Central Berkeley residents raise concerns over traffic safety

Matthew Lee/Staff
UC Berkeley alumna Milanca Lopez died in May when the car she was traveling in struck a tree at California Street and Allston Way, killing her and her 6-year-old son, who died a week later in the hospital.

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Residents of a central Berkeley neighborhood voiced their concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety during a community meeting Thursday at Congregation Beth Israel.

City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin presided over the meeting and fielded questions — along with City Manager Christine Daniel and Sgt. Robert Rittenhouse of Berkeley Police Department’s Traffic Bureau — regarding streets in the western portion of the neighborhood bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Sacramento Street.

“There are specific things that could be done to slow down traffic and make certain intersections safer,” Arreguin said. “We need to look at all options and come up with a plan for what we’re going to do, because it’s not one intersection — it’s the whole area there are issues.”

More than 40 people showed up at the meeting, which convened as a result of various complaints and concerns raised by community members.

“Traffic safety has always been an issue that we’ve followed,” said Anthony Sanchez, legislative aide to Arreguin. “Recently, it was sort of brought to the fore because of the fatal accident on California and Allston.”

UC Berkeley alumna Milanca Lopez died in May when the car she was traveling in struck a tree at California Street and Allston Way, killing her and her 6-year-old son, who died a week later in the hospital. Although the person driving the car was allegedly intoxicated at the time, Arreguin said the lack of visibility at the intersection may have helped contribute to the accident.

Members of the community voiced their concerns about the need for more four-way stops at various intersections, the lack of visibility at traffic circles and vehicles — including police cruisers — speeding through residential neighborhoods.

Berkeley resident Jonah Markowitz, who is legally blind and uses a wheelchair for mobility, said cars and plants on the sidewalk often impede his movement.

“Cars that are parked wherever they are have forced me to call the police force so I don’t have to go out onto the street,” he said. “For me to call the police if cars are blocking the driveway during my regular route … it’s not a personal thing against neighbors — it’s for my own personal safety after having been hit by five cars.”

Various solutions proposed by community members included placing four-way stops at every intersection and placing a better emphasis on educating people about traffic and road safety.

“We’re already evaluating some of those issues, but there’s a lot more that we need to do,” Arreguin said. “I’ve been hearing concerns from people who have lived in this neighborhood for a number of years, and we’re going to come up with a plan about how we can make our streets safer, and we need to work with the community in moving that forward.”

Arreguin said he would meet with Daniel the following day to discuss the concerns raised by the community and believes solutions will begin being implemented within the year.

Contact Andy Nguyen at [email protected].