrian lighting. The last application for $392,000 was in May 2015, he said. to the state numerous times to get money to improve the crosswalks but has never gotten funding, according to an email exchange between Proulx and Droste’s office.
The state of California has just approved another grant that addresses Claremont and Ashby avenues, which sits at the northern border of John Muir. Construction should start on improvements later this year, said Chakko.
Safeway also set aside $286,500 to improve the area at Claremont and Alcatraz, he said. The neighborhood did not want a traffic signal so the money has not yet been used.
“Given the ongoing concerns, we will work with the neighborhood this summer to see if they now want a signal or some other mitigation at that intersection,” said Chakko. “That money cannot be repurposed to a different location than College/Alcatraz. It must be used there or returned to Safeway.”
“These efforts are part of a number of efforts throughout the City to improve pedestrian safety. Another safe routes to school project in the pipeline is for LeConte Elementary. The LeConte projects will allow pedestrians to more easily cross Shattuck Avenue at Russell, Stuart and Ward streets with features such as bulb-outs and higher-visibility crosswalks. Construction will start this summer. A Safe Routes to School project at King Middle School has also received state funding for improvements such as bulb-outs, pedestrian refuge islands and signal improvements, and we’ll be working on that once the LeConte project is complete.
Other pedestrian and bicycling safety projects around the City include Hearst, Bancroft, Shattuck, and Milvia streets as well as a series of projects along Ashby Avenue and Tunnel Road. Construction on the Hearst Complete Streets Project will begin this summer as well. The BART plaza project, which is out to bid now and will start construction this summer, was funded through a grant that the City applied for. At the Gilman Interchange, which will include a pedestrian and bicycling overpass for access to sports fields and the Bay Trail, we’re working on the environmental phase of that project, which is targeted for construction in 2020.
The changes along Ashby Avenue and Tunnel Road should all have approved permits this spring and move towards construction immediately thereafter. This includes bike lanes and a rapid flashing beacon crossing on Tunnel Road, a pedestrian hybrid beacon signal at Ashby Hillegass, a signal controlled bike path crossing of Ashby at the 9th Street Path, and signal modifications at several other intersections to better serve pedestrian safety.
In a dense, urban city like Berkeley, there are many plans and ideas sought across the community. The pedestrian and bike master plans evaluate the history of crashes in the City in order to identify priority locations for improvements. With 1,013 reported crashes involving pedestrians and 1,290 crashes involving people riding bikes over the past 10 years, there are many areas at which the City seeks to make improvements. The City is developing a Strategic Transportation Plan which will not only prioritize projects but develop a strategy to fund and build them. While designing and building roadway improvements and traffic controls can’t absolutely guarantee bike and pedestrian safety, which is up to all of us, the City seeks to do everything we can to contribute to safer use of public streets.”
Berkeley police pay $200,000 a year to hire crossing guards for 10 Berkeley schools.
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[This story was updated after publication to include information from the Berkeley Police Department and the city of Berkeley.]