Subject: Broken promises and nonfeasance


I include below a message from Sedge Thompson to acting traffic engineer Reh-Lin Chen concerning the apparent canceling of the promised trial traffic measures (the forced right turn lanes) to narrowly address the continuing accidents at Ashby and Benvenue (as painstakingly documented by Paul Tuleja). I share Sedge's shock and disgust at this latest nonaction in the face of continued danger and unconscionable accidents in our neighborhood. If we can't get any action - even trial measures - from our city with this continued effort of years in traffic meetings, task forces, petitions, etc. and in the face of these ongoing accidents, I despair of finding any means that will get action by our city traffic officials to stop the bleeding at that intersection.

I believe the next action we should take is to advocate for a class action suit against the city for the damage and injuries caused by these accidents. While such an action is very difficult to take - and we will end up paying for it on both ends (up front legally and in higher taxes if the suit is successful) - I simply don't know what else to do to get this dangerous situation addressed in any way at all. I would be interested to talk with some of you about what it would take to be successful in such a suit (e.g. what sort of accident to pick as an initiator, what others to bring into the suit [I consider my wife and girls candidates as per their ricochet accident while stopped at the Ashby and Benvenue interestion], how to shape the suit, etc.).

I am the first to admit that the forced right turns that were proposed by Reh-Lin Chen and finally agreed to in our traffic task force meetings as a compromise trial are not an ideal solution to the accident problem in many respects. The TACTC group is on record both in writing and in our own petition as advocating a partial barrier to entry at Benvenue north of Ashby. However, the proposed forced right turn treatment does have a clear basis in the record of accidents at the Ashby and Benvenue intersection in that over half the recently recorded accidents could simply not have happened if such forced right turns were successfully implemented.

Reh-Lin Chen has been the first to admit his incompetence (repeatedly and painfully) in dealing with the situation he finds himself in as Acting Supervising Traffic Engineer. However, he has done the best he could with all our help to at least put a trial measure into place. This promised 9 month trial is definitely not what many of us hoped for. It's a measure that will certainly inconvenience many of us. However, it's also a measure that would at least appear to have the logical consequence of reduced accidents at the Ashby and Benvenue intersection by making impossible most of the recently recorded past accidents at that intersection. As Reh-Lin has said many times, this at least seems to be a measure that we can learn from in dealing with this dangerous situation. It is also a measure that he has the authority (and I would say mandate) to carry out.

To stop even this trial after such effort in the face of a clear record of accidents (due to existing inappropriate traffic measures at and around that intersection) at this late hour after repeated promises, ordering of materials, etc. I consider an unconscionable case of nonfeasance by our city officials. This is a nonaction that directly endangers citizens and noncitizens alike at that intersection.

I'm not sure what the next best action is. I made my suggestion born from frustration above. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how to address this situation at our next meeting and in other forms of communication (email, telephone, voice, etc.). Of course I will post any relevant thoughts (including this message) on the TACTC Web site:

Here (below) is the letter from Sedge which includes that from Reh-Lin Chen about his broken promises. It should be noted here that when Reh-Lin says, "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. Residents demanded staff to reconsider other options and to consult with a broader area of residents before making a final decision."

  1. The objections were not to measures at the Ashby and Benvenue intersection where the accident rate is so horrific, but at Ashby and Hillegass and to a lesser extent at Ashby and Regent - where residents faced a nasty problems of getting out of their neighborhood with the right turn only measures that Reh-Lin proposed for those streets, and
  2. There was never any discussion of permanent Right-Turn-Only measures - only the trial measures that Reh-Lin is empowered to make as city traffic engineer, and
  3. The term "most residents" is used in a loose and to me somewhat incomprehensible way.

I agree that it is very important that Mr. Hillier attend our next task force meeting. We need to see some hope of escaping the continuing accidents and danger in our neighborhood.

Sedge's message:
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 13:08:59 -0800
From: Sedge Thomson
Subject: Resignation
X-Sender: (Unverified)
Cc:, "Agnew, Bruce" ,
"Cardinaux, Rene" ,
"Butler, Dash" ,
"Migliore, Michael" ,
"Hightower, Lee" ,
"Hynes, Jim" ,
"Egeberg, Jeffrey" ,
"DeLeuw, Charles" ,
"Worthington, Kriss" ,
"Armstrong, Polly" ,
"Dean, Shirley" ,
"Maguire, Grace" ,
"Hillier, Peter" ,

Dear Reh-Lin,

You have made several traffic-safety promises as the Traffic Engineer to the neighbors in the Elmwood over the past three years in our campaign to bring safety to our streets. We have met in organized and well-noticed task forces, structured to your specifications.

  1. Install stop signs at Hillegass and Russell to control the speeding east-west traffic
  2. Install on a temporary experimental basis by January, right-turn only devices as a safety measure. These were the compromise to installing semi-diverters worked out by a task force whose meetings and plans are fully noticed to the neighborhoods over the past several months. While many of us believe semi-or full-diverters are the most effective solution to safety issues, the right-turn- only solution was at least a start.

A) Our task force supported your efforts to go before the city council to re-affirm your authority to take these safety actions, even though your office already possesses the statutory authority to do so. That took several weeks of delayed work on safety. The accidents continued.

B) You delayed installing the turns pending an additional traffic count you said you were pressured to make, while refusing to identify in our otherwise open process who was trying to delay the safety project. The accidents continued.

C) 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. You stated you had full authority to proceed with these long-considered and discussed safety plans. Those of us who have studied and worked with this constellation of traffic safety problems for several years believed you. The accidents continued.

D) 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, it seems you are willing to compromise our safety to serve convenience. The accidents continue.

Although Mr. Hillier has not attended our meetings, before he even considers derailing our hard work, he must responsibly come introduce himself and account for his decision at one of our safety task force meetings. If you do not immediately reinstate the safety experiment on our agreed-upon and promised timetable, you and Mr. Hillier should resign at once. Presumably, your department is accountable for failing to act for safety in the Berkeley streets. I believe any reasonable person would find the City's failure to act a substantial reason why the accidents continue.

Sincerely, Sedge Thomson

Hi Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the Transportation Commission (TC) meeting on February 21, 2002, about fifty area residents addressed serious concerns about three ongoing, close-related traffic projects -- including Willard/Bateman Traffic Calming, Safe Routes to School (Signalizations at Telegraph/Stuart and Telegraph/Russell), and Hillegass/Bowditch Bike Boulevard. 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. Residents demanded staff to reconsider other options and to consult with a broader area of residents before making a final decision.

Having heard comments from residents and TC, Assistant City Manager will not proceed with the temporary Right-Turn-Only measures before the residents who are affected are aware of the proposals and have a chance to comment. The Office of Transportation will send out a survey before late March to solicit opinions about the temporary Right-Turn-Only measures as well as other options (See P.S. below).

Staff sincerely apologize for the delay. Staff, however, believe that through this process the City can build a stronger rapport in testing our traffic calming measures later on. I will continue to meet with the Task Force on every second Monday (at 6:30 pm) at the Claremont Library.

P.S. Due to a urgent timeline of the Safe Routes to School (funding) project, most of you will receive the 1st survey concerning the Safe Routes to School (Signalization) project in few days. The survey of the temporary traffic calming measures on Ashby Avenue west of College Avenue will follow right after the first one.

Reh-Lin Chen, P.E.
Acting Supervising Traffic Engineer
City of Berkeley
1947 Center Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
Phone: (510) 981-6403
Fax: (510) 981-6390
Sincerely, James E. [Jed] Donnelley
for the Trans-Ashby Committee for Traffic Calming (TACTC)

This Web site is currently supported by Jed Donnelley .