I almost hit a pedestrian while turning right from Otis onto Broadway. My heart dropped. The very thing I had appreciated as a pedestrian caught me off guard as a driver.
At some intersections around the city, walk signals and traffic lights heading in the same direction are no longer in sync. Walk signals now turn green several seconds before auto traffic lights do, allowing pedestrians to leave the curb before cars begin to move. While well intentioned, it will take drivers some time to get used to.
These seconds at the corner of an intersection are crucial. Pedestrians may leave the curb at the same time that drivers are turning right after stopping at a red light.
It is common for cars to barely stop before making right turns on red. A driver’s focus is usually to the left. Beware. Now when a driver least expects pedestrians to enter a crosswalk—on a red light—pedestrians are being encouraged to do so by the walk signal.
Pedestrians may feel safe, or perhaps even empowered, proceeding when the walk signal comes on early, but they should not. Motorists are looking at the traffic light, not the walk signals.
Prompted by recent fatalities, accidents and near misses around town, several residents spoke at the May 17 city council meeting asking the city council to take measures to make city streets calmer and safer. There has been a “noticeable driving culture shift, particularly the increased speeding and distracted, unobservant driving throughout the city,” said Heather Little. “We need to regain our culture of mindfulness.”
Refraining from pointing fingers, speakers stressed that cyclists, drivers and pedestrians alike need to share in the responsibility of making sure that our streets are not dangerous. The Alameda Peeps Facebook group is laying the groundwork for a citywide public awareness campaign that addresses education, infrastructure and enforcement to help make our streets safer. Their slogan is “In town, slow down.”
Similar campaigns, going back to 1999, proved to be very successful. Groups rallied at corners with signs and sent in letters to the newspapers. In 2014 and 2015, police conducted pedestrian decoy stings, ticketing drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Additional citations were issued for distracted driving and excessive speed. The campaigns caught the attention of many and, to this day, most drivers in Alameda stop to allow people to cross the street.
Speaker Brian McGuire wants to restore Alameda’s reputation of having a strongly enforced 25-mile-an-hour speed limit.
The city has made more efforts in recent months. New red curbs, driver-alert pedestrian crossing signs and street paddles have been installed at various intersections. But many of these warning paddles in crosswalks have been battered and destroyed by cars.
Having the right-of-way and abiding by the speed limit do not eliminate the need to be cautious. Street signals never have and never will guarantee one’s safety. I know firsthand that pedestrians are even more vulnerable, especially until everyone is accustomed to the timing change of the walk signals.
Proceed with caution. No one wants anyone to get hurt.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun