The Editor's Back Fence

Updated: Why is the City of Berkeley Going After Our Traffic Cirles?

Becky O'Malley
Tuesday July 31, 2018 - 10:45:00 AM

What's up with the city plan to destroy the volunteer gardens in the traffic circles, about which the Planet has received a lot of mail? Incumbent Councilmember Lori Droste told one inquiring resident: "...we had a closed session on this particular issue last week. We have been advised by our legal counsel that if any injuries occur at traffic circles, the City is liable. For that reason, the City has decided to take responsibility for maintenance in the circles."

This new policy recommendation from city staff is rumored to have been based on a judgment against the City of Berkeley in a 2016 lawsuit by a pedestrian who was hit by a car in an intersection with a traffic circle. However sources close to the decision tell me that Ms. Droste's characterization of the judgment is inaccurate. The suit did not result in any requirement for all traffic circles. It appears that the new plan results from staff's overactive risk aversion reflexes, an excessive abundance of caution to solve a problem which doesn't need such an extreme solution.

There's no reason for them to panic. Simple data-driven safety standards for design of circles and occasional inspection should be more than enough to prevent future liability.


The editor’s brief piece on the traffic circles seems to assume a “judgement” has been rendered in the suit against the city (and the driver of the car that hit a pedestrian), but that’s not the case. The city has decided to settle the case for north of 2 million bucks. But on the substance I agree with the editor 100%: the city’s hasty decision to cut down all the trees is ridiculous. If the city’s lawyers told Lori Droste that any accident near a traffic circle would be the city’s fault, the city needs new lawyers. But even the inexperienced crew in the City Atty’s office can’t be that stupid. Lori Droste must be misreporting what they said.

--Ernest Machen