Berkeley PD Wants Pedestrians to Stay off the Phone, Wear Bright Clothing

The pedestrians crossing the intersection of Bancroft and Oxford in this photo should be wearing bright clothing, according to Berkeley Police. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The pedestrians crossing the intersection of Bancroft and Oxford in this photo should be wearing bright clothing, according to Berkeley Police. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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So far this year, one pedestrian has been killed and 88 injured in crashes in the city of Berkeley, according to a post earlier this week from the Berkeley police. “September is Pedestrian Safety Month,” writes the department in the post. “The Berkeley Police Department is working with law enforcement agencies across the state to promote safe behaviors that allow drivers and those on foot to get where they need to go safely.”

The violations that the BPD will be going after include “speeding, driving or walking distracted and/or impaired, failing to stop for signs and signals, and not yielding to drivers/pedestrians who have the right of way,” continues the post.

And here’s some of what they advise for pedestrians [Streetsblog added emphasis to a few of the items]:

  • Look left-right-left before crossing the street. Watch for cars turning and obey traffic signals.
  • Only cross the street in marked crosswalks, preferably crosswalks at stop signs or signals.
  • Avoid distractions. Stay off the phone while walking.
  • Make eye contact with drivers. Don’t assume drivers can see you.
  • Be seen. Wear bright clothing during the day and use a flashlight at night.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the shoulder, facing traffic and as far away from cars as possible.
  • Do not walk near traffic after drinking or using drugs that affect judgment and coordination.

Since when is it illegal to walk distracted?

There’s a reason motorists are required, by law, to pay attention and have things such as working headlights and blinkers (oddly enough, it’s okay to paint your car black, but now pedestrians have to wear bright clothing?). Speeding, distracted, scofflaw motorists frequently kill people. Pedestrians don’t.

A hacked road sign tells the truth about what's killing people on Berkeley's street. Photo:
A hacked road sign tells the truth about what’s killing people on Berkeley’s streets. Photo: Robert Sanders

This is part of a trend that’s been going on for decades but has been renewed recently, to blame “Jay Walkers” (or “distracted walking” as it’s now called) for causing their own injuries and deaths at the hands of unsafe motorists.

As our sister site, Streetsblog NYC, points out, distracted walking is bullsh*t. “Cell phone use by pedestrians does not appear to be disproportionately contributing to fatal pedestrian crashes,” the NYC story quotes from a report. “In short, despite growing concerns, DOT found little concrete evidence that device-induced distracted walking contributes significantly to pedestrian fatalities and injuries.”

So what does BPD have to say about all this? “The notice was released as a condition of a grant we received from the Office of Traffic Safety,” wrote Officer Byron White, public information officer, in an email to Streetsblog. “Other agencies that received the same grant sent the same release.”

Fair enough, and Streetsblog has taken the OTS to task before for blaming victims of traffic violence. But word has it that BPD is also cracking down on scofflaw cyclists, diverting important enforcement time from stopping the real killer: distracted and unsafe motoring.

In recent weeks, Walk Bike Berkeley and Bike East Bay members have reported that Berkeley police have ticketed people on bicycles for safely rolling through stop signs along key bikeways (for instance, Milvia St. and the Ohlone Greenway). We object to using Office of Traffic Safety grants, or other police resources, to fund this kind of enforcement activity,” writes Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley, in a draft of a letter to Berkeley’s mayor and city councilmembers.

More on that in an upcoming post in Streetsblog California.

Meanwhile, regardless of where the language originated, advocates are fed up with the victim blaming and BPD’s misguided priorities:

“I am walking in a crosswalk, on my phone typing this response,” wrote Bike East Bay’s Dave Campbell, about the BPD. “… kudos to the American traffic engineering profession for successfully brainwashing departments of public safety into believing that moving more cars is about safety.”

Oh, and BPD–maybe you should get rid of those dark uniforms. They’re hard to see. And that’s not safe.

New BPD recruits, in their dangerously dark uniforms. Photo: City of Berkeley
New BPD recruits, in their dangerously dark uniforms. Photo: City of Berkeley
  • Do Something Nice

    I’ve seen was cyclists say they are ‘safely rolling through intersections’ in SF. It may be safe in that nobody gets killed, but it is at high speed that accidents will happen. From this pedestrian’s point of view, there are too many bicyclists going way too fast for safety.

