Death of local cyclist spurs renewed traffic safety efforts in Berkeley

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Rachael Garner/Staff

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Residents and community members are calling for increased law enforcement of traffic violations, more funding and education on traffic safety after a Sunday morning collision between a cyclist and vehicle in the Berkeley Hills.

Local cyclist Kurt Wehner, a 62-year-old Berkeley resident, was involved in a collision with a vehicle at the intersection of Spruce and Eunice streets, sustaining life-threatening injuries. He died Monday afternoon due to blunt trauma, according to the Alameda County coroner.

In particular, neighbors and community members are calling for more resources in the area, such as reduced speed limits and increased enforcement. Councilmember Susan Wengraf, in whose district the accident occurred, said neighbors had been complaining about traffic on Eunice Street for years.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said a lack of resources and funding were major obstacles to improving traffic safety education, enforcement and infrastructure.

“(There are) many unsafe streets — not only main streets but neighborhood streets,” he said.

Arreguin said one prospect was Measure BB, the Alameda County Transportation Commission Sales Tax, which would renew a transportation sales tax, generating revenue that could go to improve local streets and roads as well as bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Andrew Fischer, a UC Berkeley alumnus and resident of the neighborhood for three years, said bicyclists come “blasting through” the area. Fischer, who lives on the corner of Eunice and Spruce streets, said on weekends, he has noticed that bicyclists headed downhill on Spruce rarely stop at the intersection.

He emphasized that, in his opinion, bicyclists need to take responsibility for obeying traffic laws.

Robert Prinz, education director for Bike East Bay, said he contacted Wengraf offering to work with the city to implement more robust bicycle education. His organization offers education programs to local schools and businesses and is working on a project to bring protected bike lanes, bike traffic signals and green bike boxes to a number of Berkeley streets. Bike East Bay has strongly endorsed Measure BB in order to address the infrastructure problems.

Stop-sign and speed violations are among the most common community complaints regarding traffic, according to the city of Berkeley’s website. Berkeley Police Department runs focused enforcement projects targeting resources to areas with a large number of collisions or a large number of complaints.

Since 2006, Berkeley has had an official traffic calming policy. The policy, adopted by Berkeley City Council and renewed in 2009, provides a mechanism for neighborhoods to gather signatures and initiate a request for the city to investigate excess traffic and to implement appropriate infrastructure measures.

Arreguin said any future project decisions should be neighborhood-driven processes.

“We’re not doing enough,” he said. “We need to prioritize (safe streets).”

Contact Isaac Smith at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @IsaacGSmith.

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  • Robert ANderson

    Most bicyclists blow through stop signs. Therefore most bicyclists are criminals.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Well, I didn’t say that everyone who rides a bike is a criminal. And certainly motorists ought to be held accountable to traffic rules as much as anyone else. But no amount of educating drivers would have prevented a situation where a cyclist blazes through a stop sign and strikes a car. That’s manifestly not the driver’s fault.

    I’m glad to see that the UCPD is prioritizing traffic infractions. There’s definitely a lot of piggish behavior on display from motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike around the perimeter of campus, and it ought to be discouraged.

  • Floyd_the_weasel_Landis

    .

    I’m all for everyone (bicyclists and motorists) observing the traffic laws

    but let’s be CLEAR

    bikes rarely cause serious injuries to other people

    when did you hear of a bicyclist maiming or killing a motorist?

    once in a great while a bicyclist will seriously hurt a pedestrian….but that’s rare

    rarer still is the situation where a bicyclist kills a pedestrian….that is a truly rare event

    on the other hand, motorists hitting (and sometimes killing) pedestrians and bicyclists are a dime a dozen, it effectively is considered to be the cost of doing ‘business’, it’s so common

    so let’s all be clear about this; if the goal is to reduce serious accidents / vehicular homicides,

    DON’T LOOK AT BIKES……

    LOOK at CARS !!!

    .

