Way back in 2006, the founders of the Downtown Lake Merritt Neighborhood Group began an effort to get a crosswalk installed at the corner of 15th and Jackson. Residents of the Lake Merritt apartment district will be familiar with the spot, a T-intersection across the street from that natural foods store, which I totally wish had been there back when I lived in that neighborhood. Anyway, the spot was always kind of a pain to cross, and residents tell me pedestrian traffic has increased sharply since the store opened a few years ago.
Although the problems on the street are nothing even remotely close to the terrifying pedestrian conditions in the HarriOak neighborhood, residents and frequent visitors of the area know that cars can get going pretty fast along the stretch of Jackson between 17th and 15th, and it isn’t really a fun place to try to cross the street. Although there have been no reported pedestrian-vehicle collisions at the intersection over the last few years, there are plenty of close calls, and many residents worry that it’s only a matter of time until something like this happens:
So the founders of the group started a petition to get a crosswalk marked at the intersection, and after roughly an hour’s worth of effort yielded 130 signatures, they submitted the petition and request for a crosswalk to the City.
The immediate response from the City’s transportation department to the request was that getting a crosswalk would be “unlikely,” since Federal regulations for pedestrian crossings require installation of new curb ramps, which would cost as much as $9,000 and reminding the petitioners that the US Department of Transportation notes that crosswalks “will not make crossing safer, nor necessarily result in more vehicles stopping for pedestrians.*”
After six months of no further responses to calls and e-mails, a different transportation engineer finally informed the petitioner that the City was denying the crosswalk request, because:
Crosswalks are marked to guide pedestrians to use a preferred path. Between the two unmarked crosswalks crossing Jackson St at 15th Street, both crosswalks are equally visible to drivers. Therefore, there is no reason to guide pedestrian to use one but not the other.
Such logic may make a great deal of sense to traffic engineers, but not so much to people who just want to feel a little safer crossing the street. With no help forthcoming from the City, someone recently took matters into their own hands and dealt with the problem by buying a couple of buckets of paint and doing this:
(No, I don’t know who did it, and the petition organizer has assured me that it was not him.)
A guerrilla crosswalk is no doubt kind of cool, but it’s a sad reflection of the responsiveness of Oakland’s government to citizen needs when people are reduced to painting their own crosswalks on the street in the middle of the night.
* So I’m not really qualified to comment on the appropriateness of a crosswalk in this location (normally I would spend a couple hours researching the issue before commenting, but I just don’t have time right now. Elections!). It’s true that one study (PDF!) on the efficacy of marked crosswalks found that marking crosswalks, in the absence of other traffic calming measures, actually led to an increase in pedestrian accidents on multi-lane, high traffic streets (think Telegraph), while the impact on 2-lane, lower-traffic streets (like Jackson) was negligible, although marking crosswalks did significantly increase pedestrian traffic across marked intersections. But if the City is denying crosswalk requests because they will not increase safety, it’s the City’s responsibility to educate residents about the evidence and explain their reasoning, not just issue curt denials. One also can’t help but wonder about the inconsistent logic apparently applied to related transportation decisions. For example, evidence does not show that bicycle lanes improve safety for bicyclists more than wide outside lanes, and many bicycle advocates fear that the presence of bicycle lanes can actually be more dangerous for bicyclists, as they create an illusion of safety. Yet we plan for bicycle lanes because that’s what people want. Why does the same logic not apply for pedestrian improvements?