    What nobody seems to understand that in countries with great bicycle infrastructure, bicyclists are expected to stop, expected to wait for green lights, and expected to obey all of the rules and laws. Same for drivers and mostly true for pedestrians – illegal crossing when the there aren’t any cars is tolerated, but only in crosswalks, not mid block.

    The beauty of it is that it works because everyone adheres to the social contract that gives all of us the gift of reasonably being able to anticipate what a driver, bicyclist or pedestrian is going to do.

    I wince at making bicyclists the priority for ticketing, though. There are too many drivers putting so many in danger of injury or death and that should be the highest priority for Berkeley PD.

  • DrunkEngineer

    in countries with great bicycle infrastructure, bicyclists are expected to stop,

    I don’t know what country you are referring to. Places with great bicycle infrastructure don’t put stop signs at each and every effing block like Berkeley does with its bike boulevards and trails.

  • I appreciate a big part of what you say but the thing about “midblock” is utter nonsense. As DrunkEngineer says, the whole game is simply different there: They try to create systems that require bikes to stop or slow as little as possible.

  • Chris J.

    I would also highly recommend that pedestrians–

    • carry an air horn with them in their hand at all times in case a car gets too close
    • wear a helmet, knee pads, padded gloves, and (optionally) elbow pads
    • clasp a rear-view mirror to your helmet for increased visibility
    • make sure your clothing is reflective and/or wear front, rear, and side reflectors
    • drink plenty of coffee and be well-rested prior to commencing your walk, to avoid falling asleep while walking

    [End sarcasm.]

  • thielges

    That bulleted list of advice to pedestrians tends towards victim blaming, but this item is over the top:

    o Only cross the street in marked crosswalks, preferably crosswalks at stop signs or signals.

    That’s impractical because many neighborhood streets have no crosswalk marking. Even om streets that have marked crosswalks at some intersections would require pedestrians to detour a few blocks to the marked crosswalk. Instead of expecting pedestrians to detour, how about just making all crossings safe?

  • nodolra

    In California, pretty much any time two roads meet, the area formed by extending the sidewalk through the intersection is legally a crosswalk, whether or not it’s marked:

  • nodolra

    An example: In Paris most stop lights on bike routes have a sign indicating that bicycles may treat the light as a yield sign. Also, most bus lanes (and there are many, separated from car traffic by curbs) also explicitly permit bicycles and exclude taxis (unlike in the Bay Area, where bus lanes inexplicably allow taxis and exclude bikes).

  • Flatlander

    Nonsense. In places with good bicycle infrastructure, the transportation system is designed with bikes in mind, whereas here we design streets for cars, and expect bicyclists to just play along. So, momentum-killing stop signs on every corner (only necessary because stop signs and signals are the only things that get our drivers to act slightly less like asshats) long signal cycles at every even remotely busy intersection, a lack of long, separated paths that would actually be useful for commuters…

  • Do Something Nice

    Both Barcelona and Amsterdam have stop lights and stops signs for bicyclists.

  • DrunkEngineer

    There are hardly any Stop signs anywhere at all in the Netherlands.

  • SF Guest

    I have two points here which this article conveys in the wrong context:

    1. BPD is not exclusively targeting scofflaw cyclists and is targeting “drivers and pedestrians who violate traffic laws.” The real diversion is omitting BPD is targeting all road users “who violate traffic laws.”

    [Source] Streetsblog:
    “But word has it that BPD is also cracking down on scofflaw cyclists, diverting important enforcement time from stopping the real killer: distracted and unsafe motoring.”

    If BPD enforcement were entirely focused on scofflaw cyclists I would agree, but that isn’t true.

    [Source] BPD:
    “In order to reduce the number of collisions involving pedestrians, Berkeley Police Department will have additional officers on patrol throughout the month of September, specifically focused on drivers and pedestrians who violate traffic laws that increase the risk of crashes. These violations include speeding, driving or walking distracted and/or impaired, failing to stop for signs and signals, and not yielding to drivers/pedestrians who have the right of way.”

    2. Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. A key provision of pedestrian safety has always included but not limited to pedestrians showing due vigilance for their own safety which includes looking before he/she crosses a street.

    [Source: CA Office of Traffic and Safety]
    “It’s a two-way street. Drivers and pedestrians must work together to demonstrate safe behaviors on the road, helping to protect themselves and those around them.” (

    This article selectively lists BPD’s safety tips for pedestrians but omits the safety tips for drivers:

    For Drivers
    * Follow the speed limit. The higher the speed, the longer it takes to stop.
    * Never drive distracted or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
    * Look out for people walking, especially at night and in poorly lit areas.
    * Pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks even if they are not at a stop sign or signal. Prepare to stop when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk.
    * Avoid blocking the crosswalk when attempting to make a right-hand turn.
    *Be careful backing up and leaving parking spaces in shopping centers with heavy foot traffic.

