Subject: Broken promises and nonfeasance - Response Notes


I am writing here notes related to various responses to my Broken promises and nonfeasance message:

Joanna Levine wrote "Why the threats?" and "Until I saw some letters threatening lawsuits at this site, I felt pretty good about participating recently in neighborhood traffic planning." and "I don't understand the level of anger that I see in letters threatening lawsuits."

I don't know of any discussion of bringing suit before I brought up the possibility in my "Broken promises and nonfeasance" message. If there have been other letters on that topic I am unaware of them. Can you please point me to any others so that I may quote them on the TACTC Web site?

I didn't feel any anger in starting to discuss the possibility of bringing suit. It just seems to me that if there are no alternatives to improving the needlessly dangerous situation at the Ashby and Benvenue intersection, then perhaps a class action suit is the next reasonable approach. Perhaps if my wife and girls had been injured when they were hit by a bouncing car while waiting at the stop sign to turn right onto Ashby west from Benvenue then I would feel some anger. As it is I don't. If you have been at any of the Willard/Bateman traffic task force meetings that I have attended (most) you will perhaps not have noticed me in attendance because I generally wait while others more upset than I push themselves forward in the discussion. It is clear to me that the mechanism (or non mechanism) available for addressing such traffic issues is clearly broken in the city of Berkeley - but at this point that isn't enough to anger me. I'm just trying to do what I see as my civic duty to improve the situation. Perhaps "citizen action" as proposed by Rafael Freedman below is a better next step. I certainly want to hear what others (e.g. Mr. Hillier) have to say. However, as noted below, it seems to me that we keep going through different people from the city (Chuck Deleu who retired, Jeff Knowles who left because he though the traffic situation in Berkeley was nuts and wanted to get away to the relatively calmer tri-valley area, Reh-Lin Chen who is the first to admit that he is in over his head, and now Peter Hillier who is presently an unknown to most of us) and nothing continues to happen except the accidents. What do you suggest as a next step that might improve the situation Joanna?

Joanna Levine also wrote "I do not recall being informed of meetings held by Benvenue neighbors to discuss the safety issues in the Ashby/College/South Berkeley area. Perhaps real efforts were made and I just didn't see the notices. Did the Benvenue folks try to involve residents from the other streets in the area?"

The meetings of the Willard/Bateman traffic task force were set up by "the city" (in the person of the Acting Supervising Traffic Engineer, Reh-Lin Chen) and the notifications were sent out in accordance with city policy, also by Reh-Lin Chen. These were not meetings held by 'Benvenue neighbors' (though we have of course had many such meetings in an effort to get the city to set up meetings like these task force meetings) but by Mr Chen. As to the notifications, they were also handled by Mr. Chen and his office. I and others in TACTC have made a best effort to inform people on our mailing lists about the meetings - though perhaps not very effectively. This is an area where I would like to see some improvement. I am happy to help. I believe such notification should be discussed as a separate topic in the task force meetings. I believe part of the problem is that the city only considers postal mail adequate notice to residents. Since the cost of such mailings is so high, they only happen for major meetings like those associated with the College Avenue paving and not with less significant meetings like the Willard/Bateman traffic task force meetings.

Joanna Levine also wrote "It was a surprise to me, when suddenly a No Right Turn showed up on Benvenue."

I assume you mean a 'Right Turn Only' as is now signed at the Benvenue and Ashby intersection on the south side during commute hours? I will assume you meant 'Right Turn Only' in the rest of your message (though I quote you as you wrote in the Web area). I'm afraid I also don't know what process went into the placement of that Right Turn Only signage. Perhaps Reh-Lin Chen can explain that. It seems to me that it was a reasonable effort/experiment, though it is quite apparent that the sign is ineffective. One can go there and see car after car violate the sign. The police can generate plenty of traffic fine income by sitting nearby and ticketing people, but that is not a viable means of enforcing the intended traffic restriction or of generating revenue for the city.

Joanna Levine also wrote "I was delighted to join with my neighbors recently, to object to the plan to 'try' No Right Turn signs on Hillegass, & Regent."

The fact that you put 'try' in quotes suggests to me that you don't believe the initial trial of those Right Turn Only treatments would be of limited duration. You know, I assume, that in making such a trial Reh-Lin Chen was only authorized to place those treatments for 9 months. A wider discussion with more formal approval would have to take place after the experience of that 9 month trial was felt by people in the neighborhood. The thought to extend the Right Turn Only treatment to Hillegass and Regent was Mr. Chen's effort to stop traffic flow on Benvenue from moving to Hillegass and/or Regent. It was not (as indeed the whole idea of a Right Turn Only treatment was not) something proposed or even supported (except as the apparently only viable compromise to get some action) by the bulk of the 'Benvenue' TACTC people.