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Sure, there’s no question that an improperly handled automobile can cause a lot of damage. I don’t see what that has to do with this particular case, though. Pretty clearly it was the cyclist who did something reckless and foolish–I don’t see how a motorist can be expected to be the guardian of people who neglect their own safety.

      Personally, I don’t understand why anyone drives on Bancroft or Hearst unless they have destinations on one of those streets. The incessant foot traffic makes it nearly impossible to get from one end of town to the other. But the system would be safer for everyone, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, if people would just obey the rules of traffic.

  • Bishop George Berkeley

    “Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said a lack of resources and funding were major obstacles….”

    This is just complete and utter hogwash. The City of Berkeley is AWASH in funds. We’ve got a huge per capita budget. Jesse and the other Councilmembers should at least have the integrity to own their choices and decisions about how to spend all that money. To blame a “lack of funding” for anything in this City is just pure cowardice.

  • Rio Tardo

    Dumb article, the bicyclist who died was traveling down Spruce at a high
    rate of speed and didn’t stop at any of the controlled intersections.
    This wasn’t a “traffic calming” issue, it was a dope on a bike doing
    something stupid. Sad for him, but not an indictment of anything aside
    his own actions.

    Problem is this guys is hardly an anomaly.
    Bicycle riders in Berkeley are notorious scofflaws, and that includes
    recreational riders on streets like Spruce (feeder for rides like Three
    Bears Loop) as well as students and commuters around campus. Berkeley
    has been entirely lax about enforcing bicycle traffic safety and traffic
    laws, and the consequences are predictable.

    I just pray I don’t end up with one of these numbskulls plastered on my windshield or wrapped up under my car.

  • 1kenthomas

    First, there’s no explanation of the actual accident here, or whether it was cyclist or motorist error.
    Next, I think non-cyclists (and some cyclists) often underestimate or do not realize, a cyclist’s visual field and maneuverability. On a cycle, for instance (earlier today), I can easily move from one lane, across another and into a third, in under a second– with traffic, a maneuver difficult or impossible in a car.
    Finally and equally, I think any change in the law (or alternative enforcement) has to be in full light, of the very different realities facing bike riders. Coming down Spruce at Euclid, for instance, one sacrifices significant speed/maneuverability, in coming to a full stop. Even in the worst of conditions– a speeding car one did not see– one should be able to execute a 90 turn and avoid the line of traffic (potential collision) altogether; while coming to a full stop and proceeding sacrifices these advantages (facing an uphill, would be worse) and exposes one to potential collision for much longer — 10 to 30 seconds crossing an intersection, instead of less than one second.
    Data-backed risk analysis might do much to illuminate these situations, and lead to better traffic laws and integration of different modes of transport. Until then, we might look at the Benelux and other cycle-friendly, cycle-integrated areas, and find short-term solutions before spending money on protected lanes and the like.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Does Berkeley really need more “traffic calming”? Some commenters on Berkeleyside report that the cyclist ran a stop sign. Is this true? If so, then no amount of “educating” motorists will prevent similar accidents from happening, and perhaps the lesson is that cyclists are operators of vehicles, and as such should be obeying traffic rules along with motorists.

    I know this is anecdotal, but I see cyclists blast through stop signs and red lights all the time. I don’t much care for the sake of the law itself–fine by me if they do this as long as there’s no cross traffic–but it seems to me that Andrew Fischer is right.

    And as a separate but related issue, yes, traffic is hairy on Eunice. When the city blocks off entire blocks from through traffic, causing major thoroughfares to bear far more traffic than they were designed for, traffic on side streets increases as people look for a way to get across town that doesn’t involve 30 minutes of their time. I think the city of Berkeley needs to face reality; increasing numbers of service workers are prevented from living here because of increasing real estate costs, and many of them commute from areas that are poorly served by an incompetent and corrupt transit authority. The upshot is that people need to drive through Berkeley, and due to the well-meaning but ultimately self-defeating traffic calming measures favored by the city, it often takes 30 minutes to travel 4-5 miles. Those commuters and their cars are not going to go away; in fact, they’re probably going to increase. What’s the plan?