Good News: Endangering Pedestrians Really Is Illegal in Oakland

I complain occasionally (okay, all the time) about how dangerous our streets are for pedestrians, and how I wish that the Oakland Police Department would crack down on reckless drivers so that people can feel safe crossing the street. So you can imagine how pleased I was to read about a string operation in West Oakland this morning, in which 25 drivers were cited for failing to stop for an OPD staffer as she tried to cross a crosswalk:

Twenty-five motorists were cited this morning in a West Oakland police sting for not yielding to pedestrians crossing the street.

The operation, which went from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Brockhurst Street, was done in response to residents’ complaints about pedestrian safety, Officer Holly Joshi said.

While motorcycle officers observed from a distance, a civilian employee of the Police Department would walk in the marked crosswalk at the intersection. Motorists who failed to stop for her were stopped by officers and given a citation.

Joshi said that there were a few close calls for the decoy from some of the cars that did not stop but that she was not hurt.

Kudos to OPD. Now if we could get them to start citing reckless drivers as a matter of habit, then we’d be making real progress. I’m happy to report that even on that front I witnessed a promising event the other day. I arrived at a 4-way stop on my bike just before an Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy reached the intersection from another direction. After doing a quick computation of our respective masses and acceleration capabilities, I decided to wait for him to proceed, but he waved me ahead of him. That was refreshing enough, but what happened next was nothing short of miraculous: He turned onto my street, and we were waiting side by side at the next red light when an SUV sped through the intersection on the cross street, probably going about 40 mph in a 30 mph zone—definitely speeding somewhat dangerously, but nothing out of the ordinary on the streets of Oakland, and he hadn’t run a red light or a stop sign or anything like that. To my amazement, however, the sheriff’s deputy immediately turned the corner and pursued the SUV, clearly intending to pull it over.

I’m sure cars do get pulled over for speeding in Oakland sometimes, but I have literally never seen it happen before, and I spend a fair amount of time walking and biking around the city as cars speed by. Maybe that deputy was particularly enlightened, or maybe he never got the memo about how reckless driving is tolerated on the streets of Oakland, but either way, it was nice to see—I look forward to a day when it will no longer seem remarkable to see a speeding SUV get pulled over in our city.

10 Responses to “Good News: Endangering Pedestrians Really Is Illegal in Oakland”

  1. Sean Sullivan says:

    Thank you for acknowledging OPD’s efforts here.
    The corner in question is a major pedestrian area with a number of low income senior centers and senior housing and a major bike and bus corridor.

    This is a real problem in our city and I’m sad to say that today and EBMUD pick up blew right through the pedestrian crossing and waved to me while doing it.
    Last week, a 2 person full City of Oakland ticket jeep did the same but with out the apologetic wave.

  2. dc says:

    Sean: I hope the message gets out, among drivers and pedestrians, that OPD is willing to crack down on reckless driving if enough public pressure is applied. These stings get some publicity and raise awareness of the issue, which is good, but I suspect that dangerous driving habits only change when drivers perceive there to be a significant risk of getting a ticket. A few sting operations a year in specific trouble spots are no substitute for day-to-day enforcement when it comes to changing drivers’ expectations of getting a ticket. (I understand that police officers are usually rushing from crime scene to crime scene, and don’t have time for a lot of routine traffic stops, but I hope pedestrian and bicyclist safety remain in the mix as OPD weighs its priorities. Routine traffic stops often turn up outstanding warrants for more serious crimes, and they also send mischief-makers the message that the streets of Oakland are not the lawless wild west, so there are benefits to cracking down on reckless driving which go beyond ped/bike safety.)

    Reading through this post again, I realize that I should clarify one point: I wrote that “I have literally never seen” a car get pulled over for speeding in Oakland, but that’s not true. I came upon a speed trap on the Park Boulevard Speedway once and praised the OPD here at the time (I even linked to that old post in the post above). What I should have written is that never before have I seen a car be pulled over for speeding outside the context of these sting operations, although I’m sure it does occur sometimes.