Joanna Levine also wrote "Neighbors from Regent, Oregon,Russell, Hillegass, Derby, and Benvenue were in attendance, to try to get the traffic commission to

1) Explain what they had in mind, and to

2) Look at the area holistically, not street by self-interested street, and to

3) Hear that lots of people in the area felt very much left out of the planning process, and to

4) Hear a range of new suggestions for safety and convenience of pedestrians, school children, cars and bikes.

It is apparent that many folks have been working hard on this issue for years. I can understand the frustration some of you feel- and of course, the concern for safety at Benvenue/Ashby."

Indeed many of us have been working on some of these traffic issues for years. As noted above the people and procedures in the city change, the neighbors change, the only thing that seems to remain constant or increase are the accidents. It seems that no amount of well announced meetings (e.g. the meeting at St. John's Church following the College Avenue repaving with notes that I posted here: Traffic Meeting 8/22/2000 - St. John's Church) or the more focused meetings like those monthly meetings of the Willard/Bateman traffic task force can get residents to feel that they have been adequately informed. Certainly it is difficult to impossible to get any kind of consensus on measures that might address the accident problems. The consequence is that nothing continues to happen. One thing I will say for Reh-Lin Chen is that he was at least going to try something reasonable (see the discussion below about why the Right Turn Only treatment at Benvenue and Ashby would nominally eliminate 62% of the recorded historical accidents at that intersection) with the authority that he was given. Now it seems we are right back to square one - and the accidents continue to happen. Can you suggest how a more holistic approach might ultimately yield any improvement in the situation?

In the mean time, if you had a loved one killed at that intersection after all this discussion and the clear and present danger pointed out over and over again in such meetings, might not you consider the City of Berkeley guilty of nonfeasance in their responsibilities to protect the public safety? I would. At that point I would be angry. I would very much like to find a process to get something actually done to reduce the number of collisions at that intersection.

Joanna Levine also wrote "How many cars currently cross Ashby going South on Benvenue? Since Benvenue is already blocked off one block South, many cars, I imagine, have quit that route."

I don't know how many cars currently cross Ashby going South on Benvenue. Perhaps Reh-Lin Chen has some such data from his counts. What I do know comes from the police accident records, e.g. like this Collision Diagram data from the Ashby at Benvenue intersection (from 1/19 - 12/2000). From that data one can see that of 34 reported collisions, 6 involved cars crossing Ashby south on Benvenue and 14 involved cars crossing Ashby north on Benvenue. If just the bulk of those collisions involving cars crossing Ashby on Benvenue could be eliminated, the number of collisions at the Benvenue and Ashby intersection would be reduced to a level comparable to other intersections in the area.

Rafael Freedmann wrote that a class action suit would take time and citizen action might be preferable.

I believe that both are expensive and time consuming in different ways. I believe we should talk about options and decide how to proceed. First of course we must exhaust all possible avenues within the available systems. However, at this point after so many years of non-action in response to following the procedures (or non procedures) made available by the city of Berkeley, I believe it would be fool hardy to just accept yet another set of people (Peter Hillier in this case) who will talk for a while, perhaps make promises, and then fail to act effectively or perhaps simply disappear into the mist as the others before him have.

Ignacio Dayrit wrote that it is unfortunate that we can't all be at all these meetings.

I would be happy if we could just all be notified of the meetings effectively. I believe that such notification should be a separate action item. I am happy to contribute by helping support mailing lists like this one and to use them to help with notifications. On a related topic I am doing my best to make as much of the information from such meetings available to people who don't make the meetings by providing meeting notes on this Web site. I will be happy to post meeting notes from anybody who provides them. Naturally if you take the meeting notes you can provide your own slant on the meeting - an added bonus for taking such notes ;-)

Ignacio Dayrit also wrote "Something clearly has to be done about the accidents on Benvenue, as well as the safety along Ashby and Telegraph. But all these RTs-only at Telegraph and Ashby, were planned in isolation."

We agree that something should be done to reduce the accidents at Benvenue and Ashby. The accident rate at that intersection is unreasonably high. Many of the causes are quite clear. I'm not quite sure what you mean by stating that the right turn only treatments at Telegraph and Ashby were planned in isolation. I can only speak for the treatment at the Benvenue and Ashby intersection. That trial treatment was arrived through the only means that the city provided. Namely through the series of Willard/Bateman traffic task force meetings that were organized and led by Acting Supervising Traffic Engineer Reh-Lin Chen. I am afraid that there are simply no know alternative means to arrive at any measures for dealing with those accidents. The treatments at the other intersections were proposed by Reh-Lin Chen in an effort to arrive at a more integrated solution - in his professional role as traffic engineer with authority to put into place such trial measures for a period not to exceed 9 months.

Ignacio Dayrit also wrote "...while it is debatable whether these measures will work, they are sure to make every Willard resident's commute more difficult and affect quality of life."

