The father of a 9-year-old girl struck by a taxi in a crosswalk last week was among a small contingent of parents and administrators from John Muir Elementary School who asked the Berkeley City Council for pedestrian safety improvements in the area Tuesday.
Darryl Bartlow, whose daughter Lillia was hit March 8 while crossing Claremont Avenue with her mother after they attended an evening PTA meeting at the school, described a devastating week softened by “a great outpouring of love and concern” from the community. Both Lillia’s legs were broken and she may need to be in a wheelchair for up to a year, Bartlow said. It is unclear when she will be able to return to John Muir, where she is a fourth-grade student. She is home from the hospital.
Bartlow is a longtime Berkeley resident and graduate of Berkeley public schools. He worked for the Alameda County Probation Department for 30 years and now sits on the city’s Personnel Board. At the council meeting, he asked council members to install traffic lights at the crosswalk where Lillia was hit, which is directly in front of the elementary school, on Claremont Avenue at Claremont Crescent.
John Muir Principal Audrey Amos, who accompanied Lillia to the hospital, read out a list of short- and long-term safety requests at the council meeting. She asked for traffic lights or a stop sign, yield lines on the street, better street lighting, a lower speed limit and a police patrol by the intersection, which she said has long been a danger zone.
“Cars fly down Claremont,” she said.
There is a crossing guard employed on the four-lane Claremont before and after school, but not when many children leave the after-school program.
Ann Einstein, a former John Muir teacher and grandparent of a current student, said these concerns have been raised since she started working at the school over 20 years ago. “I’m very sorry for the child who was injured. I’m not surprised,” she said.
Councilwoman Lori Droste, whose district includes the school, promised to pursue improvements at the intersection. Droste and Mayor Tom Bates will cosponsor legislation for a “short-term intervention” in the area, she said. The Berkeley Police Department has also agreed to increase enforcement in the area, Droste said, and city staff have recommended yield lines on the street.
In recent days, police have positioned a radar speed monitor along Claremont Avenue to alert drivers how fast they are going.
The city of Berkeley has both completed some improvements and has applied unsuccessfully for state grants to address pedestrian safety near John Muir, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said.
In May 2015, the city applied for a nearly $400,000 grant from the Caltrans Safe Routes to School program to add pedestrian lighting, crosswalk safety signage, pavement striping and other improvements near John Muir. The city received funds from the same program for pedestrian and bicycle safety measures by seven other Berkeley schools in previous years. The grant was not approved.
Parents have raised concerns about pedestrian safety near a number of Berkeley schools.
After a crossing guard at Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary went on medical leave earlier this year, parent Riti Dhesi said she witnessed a near-collision of a mother crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Virginia Street with a stroller. The crossing guard is slated to be replaced and was in training as of a week ago, according to the Berkeley Police Department.
“We’ve all had close calls,” said Dhesi. “We’re crossing at rush hour and people don’t want to stop.”
In the fall, Dhesi was part of a walk audit with the county Safe Routes to School Program. Parents and city or school staff can request an audit to identify safety issues and appropriate solutions around a school. After the audit at BAM, the group submitted an evaluation to the city transportation division. The city said the collision history at the intersections identified did not warrant some of the requested safety measures, but decided to install “yield to pedestrian signs” and yellow crosswalks, and to ask for enhanced police enforcement.
Parent Elizabeth Mackenzie also did a walk audit at Cragmont Elementary, where she has long advocated for safety improvements and an additional crossing guard. There is one crossing guard stationed at Marin Avenue and Spruce Street, but she said cars frequently don’t yield at other popular crosswalks on Marin.
The Safe Routes to School program declined to talk to Berkeleyside.
There are currently crossing guards at 10 Berkeley schools. The $200,000 program is funded by the Berkeley Police Department.
The city of Berkeley has pedestrian and bicycle master plans, which identify priority areas for improvement. The city is also developing a Strategic Transportation Plan, which will determine how to fund and build improvements.
A gofundme campaign has already raised over $13,500 for Lillia Bartlow’s recovery. The accident was a big blow for the active 9-year-old, who takes French, reading, math, creative writing and gymnastics classes after school, Darryl Bartlow said.
Bartlow, a big Cal basketball fan, has taken his daughter to many games, where she is fond of standing up and dancing along with the cheerleaders. She apparently made an impression on the team, because the cheerleading crew, along with mascot Oski showed up at Lillia’s house this week after they heard about her accident. They performed for her and gifted her a signature pom-pom.
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