FREMONT -- Typically quiet Washington Hospital leaders are speaking out and mounting a public effort to advocate for a traffic signal at a crash-plagued crosswalk on Civic Center Drive used by staff, doctors, visitors, patients and BART commuters.
Five pedestrians have been hit in the crosswalk by vehicles in the last 13 months, and four suffered serious injuries. Following the most recent crash Sept. 25, hospital leaders circulated a traffic signal petition that garnered more than 2,600 signatures and called on the City Council for help at their Oct. 1 council meeting.
"The crosswalk demands a stop light and traffic must be slowed," Dr. William Nicholson, president of the hospital board of directors, told the council. "Lives are at stake."
According to Mayor Bill Harrison, the City Council approved the crosswalk reluctantly in 2005 and city officials aren't convinced a signal is the safest remedy.
"From the city standpoint, they didn't want the crosswalk there because it's not safe," Harrison said.
Hospital officials argue that the crossing is important since foot traffic will only increase when a new Critical Care Pavilion and parking garage is built in the coming years.
Patients and visitors are often distraught and distracted, and some are elderly and take longer to get across the crosswalk between Washington's main hospital and Washington West building, said Patricia Danielson, hospital board director.
Two of the crashes involved hospital employees, and unions representing hospital nurses, clerical staff, medical imaging technicians, engineers, pharmacists and others also wrote the council letters asking for a signal.
"Registered Nurses are the front line of emergency room care," wrote Sue Fendley, public sector lead for the California Nurses Association. "It is unacceptable to have a person seek our care because they were injured just outside that very door!"
In a Sept. 30 letter to Nicholson, the mayor said the city is willing to explore all solutions, ranging from installation of a traffic light to removing the crosswalk "if deemed in the best interest of public safety."
Nicholson told the council removing the crosswalk would only encourage people to jaywalk.
Washington has already spent $250,000 on safety measures, and in the last year added bright new signage, flashing lights on the ground and reduced street lanes to one each way, but hospital administrators should expect to spend a lot more if the signal gets a green light. Should traffic and engineering studies determine a signal is a good option, Washington, like recent signal requester Whole Foods, will pay for the studies and traffic light, costing up to $500,000.
"We, the city, are looking forward to working with the hospital to try to make that intersection as safe as possible," Harrison said.
Identifying a solution may take a month, and a fix could take another month or two, he said. "The public wants it tomorrow and unfortunately, I know that's not going to happen."
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Ramon and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.