The atmosphere was noticeably somber at the November 7th Emeryville Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting (BPAC). An unusually large community attendance was on hand in the wake of the tragic November 1st death of a woman crossing the notoriously dangerous Powell Street intersection. Attendees were on hand to determine what the city could do to avoid similar tragedies from occurring.
The meeting was attended by friends and family of the victim, as well as concerned members of the public, many of whom were interested in how the committee plans to respond to the tragedy.
The incident occurred at the intersection of Powell Street and Christie Avenue at approximately 9:24 a.m. The victim, Mahin Ashki, was within the crosswalk when she was struck by a semi-truck making a right turn, according to Emeryville Police.
Ashki, 58, was a native of Iran and mother of two who was residing in Kentucky. She was visiting the Bay Area for her niece’s birthday, sources close to the family said.
Yahya Rouhani and Zhara Maleklou, friends of the victim’s family, said that they were attending the meeting to represent the family’s wishes. Rouhani, who called Ashki “A wonderful person, very kind,” noted that often there is a “swelling of support immediately after a tragedy,” and insisted, “we must not let it simply ‘fizzle out.”
In an unscheduled comment allowed by the committee, he implored the group to recognize that the loss of a single life should be enough to push the members into taking swift action.
Though its agenda had been set before the incident, the committee was clearly ready to face heightened public and personal interest in the incident. Captain Dante Diotalevi of the Emeryville Police Department was on hand, replacing Sgt. Joel Hannon who was assigned to report on traffic collisions, according to the agenda.
Diotalevi was prepared to field questions regarding the intersection where the incident occurred, however, due to the fact that the investigation was still ongoing, he was unable to provide more than basic information about the victim.
What was made available to the committee and the public were extensive statistics compiled by the police, as well as the sobering fact that, while the department would like to consider posting more personnel to the area where the incident occurred, they currently cannot afford to assign even a single unit to the traffic division, according to Diotalevi.
He did say that it may be possible to post a patrol car in the area, in the hopes that it would “get people to slow down.”
Based on both statistics and the personal experiences of members of the committee, whose members either live or work in Emeryville, it was made clear that the intersection has long been an extremely dangerous area. Diotalevi noted that even the police aren’t immune to the dangers of the area, with several incidents of officers involved in collisions including one on a bicycle.
Committee Chair Tom Modic said that the intersection is often confusing for pedestrians, containing a right-turn traffic light that puts those using the crosswalk at risk when green. This issue is a key factor in the current struggle to determine fault, according to police.
Committee member Laura McCamy brought up the issue of dealing with Caltrans, as much of the area conflicts with the I-80, which she notes plays a role in the “several design flaws in this intersection.” Speaking to the difficulty of dealing with the state agency, McCamy said that “Caltrans can be very slow to move, and I don’t want them to be an obstacle to safety,” finishing her point by saying that “this intersection belongs to Emeryville.”
Robert Prinz, former chair of the advisory committee and current education director for Bike East Bay said that many of the safety solutions that were discussed at the meeting had already been suggested in 2011. Prinz is referring to the Powell Street Urban Design Plan, which was adopted in May 2012 as part of the city’s updated Pedestrian and Bicycle plan. Many of the plans included in the project were designed to make the area of Ashki’s death safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. “It’s a shame to think that something like this could have been avoided,” said Prinz.
After hearing the concerns of the public, the committee voted 7-0 to schedule a special meeting on January 9th to discuss the incident in further detail. Yahya, who urged the committee to present a plan to the city council as quickly as possible said “this is the absolute latest I believe this should happen.”
A somber moment of silence initiated by the committee was held for Mahin prior to adjourning the meeting.
Bike East Bay is calling for safety improvements to the Powell “four intersections” area through the below online petition that include upgraded crosswalk markings, the addition of an illuminated ‘no right turns on red’ electronic sign and a median extension in the center of Powell to prevent drivers from cutting across. Those with concerns over the safety of this intersection are encouraged to contact Emeryville City Engineer Maurice Kaufman at email@example.com and acting Caltrans District 4 Bicycle Coordinator Sergio Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Safety incidents should be reported to the Emeryville PD at (510) 596-3700.
Cristabell Fierros contributed images and reporting to this story.