A woman who has been working to improve bicycle safety in Berkeley was hit by a driver while bicycling with her young son on Tuesday – hours after she left a meeting with city transportation staff about how to improve traffic safety.
On March 16, Jackie Erbe, a member of Walk Bike Berkeley’s coordinating committee, was in a collision with a car while riding on Ninth Street just south of Channing Way, one of the roadways included in Berkeley’s “Healthy Streets” program, according to a statement from Walk Bike Berkeley. Her child was biking with her but was not injured.
Erbe suffered major injuries, including a broken femur and fractured vertebrae and underwent two surgeries, according to the statement.
“Ironically, just hours before the collision, Jackie and other Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee members met with city of Berkeley transportation staff to discuss Berkeley’s Healthy Streets program,” according to the statement. “For months, as part of these discussions, she has advocated for traffic calming at two especially dangerous intersections: 9th at Virginia and 9th at Channing.”
Berkeley police said the collision happened close to 2 p.m. The department did not release more details.
“We will not be releasing information about which party was at fault or the apparent cause of the collision at this time,” said Officer Alexander McDougall, a BPD spokesman.
The leadership of Walk Bike Berkeley argues in its statement that the collision might not have happened if Berkeley had been committed to creating a “robust” Healthy Streets program. In June, Berkeley unveiled the program, which set aside two miles of roadway for walking, biking, and other activities. The idea was to provide a recreational area in the city that also allowed for social distancing.
Three sections of streets were barricaded off on one side on Ninth street from Hearst Avenue to Dwight Way, Russell Street from Adeline to Mabel streets, and Addison Street from Sacramento to Grant streets.
Cars were not completely prohibited. The streets have barriers in some places that say “Do Not Enter” and signs that said, “Watch for pedestrians and bikes/consider other routes.” The speed limit was set at 15 mph.
“This collision was a design and engineering failure – not just the product of dangerous driving,” according to the Walk Bike Berkeley statement. “Ninth at Channing is the intersection of two bicycle boulevards. We call on the city to finish its 20+-year-old, but still incomplete, bicycle boulevard network. The city should start by adding long-overdue traffic calming features along the entire length of 9th Street, a street designated as a “bicycle-priority street” but designed with a width that encourages motorists to drive at highway speed.”
Other cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, have more effectively limited car travel on their similar Healthy Streets program by adding “No Through Traffic” signs, said Ben Gerhardstein, who is part of Walk Bike Berkeley’s coordinating committee.
Erbe, Gerhardstein and Liza Lutzker, another member of the Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee, had just been in a meeting with city transportation staff hours before the collision. The group has been frustrated with Berkeley’s upkeep of the Healthy Streets program. Signs and barriers on the Russell and Ninth street segments have regularly been vandalized or hit, said Gerhardstein. The Addison segment has been the most successful, he said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission awarded Berkeley a $75,000 grant that can be used to improve Healthy Streets but some of the money hasn’t been spent yet, even though there is a March 31 deadline, said Gerhardstein. “If the city had moved faster to use these funds to add traffic calming features,” it could have prevented the collision, said Gerhardstein.
Berkeleyside has reached out to the city for comment.
Cit Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who appointed Erbe to the public works commission, said collisions like the one Erbe was involved in are preventable, but that solutions are costly.
“My heart goes out to Jackie and her family as she recovers from her serious injuries,” Kesarwani wrote in an email. “It’s possible to design our city streets so that no bicyclist or pedestrian ever suffers a serious injury, but it comes with a significant price tag. Our streets fell into disrepair over decades of systematic underfunding. Now our streets are in need of more than $300 million in deferred maintenance. We need to assess our city’s financial position, make tough decisions about expenditures, and gauge voters’ appetite for a revenue measure. I’m committed to pushing for a streets bond so that we can finally ensure safe streets for all users.”