Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 15, 2014

The walker

Filed under: Alameda, Public Resources — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

On Friday morning news came out that on the evening of #hellastorm on Thursday, a pedestrian was struck by an AC Transit bus at the corner of Otis and Grand and killed.  A friend later informed me that the pedestrian was Sam Sause, a highly involved community member.

First I just want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with the Sause family during this difficult time.

While our first instinct may be to assign blame and try to figure out who is “at fault” it really doesn’t matter.  That stretch of Otis is a sea of concrete that has long been a problem for pedestrians which is troublesome considering the proximity to a well used park and not one, but two schools.  During a discussion in 2009 about the bus stop location near Otis school, it was suggested that one of the things that could help with pedestrian/vehicle conflicts would be to put Otis on a “road diet.”   Here’s a good video on road diets in general.   Naturally, some folks would be reluctant to reduce the number of lanes on Otis Street for fear that it would slow down cars, but clearly the numerous “Your Speed Is” signs and flashing lights have done little to actually lower the overall speed of that stretch of Otis.

Otis between 8th and Willow is the perfect candidate for a road diet.  Reduce the travelling lanes to one way in each direction and create a turning lane in the middle.  add a bike lane on each side with the street parking as the buffer between the moving vehicles and the bike lane and voila! you have a much safer street.  It would look sort of like this, only you swap the parking and bike lanes.

However, road diets are costly and given the reluctance to any sort of change in Alameda, would take a long time to actually implement. Another option, specifically for the intersection of Otis and Grand that could have immediate positive affects at very little cost would be to time the pedestrian signals to trigger a “Leading Pedestrian Interval” also known as a “Pedestrian Head Start” which is exactly what it sounds like, a few extra seconds to allow the pedestrian to start walking first to increase the visibility of the pedestrian.  Video here.  According to one study, the Pedestrian Head Start reduced pedestrian-vehicle conflicts by 58.7%.  The additional few extra seconds wouldn’t add much to the waiting time of vehicles, but would be an enormous benefit for the pedestrians at that well used intersection.


  1. Could stepped-up enforcement of the speed limit accomplish same or similar goal of road diet without the expense or controversy?

    Comment by dave — December 15, 2014 @ 6:15 am

  2. That is so tragic – I’m sorry to hear this news. People drive too fast and Otis is not at all safe to cross. My concern with slowing down Otis is that folks will just hit the side streets -like Clinton/Sherman street, which is already a speedway. Clearly, something needs to be done on many of our streets.

    Comment by Levis — December 15, 2014 @ 6:25 am

  3. I took a detour from my usual walk Saturday morning to observe and photograph this intersection. “Pedestrian Head Start” is certainly something that should be considered BUT what you have here is two very wide intersections coming together. It takes quite a bit of time for an individual to proceed Southward crossing Otis and it would have to be a headstart of about 35 seconds for an individual to completely cross this intersection. However an independent ‘Left turn on green arrow’ lane and signal on Grand would eliminate much of the comingling of traffic and pedestrians. I do realize a lot of pedestrians do tend to cross as time for ped crossing is winding down and that much of the traffic on Grand is turning left on Otis but the width of Grand at that point is wide enough for an additional lane.

    Comment by frank m — December 15, 2014 @ 6:27 am

  4. Neighbors at Grand and Otis have been contacting the city for years, explaining how the speeds are high, the running of red lights has increased and bike riders almost run people over all the time. Nothing has ever been done by the city. The death of Sam Sause, who was a wonderful human being has only brought to the forefront the danger that exists at they intersection. The city seems to have an excuse for every thing that is wrong there. Sam’s death could not have avoided. The bus driver simply did not see him. It was very dark, which most Alameda intersections are, the rain was light to medium and the bus stop was so close to the crosswalk that the driver may have been looking at the “stop” and not the crosswalk. AC Transit bus drivers are not the sharpest pencils in the box, so who knows what the driver was doing. Sam’s back was to the bus, so Sam had no chance of seeing the bus. The distance between the missile of the road and the sidewalk is about twenty feet. A truly wonderful person’s life came down to that twenty feet.

    Comment by Bill — December 15, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  5. My thoughts and prayers are with Helen Sause and her family. Hopefully we will make some much needed changes on Otis.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 15, 2014 @ 7:51 am

  6. Lauren is right and more than just Otis needs the road diet. There is no reason Otis and Lincoln need to be four lanes with 2 parking lanes. Six lanes dedicated to auto traffic and the warehousing private vehicles is unnecessary. It is absolutely true that a wide road like Otis facilitates speeding and other illegal maneuvers like U turns and running the red.

