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Oakland Crosswalk Update Could Improve Pedestrian Safety

Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Here in the Bay Area, we’re lucky to live in or near cities that are well known for their walkability. The website WalkScore, for example, recently ranked the country’s most walkable cities, and listed San Francisco in second place, and Oakland in tenth. While this is certainly cause for celebration, it might not take safety into account, considering that it has been an awful year for San Francisco pedestrian safety, and that more than 550 pedestrians are killed each year in California alone. A new account by local blog Oakland North explains one reason why the East Bay city doesn’t live up to the walk hype: dangerous crosswalk signals.

Unlike most cities, Oakland’s crosswalks don’t automatically tell pedestrians to “walk” when the light turns green. Rather, pedestrians must press the button at the crosswalk in order to get permission to cross. Lauren McFall notes that this creates an inherent conflict between the California Vehicle Code’s rule that “the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection” and another which says that “no pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal” if it says “don’t walk” or “wait.” By requiring the pedestrian to press a button to cross the street, Oakland streets aren’t granting pedestrians the automatic right of way, as stipulated by the California Vehicle Code.

Fortunately there’s an easy fix to this dangerous problem. Oakland could adopt the more common practice of automatically displaying a “walk” signal when cars going straight or turning right are not turning into a given crosswalk. That way, pedestrians won’t have to worry about whether they will be permitted to cross the street based on whether or not they pressed the button. This is an example of a simple solution to a dangerous problem for California streets.

If you agree with the need for this change, McFall invites anyone to join her at Oakland City Hall on August 18 for the Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting.

Photo credit: Dylan Passmore


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