Cars pass through the intersection of Virginia Street and San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. A stoplight hangs over the intersection, but it is covered by yellow tape because the signal hasn't been activated.
Caltrans installed a pedestrian signal last fall that would stop traffic at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Virginia Street, but it wasn’t activated until Thursday. Credit: Nico Savidge

Update, April 20 The crossing signal at the intersection of Virginia Street and San Pablo Avenue was activated Thursday, according to Caltrans, along with another signal at the nearby intersection of San Pablo and Hearst Avenue.

Original post, April 17 City officials and street safety advocates have spent months waiting for Caltrans to turn on a new pedestrian crossing signal that was installed last year at a notorious West Berkeley intersection.

Now, after another person was struck by a driver and injured while crossing San Pablo Avenue at Virginia Street on Sunday, the signal should be activated by the end of this week.

Meanwhile Caltrans and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which took several months to provide power to the crossing signal, are each pointing the finger at the other for the lengthy delay.

The result has been “classic bureaucratic mess,” said Karen Parolek of the traffic safety group Walk Bike Berkeley.

“Even when we start to see some focus on the issues, the length of time it takes to get them solved is frustrating and dangerous,” Parolek said.

The pedestrian who was hit early Sunday afternoon did not suffer serious injuries, according to Berkeley police Lt. Dan Montgomery, but was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland as a precaution. The driver was cited for not having a license, Montgomery said, and any further citations would depend on an ongoing police investigation. The crash was first reported by The Berkeley Scanner.

Pedestrians and cyclists have protested unsafe conditions at the intersection for years. Although Virginia Street is one of Berkeley’s Bicycle Boulevards, riders and walkers must cross four lanes of busy San Pablo Avenue traffic with no stoplight.

Advocates believed they’d won a long-sought victory at the intersection last fall, when Caltrans — which is responsible for traffic safety measures on San Pablo because it’s a state highway — installed a signal known as a “pedestrian hybrid beacon” that would flash red lights to stop traffic on the avenue when requested. But they’ve been waiting ever since for the signal to be activated, and have grown frustrated as injury crashes continued.

In November, when a driver seriously injured a cyclist at the intersection, Caltrans said the signal was still dark because the agency was waiting for PG&E to provide power to it. The utility finished energizing the signal on April 7, more than four months later.

Late Monday, a PG&E spokesperson put the blame back on Caltrans — and on the city of Berkeley — saying the traffic signal had not passed inspections until January, and that the city took until April 3 to provide a permit to energize the lights.

“We understand how important this pedestrian crossing signal is for the safety of Berkeley residents and were prepared to complete the work in a timely fashion,” spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian wrote in an email. “Yet, due to permit discussions between local and state agencies, PG&E was not able to energize the [pedestrian] lights until permits were issued.”

Caltrans spokeswoman Janis Mara said the agency’s crews performed testing and other work to activate the signal last week, but have not yet completed that process.

“Barring weather-related complications or unforeseen developments, Caltrans estimates the signal will become operational by the end of this week,” Mara wrote.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...