  3. eric says:

    Public pressure is the key element, here as elsewhere. I’d like to see the same sting operation in my town.

  4. dc says:

    I know that San Francisco has done a couple of those pedestrian stings in the last year or so as well. Meanwhile, the slaughter continues—a woman crossing the street in Berkeley was hit and killed last week by a drunk driver, a guy was hit and killed by a driver in Union City (10 miles south of Oakland) this week, etc.

    In happier news, Oakland is having its first two Ciclovías (called, naturally, Oaklavías) later this year. SF has been doing them periodically for a couple of years now, with great success. Do they still block off Memorial Drive in Cambridge to car traffic on Sundays, the way I remember them doing in the late 70’s? I always expect to see the Memorial Drive closures mentioned in articles about Ciclovía-type events, but I never do.

  5. wordnerd says:

    I think Mem Drive still gets blocked off on Sundays–in the warmer months, only, however, so I can’t remember…

  6. dc says:

    Early this morning in San Francisco, a guy who was standing on the median strip of a wide boulevard (right next to a light-rail platform in the median) was hit and killed by a drunk driver’s out-of-control pickup truck, which had ricocheted off a garbage truck. Another day in paradise…

  7. eric says:

    Yes, Memorial Drive is still closed on Sundays from April to November. It is great, but it’s not on the scale of a ciclovia, which I think usually means closing a lot more streets.

  8. avoice says:

    this is a problem all over and something our cities should pay more attention to. In Glendale CA there are many crosswalks that are highlighted (literally) by flashing lights embedded in the street pavement along the edges. You push the “walk” button and the lights begin to flash. It is impossible to miss if you’re a driver, even during the day. At night is invaluable because the boulevards here are very wide –six lanes–and diagonal parking along the curbs and you can easily not see a pedestrian at night until he’s just ahead. In W. Hollywood by contrast there are many center dividers that are covered by shrubs that block the drivers’ view of pedestrians crossing who may appear suddenly to drivers just as they are bounding out of the vegetation. It looks nice but it’s dangerous for people crossing. Pedestrians, moreover, are morons by nature, even those who drive. They are too trusting that drivers are are of them. They have the right-of-way, and by God, they’ll defend it to their deaths.

  9. dc says:

    What’s really moronic is building 6-lane boulevards in the middle of quasi-urban areas. Landscaping on median strips may sometimes prevent drivers from seeing morons who bound out of shrubs and into traffic, but medians and landscaping both act as traffic-calming measures, which is why they are now favored by planners in urban and suburban neighborhoods. Drivers unconsciously take cues from the physical design of streets, and 6-lane boulevards resemble freeways, so drivers understandably tend to treat them as such. I do like those blinking lights in the pavement (they have them in Alameda too, and they seem pretty effective), but I wouldn’t be surprised if West Hollywood is actually a safer place to be a pedestrian than Glendale, shrubbery notwithstanding. Am I wrong to assume that there are more pedestrians in West Hollywood than in Glendale?

    Even in LA, many of your fellow citizens are starting to realize that it was insane to build urban spaces primarily for cars instead of human beings, and it’s been encouraging to see LA make large investments in public transportation and take steps to make neighborhoods more conducive to people on foot—last weekend I spent some time walking around parts of downtown LA, Highland Park, and even sidewalk-scarce Mount Washington, and they were all better places for walking than some of the surrounding cities. The light-rail line I rode was speedy and inexpensive, too.

  10. avoice says:

    I’d still have to give Glendale the edge in safety for many reasons. The population in West West hollywood is young and mostly gay and they party hardy–lots of bars and restaurants and such. In East West Hollywood, the population is mostly Russians. It’s a tourist magnet and has a lot of nite life. Glendale is a kind of bedroom and shopping community by and large. Highland Park is gentrifying slowly. It still has a seri0us gang problem, though. It’s the home of the Avenues gangs. The train line just opened q couple of years ago and it has made HP much more accessible and attractive.

Leave a Reply