BERKELEY -- A proposal to fund pedestrian-friendly street innovations by taxing property owners fell short of the required two-thirds majority in late returns Tuesday. With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Measure L had 54.4 percent, or about 11,159 votes. Updated Nov 6, 2:45 pm
The failure of the measure is a blow to those who say Berkeley's past approaches to pedestrian safety have been woefully inadequate.
Berkeley is either one of the safest or most dangerous places to walk, depending on which traffic study you believe. But one sobering fact remains: cars have injured 74 pedestrians this year and killed one, according to police -- more than in the same period last year.
"I can feel the air from the car because they've left so little room," said Wendy Alfsen of the pedestrian advocacy group Berkeley Walk and Roll. "It makes you want to jump."
Alfsen said that many of the 9,000 residents who walk to work every day report similar close calls.
That's why Alfsen and other proponents of Measure L argued that property owners should agree to a 10-year tax that would cost them an average of $25 per year. They said it would generate $10 million to pay for a slew of safety devices, from old-fashioned traffic circles to high-tech crosswalks with lights embedded in the pavement.
But many Berkeley homeowners said the last thing the city needs is another property tax.
"All the taxing [in Berkeley] is burdensome," said Keith Tower, who lives near one of the city's pedestrian trouble spots at Russell Street and Claremont Avenue. "But I'll look at [Measure L]. How do you vote against taxes for safety?"
It's easy, said opponents of the measure. Ted Edlin believes the proposal is a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
"What we need is not improvements, but education of drivers and pedestrians," he said.
Many consider the city's latest attempt to protect pedestrians -- providing orange flags for them to carry across busy intersections -- to be a failure. The program got off to an inauspicious start when two days after it began, a car hit a woman carrying one of the flags. Soon afterward all 3,000 flags disappeared, and police presumed they were stolen.
The missing flags, however, are the least of law enforcement's worries. The over-burdened police traffic division is primarily concerned with catching reckless drivers, according to Sergeant Michael Holland.
In the last year, the eight-man department has conducted seven pedestrian stings, handing out $104 tickets to more than 200 drivers who didn't yield to undercover police officers in crosswalks.
But the police can't watch every intersection and so pedestrian advocates feel stronger action is needed to deal with Berkeley's outmoded street systems.
The city has responded to some of their concerns by recently approving a lighted crosswalk at Ashby and Piedmont that is activated by pedestrians. It will be similar to one installed two years ago on Claremont. at a cost of $25,000. The city also green-lighted $50,000 for traffic signals at 25 intersections that count down crossing time for pedestrians.
Supporters of Measure L, who included mayoral candidates Shirley Dean and Tom Bates, argued that more money earmarked for such innovations means more safe intersections.
Zac Wald, president of California Walks and a pedestrian planner for the city of Oakland, agreed but added that nothing can substitute for good planning. According to Wald, Berkeley's roads don't adequately deal with traffic from the university, which generates the most single occupant vehicles in the Bay Area.
"Crosswalks are not dangerous," he said. "Streets with fast moving cars are dangerous."