Many Foster City residents were shocked last month when their City Council responded to the injury of a 17-year-old girl by closing off the crosswalk at Edgewater Boulevard at Port Royal Avenue, where she was struck by a driver. Hundreds of residents petitioned the council to take other steps instead of installing “No Ped Crossing” signs and physical barriers. The council reversed its crosswalk closure decision last week, opting instead to install pedestrian-activated flashing lights.
The intersection’s well-known hazards caught the City Council’s attention after the driver of a 2014 BMW 528i slammed into a high school student who was walking in the crosswalk on Edgewater on January 24, breaking both of her legs and knocking her to the ground unconscious. She spent several days in Stanford Medical Center’s intensive care unit but ultimately survived.
Mayor Charles Bronitsky places the blame for car crashes on both drivers and pedestrians not following traffic laws, and argues there’s little cities can do to reduce traffic collisions. “It’s an issue of personal responsibility, folks,” he said. “There’s nothing the government can do to make people be responsible. We gotta do the best we can to try to babysit adults.”
Council members Steve Okamoto, Art Kiesel, and Gary Pollard were on the verge of voting to install stop signs on Edgewater Boulevard during their February 3 city council meeting when Bronitsky warned of “potential legal repercussions” that could arise.
A 2012 traffic report authored by professional traffic engineer Steve Fitzsimons of Republic ITS, a subsidiary of Siemens that installs and maintains traffic signals, concluded that stop signs are “unwarranted” according to a state standard that recommends a street to have either more collisions (five annually) or higher car traffic volumes before they’re installed. The report concluded that the left-turn conflicts, high pedestrian traffic (including many children), and poor visibility for drivers turning onto Edgewater from Port Royal were “not relevant,” despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, including calls from residents to fix those hazards in emails to the city and at public meetings.
Fear of litigation helps explain the city’s reaction. City Attorney Jean Savaree said that the city would lose its “design immunity” legal defense in the case of a lawsuit brought by the victim of a collision somehow caused by the stop signs.
“When you hire a traffic engineer and they make recommendations to you, if you follow those, you trigger what’s called design immunity,” Savaree said. “If you install a four-way stop where it’s not warranted and you have a collision, the city is sued [on the basis] that you created a dangerous condition because you have not followed a professional engineer’s advice.”
Okamoto pointed out to fellow council members that other stop signs classified as “unwarranted” by exactly the same type of traffic engineer’s report were previously installed at three other intersections after residents complained of unsafe conditions at those locations.
“I don’t think there has been any liability issues at those intersections,” said Okamoto. “In spite of the concern of legal counsel, I still support four-way stop signs.”