The right turn treatment at Benvenue and Ashby, while not what I would personally prefer (I concur with my neighbors who signed a petition supporting a partial barrier to northern entry on Benvenue at Ashby), the efficacy of this right turn treatment (if one can assume it will actually force right turns) is a clear consequence one can read from the accident data. If you look at the Collision Diagram data from the Ashby at Benvenue intersection (from 1/19 - 12/2000) you will see that of the 34 collisions in the police records, fully 22 of them could not have happened with effective right turn only treatments. This would result in a 62% reduction in accidents at that intersection, bringing it more into line with other intersections in the area. Of course past data are no guarantee of future results, particularly given that traffic patterns may change in the face of new control treatments. However, we seem to have little alternative but to base measures on dealing with problems that are clear from past data coupled with our best understanding of the possible consequences of new treatments. Many people have noted their belief in the likelihood that putting in right turn only treatments on both sides of Benvenue AND Hillegass would force people into making many more left turns north into Benvenue. As you can see in the data, there wasn't a single accident recorded involving a car turning left onto Benvenue north. This could well change and result in more such collisions if the right turn only treatments proposed were put into place. I count myself in the camp that prefers minimal trial efforts (e.g. just right turn or partial barriers at Benvenue) before settling on more comprehensive trial or permanent measures.

As to making life more difficult for Willard residents, I am sure that would be the case during the trial and will likely be the case for any measure that ultimately addresses the safety problem. If one looks at the map Paul Tuleja put together, it is clear that residents of neighborhood on both sides of Ashby all around the Willard neighborhood have had their traffic patterns disrupted for many years with all the treatments put into place to keep arterial traffic out of the neighborhoods. At the Benvenue (and to a somewhat lesser extent Hillegass) intersections with Ashby this problem is compounded because those intersections become essentially cross arterials (during busy times) with no traffic control - particularly with traffic from the College side speeding up to squeeze from two lanes to one lane. The accidents at Ashby and Benvenue are inevitable. One need only stand out there for a short while during a busy period to know exactly what is happening.

I'm not sure, but I expect life will have to be more difficult in some ways if we are to improve the accident problem at that intersection. Of course the city should make a best effort to minimize any inconveniences caused. We should be involved in that process. However, I don't believe 50 or 100 or even 100% of the residents objecting to the least intrusive effective measures that can be devised should stop anything being done to improve the trap that intersection currently is. It isn't just residents who are injured at that intersection. I believe the city should be liable to provide something at least approaching the state of the art in traffic control to protect the public safety. If the city knows that a hazard exists and fails to act to remedy the situation then I believe the city should be liable for the injuries that occur.

Howard Rosenberg wrote "Perhaps, as you say, a forced right turn structure at Benvenue and Ashby would have cut recently recorded accidents there by more than half. But perhaps alternative measures would have been equally effective or better without increasing risks and causing other problems elsewhere in Willard/Bateman. Of course, what's advertised as a safety measure in one place can impose significant costs in others. Last week TC Chair Steven Wheeler identified two broad classes of traffic calming mechanisms: (1) those that move the traffic from one place to another, and (2) those that make the traffic go more slowly and carefully along its current route. Pointing out that the latter usually causes less collateral trouble, and apparently restating a previous recommendation, he urged staff to look harder for solutions of type #2."

With either the right turn only treatment (-22 of 34) or a partial barrier to entry at Benvenue north coupled with a right turn only on Benvenue north (-21 or 34) the recorded accidents at that intersection would have been cut more than in half. Perhaps there are other measures that would have been equally effective - but despite years of work on alternatives (would you like to hear about the year and a half we worked on pinch points?) every effort to put something in place has met with some neighborhood objections and nothing has been done. The accidents continue.

Making traffic go more slowly through the neighborhoods is a good idea in and of itself (making things safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.). However, I am not sure how much slower traffic can do for the accidents at Ashby and Benvenue. One area where slower traffic could help would be to slow the cars heading west from College on Ashby - those cars that are often speeding up to merge from 2 lanes into one lane. As you can see from the collision diagram, 16 of the 34 accidents reported involved a car heading west from college. I suspect that slowing those cars would indeed help some. However, most of the other cars involved in those accidents were starting from a standing stop at a stop sign. Slowing them would clearly not help.

It is clear that cars northbound on Benvenue across Ashby are involved in a hugely disproportionate fraction of the accidents at that intersection. I believe that the amount of this northbound traffic is insignificant compared to the arterial traffic already northbound on College. I do not believe that forcing that traffic back onto the College arterial would have a significant effect on the congestion on College.

I also note that slowing traffic can also have the effect of displacing traffic and sometime causing congestion as well. I believe that effective traffic "calming" on Benvenue (e.g. with pinch points or the like as we proposed previously) would also cause that northbound traffic to move elsewhere. Also, slowing the traffic moving west from College along Ashby would likely back up across College. I'm not sure what the consequences of that would be.

