Hours after leaving a discussion on street safety March 16, Berkeley street safety advocate Jackie Erbe was severely injured in a collision on Ninth Street and Channing Way.
Erbe was biking with her eight-year-old child when she was rear-ended by a motorist, according to a statement released by Walk Bike Berkeley, a street safety advocacy organization. Erbe’s son witnessed the collision but was physically unharmed.
Following the incident, Erbe underwent two successful surgeries for a broken femur and fractured vertebrae. While a full recovery for Erbe is expected, Ben Gerhardstein, member of the Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee, said it will take some time for Erbe to be her former self again.
“Part of what has made this experience so frustrating and … ironic, but it kinda goes beyond that, almost absurd, is that Jackie and other Walk Bike Berkeley folks have been working with the city to get improvements put in place along Ninth Street, where the collision occurred, as part of the Healthy Streets program and some traffic calming measures,” Gerhardstein said.
Healthy Streets is a public health emergency response program that encourages Berkeley residents “to safely get exercise, sunshine, and fresh air” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Berkeley Transportation Division website. Guidelines for the program include wearing facial coverings, social distancing and observing a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit.
The Healthy Streets network includes three segments: Ninth Street from Hearst Avenue to Dwight Way, Russell Street from Adeline Street to Mabel Street and Addison Street from Sacramento Street to Grant Street, according to the website.
Only hours before her collision, Erbe, other Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee members and Berkeley transportation staff met to discuss the Healthy Streets program.
“I bike that intersection a couple times a week. That could just has easily have been me,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “The longer it takes to fulfill the vision of our entire bicycle plan, the more Berkeleyans we put at risk.”
In the wake of Erbe’s collision, Gerhardstein said the city should improve Healthy Streets and make the program as effective as programs in other communities such as San Francisco.
Walk Bike Berkeley advised the city in its statement to complete its bicycle boulevard network and called the collision a “design and engineering failure — not just a product of dangerous driving.”
Gerhardstein said improvements such as repaving a street could help improve street safety and noted that when Adeline Street and Hearst Avenue were repaved, they also received upgrades in bike pedestrian infrastructure.
Both Gerhardstein and City Councilmember Terry Taplin have advocated for the city to complete its Vision Zero program, an engineering strategy for designing and building Berkeley streets to prevent traffic collisions similar to Erbe’s or worse.
“We have piles of plans, but now we need action,” the Walk Bike Berkeley statement reads. “No more excuses. Get it done.”