    #4 “Bike riders almost run people over all the time.” How so? Yes, let’s crack down on those horrible bike riders. The fact is that driver of cars *actually* run people over and kill them. But yes, let’s go after those bike riders.

    Comment by AJ — December 15, 2014 @ 9:22 am

  7. #’s 1, 2, 4, 6, plus diet

    How did this tragedy get sidetracked into an issue of speeding? The storm apparently was the underlying cause so speeding was not an issue, just a reason for everybody to jump on their single issue bandwagon. Let’s put storms on a diet.

    Comment by jack — December 15, 2014 @ 9:50 am

  8. It doesn’t make sense to make Otis 1 lane in each direction. If I was going there I would just take Lincoln to Grand instead so you would switch the traffic from Otis to Lincoln or Shoreline to Grand and Park St. Most bicyclists ride on Shoreline.

    Comment by Jake — December 15, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  9. Well Jack it’s like this. Never let a crisis go to waste. Pimp the agenda.

    Tragic accident between a bus and an elderly pedestrian at night during a storm equals more bike lanes.


    Comment by Lavage10 — December 15, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  10. Sorry jack, the storm was not the cause of the killing, a negligent bus driver was. As Lauren mentioned, we need to improve safety and it is a multi-faceted problem. People are tired of dangerous conditions for pedestrians due to poor street design and reckless driving. No one said speeding is the single issue, you did. Rather we are responding to the topic of road and pedestrian safety. Poor sensitive jack had to read some comments about issues related to a blog post.

    Comment by AJ — December 15, 2014 @ 10:08 am

  11. #9 Never let your bias go to waste. Bike lanes are just one part of a comprehensive safe street design and just one aspect of the “road diet” mentioned in the posting. You chose to try to frame it as a call for bike lanes.

    Comment by AJ — December 15, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  12. It absolutely matters who is at fault. The conditions and poorly designed roads and intersection might be mitigating factors, but the driver has a responsibility to proceed only when it is safe to do so at a speed that is appropriate. We need to address the infrastructure questions AND hold drivers accountable for the deaths they cause.

    Comment by BMac — December 15, 2014 @ 10:40 am

  13. First off, condolences to Helen. I’ve seen Sam and her everywhere together. One reads these sorts of headlines daily in the Chronicle, but when it is somebody you know it is surreal. Thirty years ago my older brother was struck and killed by a bus. Knowing such a death was avoidable really never sits well. A life taken in a flash.

    “Lavigi 10”, actually any rational person would see that the bike lane and traffic modification issue is ongoing discussion of safety and this incident merely punctuates the legitimacy of the need to address road infrastructure modifications. I think the inverse is true, and you are the pimp here, exploiting a tragedy for your own grotesque agenda to bash bikes and tear down a legitimate discussion. At the ENA vote during public comments an individual I won’t name lead off his comments with sneering references to bulb outs and bike infrastructure before launching into the importance of accommodating automobiles, parking etc..

    This is the second accident between a vehicle and pedestrians at this intersection in just months. In the last, I think peds were north bound and vehicle was making a left off Grand. Which direction was Sam traveling? From comment 3 I infer it was south bound. I had heard he was wearing a reflective vest, but they might not reflect well until the headlights are on them. It seems that the bus driver may have been negligent, but comments (4) disparaging the general competency of transit drivers are more than a little presumptuous, and don’t really help. These jobs are stressful and drivers take a lot of abuse from riders and drivers of cars. They are also pushed by scheduling. It’s like the Post Office, we are totally dependent but give them no respect, always about public employees being a bunch of F ups. Like we never make mistakes in our own jobs.

    Comment by MI — December 15, 2014 @ 10:58 am

  14. This is terrible. Sam Sause was membership chair of the Alameda Navy League, and he just attended the ANAM Holiday Party.

    But I don’t think “traffic calming” and “road diets” are the answer. Anthropomorphizing streets is not helpful. That intersection has been the same for what…almost 50 years now? Over that time period, and given how many schoolkids have safely crossed that intersection in that time [maybe a million?], it doesn’t stand out as a death trap.

    Sam wasn’t hit by a pack of speeders. This was an AC Transit bus, driven by a trained professional, who obviously made a mistake. Spending a lot of money to reconfigure an intersection is an over-reaction. However, with all the advocacy for more public transit, more busses will be traveling the streets of Alameda and more opportunities for such tragedies will pop up.