    BPD listing safety tips for both pedestrians and drivers does not constitute victim blaming since it lists the legal duty and responsibilities of drivers and the recommended safety practices of pedestrians unless your position is pedestrians have no responsibility to show due care for themselves while crossing a street.

  • Do Something Nice

    Hardly is not “none.” And there are many in Barcelona. I’m not going to quibble over small stuff. Until the laws are changed, stop at stop signs. I support implementing the ‘Idaho stop’ on a trail, two year basis as long as there is aggressive data collection to compare the before and after effects of the Idaho stop. If all things are equal or better, implement it statewide.

    I feel that data from other jurisdictions is irrelevant here because I see most drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in the Bay Area as being one degree from losing their shit 100% of the time. Simply put, we have an anger problem in the Bay Area and it affects how we drive, ride and walk to our destinations.

  • Jame

    And so many traffic lights do not trigger when you are on your bike, forcing you to wait in perpetuity. Or get off your bike to find the pedestrian signal.

    Going through a stop sign at 3 mph isn’t high risk behavior. Zooming through without slowing would be more risky. But the reports I have seen have targeted slow moving cyclists.

  • Roger R.

    See “Strawman Fallacy,” defined as “Substituting a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument.”

    My piece doesn’t claim that the BPD is exclusively targeting cyclists (or pedestrians). In fact, it includes part of a BPD statement that says the force is also going after drivers. The point, which seems to be lost on BPD, is if you set up pedestrian and bicycle violations on the same level as motoring violations (which are far, far, far more deadly) you divert finite enforcement resources from where it can prevent the most harm: stopping dangerous motorist behaviors.

  • SF Guest

    Roger, I stand corrected and agree your piece doesn’t claim that BPD exclusively targets cyclists (or pedestrians) since they are also targeting motorists.

    And I also agree stopping dangerous motorist violations hold unequivocally more weight than pursuing vulnerable road user infractions, but it’s not clearly defined or established how BPD is placing equal weight enforcing pedestrian infractions with the same weight as motorist violations.

    Using finite enforcement resources necessitate citing all road users with an emphasis on those causing harm to others. But it also means citing someone for flagrant jaywalking in front of a peace officer. No one should get a free pass simply because your infraction is not harming anyone but yourself.

  • pedestrianist

    Yeah, that’ll teach ’em for not harming anyone.

  • Nick G

    Not only that, during power outages when every major route suddenly has stop signs at every block, drivers, treat them exactly as bicyclists treat stops signs on every block – except it’s actually really dangerous for cars to do this.

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  • M.E. Lawrence

    Don’t forget “view all drivers as possibly distracted, medicated, undermedicated
    and/or incompetent.”

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Someone crossing the street mid block can save about 5 minutes of walking. Claiming that every person should always walk 5 minutes out of their way so a driver isn’t inconvenienced by maybe a few seconds it just hideous and selfish. Only in America is it illegal to walk across a street. There is no translation for the word “jaywalk”. Nobody outside of America knows what it means.

  • lrtman

    To be fair, some times of the day in sunny California make it absolutely necessary to make every effort to be seen. Couple weeks ago, I was going on my evening jog…it was about 6:00PM and I was running east. A driver turned, nearly right into me doing about 20 off a 50 mph road. Scared the hell out of me, and yelled at him and told him rudely to pay attention. Actually felt kind of bad, because he was an old man who obviously couldn’t see well.

    Anyway, flash forward about two weeks. I’m on the same road, same time of day. My windshield of my infrequently driven car was admittedly a little bit dirty. For a time of about 3 seconds, the sun peeked through a gap in the trees and I could see nothing more than glare. I was scared as hell that if someone jumped out in front of me, and I slowed from 40 to 20 probably to the great annoyance of everyone behind me.

    Anyway, sometimes active participation in the traffic system…basically “defensive walking” is necessary. For example, I generally don’t cross in front of a car unless I make direct eye contact with the driver in question.

  • Dave

    How about enforcing laws governing those who can do the greatest harm–drivers??How about enforcing speed limits to the letter and confiscation and destruction of cell phones?