Howard Rosenberg also wrote "If there has been nonfeasance by city officials, it was the failure to notify and hear from the public..." and "Please. Well-noticed to whom? You can check out what share of residents to be affected by Project A had any knowledge before this month (or even now) about these meetings or the plan that emerged from them." and later "Even having subscribed to the TACTC list in summer 2000, I have received no advance notice of the meetings. Two other neighbors in my area have not received notices despite having the impression that they signed up for same at the one TACTC meeting each that they had learned of and attended last Fall."

It is difficult for me to speak for the city on this. It was their procedures that were followed. As I understand it, the procedure started with the meeting at St. John's church after the College Avenue paving whose notes I include on this Web site. At that meeting it was decided that the traffic engineers would put together some proposals that would be discussed in smaller task force meetings (to which all were invited, but the notice I believe was at the St. John's church meeting). After that it seems notice was given (by email and voice mail) to anybody who attended any of the task force meetings. I agree that the notice was not very effective, but I believe that larger task force meetings would also have been less effective, perhaps even completely ineffective.

As to the failure to be notified through the TACTC list, one of my principles in managing the TACTC list is to keep the email I send out from being a burden on others. That's why most of the content is on the Web site. I didn't feel it was within the purpose of the TACTC list to resend out notifications that the city was already sending out. However, I would be willing to revisit that policy if people think more traffic on the TACTC list would be helpful. I can certainly share my list with the city to aid in their notification efforts - or alternatively forward messages from them (with a necessary processing delay).

Howard Rosenberg also wrote "While some speakers at the meeting took note of the unacceptably high accident rate at Benvenue and Ashby, there indeed were objections to forced turns and entry restrictions as means of addressing them at that intersection, and to flow restrictions in general at any intersection."

While I have heard one or two people object to flow restrictions in general at a couple of meetings, I believe that such a position is taken by only a small fraction of residents. One has only to look again at the map of existing flow restrictors (all of which were put in through painful political processes) to see that the majority of residents prefer such restrictors, despite their inconvenience - though nonresidents of course may not.

Howard Rosenberg also wrote "Without presuming to read Mr. Chen's mind, I'd say the term is used in cautious understatement. Not a single resident at the TC meeting spoke in favor of RTO measures. A teacher from Willard Middle School stressed the importance of a light at Stuart and Telegraph, and he may have been implying support for RTO there."

This comment was with reference to statement made my Reh-Lin Chen that, "Most of the residents voiced strong opposition to series of permanent and temporary Right-Turn-Only measures at a few intersections on Telegraph and Ashby." I believe the disagreement over this statement is really a matter of interpretation. If one takes "most of the residents" to mean most of those at the Traffic Commission meeting then it would seem to be true from Mr. Rosenberg's statement. However, I believe the way Sedge Thompson and I read that "most of the residents" clause was as referring to most of the residents in the neighborhood. With that interpretation it seems more questionable.

Howard Rosenberg also wrote '4. You affirmed to our most recent traffic safety task force that you will proceed with these temporary right-turn experiments despite the opinion of the Traffic Commission.' [a quote from Sedge Thompson - to which Mr. Rosenberg replies] "Mr. Chen stated to those of us at the February meeting that he was going to proceed -- unless directed otherwise by the City Manager."

I see no contradiction in the above. They could both be true. Is the City Manager on the Traffic Commission? Is the City Manager the one who directed Mr. Chen not to implement the temporary right turn only treatments? That would make a clearer legal case against the city in case of future injuries or deaths at that intersection I would guess.

Howard Rosenberg also wrote '5. Now, in view of your department's apparent buckling to mob-rule by a few residents drummed-up to object this specific safety plan at a solitary commission meeting . . .' [another quote from Sedge Thompson - to which Mr. Rosenberg replies] "Whatever name one may call the large array of residents who objected to Plans A and B at the meeting and in writing, the 'few' is quite a stretch. With adequate public notice of what City staff had in store, a still larger mob would have objected."

I won't enter into another discussion about the meaning of 'few'. However, I will say that I belive it is the city's responsibility to provide for the common safety of residents and visitors alike - regardless of the size of the mob.

Finally Howard Rosenberg also wrote "It's interesting that Mr. Chen's brief report after last week's TC meeting reached me only as a forward from you. We can only hope that City staff will direct all future communications about traffic engineering in this area to every resident at interest, including but not limited to those of us who have already registered concerns."

It seems to me that the whole issue of communication from the City staff should be brought up as a topic on its own to be discussed independently of the traffic safety issues. I certainly don't want my TACTC mailing list or Web site to be confused with communication from City staff members.

Sincerely, James E. [Jed] Donnelley
for the Trans-Ashby Committee for Traffic Calming (TACTC)

This Web site is currently supported by Jed Donnelley .