    Comment by vigi — December 15, 2014 @ 11:32 am

  15. as a 71 year old, when I take my walks every day I stand on the sidewalk until there are no cars in either direction, then I cross the street. I know this is not sensible but no cars means nobody can hit me. I never walk at night. I’m very sorry for Helen’s loss.

    Comment by John P. — December 15, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

  16. Every marked crosswalk in Alameda should have embedded LEDs extending across the street which are sufficiently bright that both pedestrians and drivers can see them day or night and the lights should turn on automatically when a pedestrian enters the crosswalk when that pedestrian has the right of way. Properly installed and publicly acknowledged by the city this could go a long way to eliminate tragedies like this.

    Comment by jack — December 15, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

  17. I’ve been impressed with LED lighted crosswalks that turn on when pedestrian steps off of curb and turn off when s/he steps up on otherside. (WA state).

    One of the problems with ours is that they stay on long after the person is finished crossing and/or they are activated by people who just like touch buttons. The one at Park and Webb is often ignored because drivers haven’t seen anyone in the crosswalk before, so they don’t expect anyone to really be there anymore. The one on Fernside and Versailles is much better lighted, but still doesn’t turn off when pedestrian is out of street. Now, I give the lights a second or two, then wave to get attention before I cross. Cars have blind spots, I don’t go out unless I think the drivers/bikers are stopping. Yes, the bikers don’t stop either.

    I’ve noticed a tiny island added to an intersection recently. Personally, I think it is too small. It’s too easy to miss at night or bad weather. 8″ x 3′ x 4′, more or less, will bust a tire and cause an accident rather than prevent one.

    Comment by Li_ — December 15, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

  18. When people don’t manually activate the crossing lights and then venture into the cross walk, it gets very confusing and dangerous. Some have argued that is a reason not to have them at all. It requires real vigilance to navigate up Park not knowing why vehicles may have stopped and a time or two I have nearly blown it when peds have neglected to activate the lights. Automatic lights would be much better if on a street like Park they would not get frequent false activations.

    Comment by MI — December 15, 2014 @ 7:51 pm

  19. 1: In a word, no. APD only has 88 sworn officers–enough for about 7 cops on patrol for all of Alameda at any one time, and not enough to spare officers for meaningful traffic enforcement (speeding, etc.). When we moved to Alameda over 15 year ago, APD had over 100 sworn officers–enough staffing for significant traffic enforcement, including many more motorcycle cops, unlike today. Call Sgt. Ron Simmons at APD for more details on this issue.

    5,6: Precisely. The convenience of auto traffic–to the detriment of safety, especially for pedestrians, transit users, and bikes–is the principle behind the bad design of Otis, which promotes the speeding and reckless driving that causes collisions, injuries, and deaths.
    Among other things, there are just too many factors for drivers to safely and easily manage at the Grand/Otis intersection, which I have experienced on a bus, in a car, on a bike, and on foot numerous times.

    The proposed “road diet” (and I much prefer the version in the link to Lauren’s suggestion to put bikes on the curb-side of parked cars) helps rebalance the street ion favor of better pedestrian and bike safety as well as improved auto safety: everyone wins when speeds–and the number of collisions–are reduced. That’s why the City of Alameda reconfigured Fernside, which successfully carries 30,000 cars/day, and why it is currently reconfiguring Shore Line Drive, which only carries 10,000-12,000 cars/day.

    Until we undo the “autos are everything” bias in our roadway designs–and Otis Drive is a classic example of “autos ueber alles” we will continue to lose people like Sam Sause–a friend to me as he was to many in Alameda–needlessly. Implementing a simple road diet for Otis Drive–something I have recommended for about 10 years now–would be a fitting memorial to Sam. He would have appreciated such a “community project” that provided benefits to everyone who used it.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — December 16, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

  20. The memorial service for Sam Sause will be held on Saturday, January 10, 2015, at noon, at Christ Episcopal Church, 1700 Santa Clara Avenue (at Grand Street). The church is quite large, but it will be full…

    Comment by Jon Spangler — December 16, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

  21. This recent study confirms what many of us have seen on Otis Drive–at least west of Park Street: Otis is too wide for the number of cars that actually use it because it was over-designed, based on incorrect design principles:

    Comment by Jon Spangler — December 17, 2014 @ 10:51 am

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