An effort to improve traffic safety after a 17-year-old girl was hit in a Foster City crosswalk Jan. 24 shifted dramatically when the City Council voted Monday to remove the crosswalk and install a flashing light nearby for legal reasons rather than install a four-way stop sign.
Addressing high speed limits and traffic safety within the city gained momentum after the girl was hit at the intersection of Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue early in the morning on her way to school. The council discussed and residents spoke in support of putting in a four-way stop sign at the crash site. But when City Attorney Jean Savaree warned of potential city liability, Councilman Herb Perez said the council opted to remove the crosswalk lines and punish the pedestrian by increasing the danger instead.
“I had never seen a seemingly logical solution go in exactly the opposite direction,” Perez said. “They say government moves slowly, this is the first time I’ve seen it move backwards. I’m shocked.”
Mayor Charlie Bronitsky, along with councilmen Gary Pollard and Art Kiesel, voted for removing the painted intersection and installing a flashing light on Beach Park Boulevard. Councilman Steve Okamoto voted against, instead making a motion to install new stop signs but wasn’t seconded. Perez recused himself from the vote because his business is nearby.
“The traffic expert consultant we hired said a four-way stop sign was not needed there,” Okamoto said. “And I’m sure those who attended were disappointed and I’m sorry about that and I tried and unfortunately I wasn’t successful.”
Phyllis Moore, who lives near the questionable intersection, said the council should have approved a stop sign even if the law doesn’t require one.
“Rather than [the council] hiding behind what the traffic safety experts said, you do what’s right for your city, right for your citizens,” Moore said. “The California Vehicle Code [does] not allow a city to make their streets safer?”
The city isn’t liable for an accident if it followed the direction of design experts or professionals, Perez said.
The council started to shift when staff said the city would lose design immunity if it put in stop signs where experts said they weren’t needed, Perez said.
But even if the intersection didn’t necessitate a stop sign per expert opinion, opting for a more restrictive and safer option makes the design liability argument somewhat moot, Perez said.
Kiesel said he intended to add stop signs but was deterred by the potential liability warning and didn’t want to congest traffic, Kiesel said.
“My preference would be that that intersection would have a four-way stop. But it’s problematic that every car has to stop,” Kiesel said. “My hesitancy on the four-way stop was where do you draw the line?”
But he now wonders if removing the crosswalk to discourage pedestrians from crossing at the intersection was a good idea because, after the motion passed, the police chief stated it has an implied crosswalk and pedestrians can still legally cross, Kiesel said.
The end product went against everything residents requested and doing nothing would have been better than removing the crosswalk lines, Perez said.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s absurd. … You have a crosswalk where someone complained it’s dangerous. It’s a natural crosswalk so now you’re solution is to remove the crosswalk?” Perez said. “Really? Well let’s follow that logic, so every time there’s a dangerous crosswalk you remove the crosswalk? And the reason it’s dangerous is because of the pedestrian and not the car?”
It’s a heated issue and Kiesel said he does want to improve safety but wants to make sure it’s done correctly.
“It was not advisable to put in the stop sign. So I came up with an alternate resolution because I wanted to see something done,” Kiesel said. “We also have to protect the city as well. We’ve got to think less emotionally and more objectively, that’s what we’re up there to do.”
Kiesel and Okamoto are confident the issue will come up again. A concerned resident pointed out the city attorney may have misread the law so the issue will receive further consideration, Okamoto said.
Perez believes the idea of design immunity was misinterpreted Monday night and said he wants citizens to continue to bring up the subject by passionately speaking in front of the council because there’s too much at stake.
“Foster City is a family-centric city where we value quality of life for our children and our families. And in that context I don’t understand that decision. Because when a car has an accident you can take the car to the shop and get it fixed and it can be just like new,” Perez said. “But I’m not sure you can say that about a pedestrian. Their quality of life will change forever.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106