About three dozen people gathered at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way Tuesday night to protest unsafe streets and commemorate the life of William Evans, 72, who was hit and killed by a truck driver on Oct. 20 while crossing Bancroft in a wheelchair.
Evans was a Marine veteran who was born in Louisiana and lost both of his legs during the Vietnam War. He lived in Shattuck Senior Homes two blocks south of Shattuck and Bancroft.
Friends described him as a quiet soul who enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables and treated others with warmth and kindness.
“He just had a really bright, beautiful, smile,” said Elizabeth Weinberg, who often talked to him on the streets of Berkeley.
“To think that he went to the Vietnam War and then came back and got hit by a truck … and no one’s doing anything about it,” said his friend Kevin Gaines, who met him years ago at the Veterans Affairs clinic in Oakland and bonded over drinking sessions at Cornerstone over the years.
Judy Jackson knew Evans from her work at a Berkeley food bank, which he visited for a time while he was experiencing homelessness. Jackson said he had been previously hospitalized after a car hit him near the food bank.
Police are still investigating the incident that led to Evans’ death and have yet to release additional information or say whether any traffic laws were broken.
A movement to end traffic violence
The event Tuesday was hosted by Traffic Violence Rapid Response, a loose grassroots organization that has held similar events to demand safe streets in Oakland, in collaboration with Telegraph for People, Walk Bike Berkeley and Senior and Disability Action.
The groups have made several demands, including ending right turns at traffic lights, building pedestrian bulb-outs on high-injury Berkeley streets to shorten crossing distances, extending pedestrian crossing times, and stopping the use of the “beg buttons” pedestrians need to press to get a light to turn green.
“We’re going to have to make the changes in the streets that are killing us if cities are not willing to do so,” said Telegraph for People president and UC Berkeley senior Sam Greenberg, a co-organizer. Bright orange cones were placed on the road during the protest to indicate where activists want the city to extend the bulb-outs.
Councilmember Kate Harrison, whose district the crash was in, attended the event Tuesday, and said in a phone interview that the city “desperately” needs longer signals to allow older people to cross multi-lane streets. “If you look in the middle, there’s no island for them to wait on, so they can’t make it all the way across.”
Councilmember Rigel Robinson said the intersection where the crash occurred has already been slated for mobility and safety improvements — including the extended curb advocates are calling for — which “could break ground as soon as next year.” But, he said, a $7.8 million funding shortfall for the project due to increased construction costs during the pandemic could push the completion date back.
A proposal to install “No Right on Red” signs at all Berkeley intersections with traffic lights is being considered by the City Council. It would cost $135,000 to install four signs per intersection at all 135 such intersections in the city. The move would follow a growing national movement.
Harrison said she supports the idea but wants the city to gather more data and start with a pilot to ensure it won’t cause vehicle backups that make interactions more dangerous.
Outside city hall, advocates track serious crashes
Advocates are also looking to keep street safety on public officials’ minds with a new installation in front of Berkeley City Hall tracking serious crashes.
Modeled on the signs in factories and other workplaces that count the days since on-the-job injuries, the metal sign locked to a bike rack in front of city offices notes the number of weeks since a pedestrian or bicyclist was killed or injured by a car driver in Berkeley.
“Safety is no accident,” reads the sign from a group calling itself The Pedestrian Party, which adds its motto, “We walk and we vote.”
In a news release, The Pedestrian Party wrote that it aims to create “a new political effort to elect leaders who will fight traffic violence with the urgency and passion of the public health crisis that it is, and to hold them accountable to measurable results.”
A person involved in the effort, who declined to be identified, said the group of Berkeley residents is not making endorsements in this month’s elections. Instead, they want to ensure local policymakers see pedestrians and bicyclists as a political constituency that deserves their attention.
“Car drivers are not shy about pressing candidates and elected officials on their needs,” such as parking, the person wrote in an email. “We pedestrians need to use our voices too, so that’s not all they’re hearing.”