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Oakland: Take Creative Steps to Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrians are especially vulnerable to serious injuries, even death when walking on or alongside any street traveled by cars. Most of the time, the driver claims not to see the pedestrian in time. In order to ensure pedestrian safety at intersections, a city needs to essentially hit the driver with a wet towel as they approach a crosswalk or other avenue where driver and walker cross paths. To accomplish this, cities need to get assertive and creative in their design.

A motorist is required under California Vehicle Code Section 21950 to yield to pedestrians whether crossing in a crosswalk or not. However, signals and crosswalks don't always equate to a safe stroll across the street. We've all heard news stories of pedestrians getting hit by inattentive drivers making a swift left turn or failing to yield at a crosswalk. On Grand Avenue near Lake Merritt last year, an elderly man died from injuries sustained when a driver did not stop as the man proceeded through the crosswalk. Unfortunately, he's not the only one.

Thankfully, the City of Oakland is making strides toward creating safer streets for pedestrians. Harrison at Westlake Middle School and Bay Place near Whole Foods both have pedestrian-initiated signals and crosswalks. Vernon and Lee, in heavily populated Adams Point, has traffic-calming sidewalk "bulb-outs" and a sidewalk garden to slow cars. Oakland Avenue also has traffic-calming devices.

A recent article from Next City shows some other examples of progressive intersection designs that prioritize pedestrian safety. Oakland, as well as other East Bay cities, would do well to consider adopting or increasing their use of the following:

* A green left turn arrow. These simple signals go a long way in preventing accidents. The article points out that left turns are a leading cause of pedestrian deaths.

* Traffic signals that give pedestrians a head start. Giving pedestrians a few seconds before motorists proceed reduces "conflicts" between pedestrians and turning vehicles according to nonprofit America Walks. The head start could be especially useful at Grand and Macarthur and at Lake Park Drive, both busy intersections for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

* Lighted crosswalks. The flashing lights alert drivers that a pedestrian is crossing or about to cross. Rumble strips leading up to a crosswalk is another good option.

* More traffic bulb-outs or "neck-downs." Similar to the Vernon and Lee additions, the bulb-outs slow traffic and help get the elderly and preschoolers to the other side more quickly, as they have less distance to cross.

Oakland is on the right track in promoting walking and biking as modes of travel and as a healthier way of life. Let's hope they keep putting one foot in front of the other (pun intended!) for pedestrian safety. 

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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Oakland, CA 94612

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