  • p_chazz

    Yes, but taken literally, “only cross the street in marked crosswalks” would mean that if there were no marked crosswalks, you wouldn’t be able to cross the street at all! What it should have said was: Only cross the street in crosswalks, preferably marked crosswalks or at stop signs or signals.

  • Dave

    You’re on to something. It’s a life preserving thing to become an anti-motorist bigot if you’re walking or cycling around American drivers. I think of ’em as an uncontrolled apex predator species with no natural enemies.
    It’s too bad that US police don’t give drivers more to fear. A little oppression in the right direction would save thousands of lives a year.

  • Dave

    So, how’s about drivers getting in on that “social contract” thing?

  • Do Something Nice

    Note the final sentence in my comment:

    “I wince at making bicyclists the priority for ticketing, though. There are too many drivers putting so many in danger of injury or death and that should be the highest priority for Berkeley PD.”

  • Do Something Nice

    Holding anyone accountable for anything is an insult to them.

    It is perfectly reasonable to warn pedestrians to pay attention when crossing a street, but “advocates” will call it victim blaming.

    It is perfectly reasonable to say that there are too many bicyclists who speed through intersections, sometimes without looking out for pedestrians, but “advocates” will say NO bicyclists speed through intersections and anyway cars are more dangerous.

    And it is perfectly reasonable to say that car drivers need to be careful and respectful of bicyclists and pedestrians, but as we are still a car-centric society, there is no need for advocates, and the car drivers scream in unison: “Get the fuck off our road.”

    I don’t see much hope for change.

  • nodolra

    That is true. I meant to call attention to the fact that “only cross in marked crosswalks” is misleading and bad advice, and perpetuates the false idea that pedestrians may only cross in *marked* crosswalks.

  • SF Guest

    I made no such claim “that every person should always walk 5 minutes out of their way. . .”

    My quote to “someone for flagrant jaywalking in front of a peace officer” refers to pedestrians who cross against a ‘Don’t Walk’ or red traffic light which is included in the definition of jaywalking in USA.

    If I were to walk against a ‘red light signal with a peace officer standing in plain view I should expect to be cited for jaywalking.

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  • westernridge

    Unclear to me why the rest of us have to obey a whole bunch of laws written just so car drivers can get around. Let’s write the laws for pedestrians or cyclists then blame car drivers for breaking them non-stop. Oh wait, car drivers break their own laws nonstop anyway with near impunity.

  • SF Guest

    Implementing vehicular laws for car drivers were never at issue. It’s the enforcement of laws. What astonishes me is how so many bloggers here acknowledge car drivers break laws but believe infrastructure improvements is a one-size-fits-all solution which absolve pedestrians from their duty to show vigilance for their own personal safety.

  • SF Guest

    Interesting you would group pedestrians and cyclists laws as if they’re in the same category since cyclists are bound by the same vehicular laws as motor vehicles.

  • westernridge

    The category being groups which do not need laws to get around. The laws are written specifically to facilitate travel by car.

  • westernridge

    It’s like teaching kids what a rattlesnake looks like. You don’t blame the kid if they get bit, but of course it makes sense to help protect yourself. The danger is all due to the rattlesnake though.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Most of the time someone is killed or seriously injured from a car collision, it’s because of people making innocent split second mistakes on intersections that have no margin for safety. It’s always cheaper and much more effective to simply fix a safety deficiency on our streets rather than to try to condition people on how to cope with that deficiency. People are going to be stupid. Even the best of us make stupid mistakes on occasion. Our intersections should be designed so that lives aren’t destroyed merely by someone making a split second error in judgement.

  • SF Guest

    We both agree people are going to be stupid regardless of what transportation mode they choose. We also agree if it’s the motorist making a mistake it’s the vulnerable road user who is going to be at most risk.

    If it wasn’t for my own personal vigilance as a pedestrian I would have suffered two severe collisions. One was from a car going in reverse at an unsafe speed (most pedestrians would not have heard the car coming from my left going in reverse towards me), and (2) from a car turning left who didn’t want to honor my right of way which barely clipped me after I moved backward.

    Neither of these near fatal collisions was the result of an infrastructure deficiency. No infrastructure improvement is going to prevent an egregious moving violation such as DUI or a car moving recklessly to escape a police chase.

    Designing crosswalks with bulbouts to improve visibility and maximizing traffic signal transitions can help, but no improvement absolves the pedestrian’s duty to be alert and aware of their surroundings when crossing the street.

    There is no street improvement that will substitute for the timeless role of the pedestrian showing due vigilance while crossing the street for a motorist’s mistake.