Parkway Adds New Safety Features
In the wake of a car crash that claimed the lives of Berkeley High School student Kyle Strang and alumnus Prentice “PJ” Gray Jr., the City of Richmond has made several safety improvements to the stretch of the Richmond Parkway where the tragic accident occurred. Due largely to the efforts of Sharleen Harty, Strang’s mother, approximately $5,000 worth of safety enhancements have been made to the stretch of road, including new signage and refreshed pavement markings.
“People would ask about Kyle’s accident,” said Harty. “They would recoil when they heard it was [on] the Richmond Parkway.” According to Harty, three main factors contribute to the dangerous nature of the area where the accident occurred: The merging traffic, a sudden curve, and a traffic light. Strang and Gray, who grew up on the same block and “referred to each other as brothers,” were driving on the Parkway on March 31 when they lost control of their car, which crossed the center median and collided head–on with an empty school bus, killing both boys. “It’s unmarked for merging traffic,” said Harty. “Everyone would say ‘That’s a terrible stretch of road’, or ‘It should never have been built.’”
Harty began attempting to contact city officials just weeks after her son’s death, however, emails she sent and calls she made in the Spring of 2010 went largely ignored. Finally, in September, she succeeded in contacting Edric Kwan, the Interim City Engineer in Richmond. According to Kwan, a subsequent investigation carried out by the City of Richmond found that the entire stretch of road, according to all local and state regulations, was “adequately signed and striped.”
Despite this finding, however, the City Engineering Department, which encompasses the Traffic Department, went ahead with the improvements. “Knowing that everything was signed correctly, we wanted to see what else we could do,” said Kwan. “We added an additional traffic signal sign just to make sure there’s an extra layer of redundancy.” Harty, along with Strang’s godmother Patricia Donnelly, met with Kwan on November 4, and the changes were put in place just before Thanksgiving.
Another factor that Harty cited as a potential reason for Strang and Gray’s deaths is the lack of bumper standards in the United States for trucks and buses. “It’s a standard in Europe,” said Harty. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a standard here.” In Europe, bumpers are required to extend down to only slightly above ground level, whereas United States bus truck bumpers aren’t held to a federal or even statewide standard for fear of inhibiting the vehicle’s ability in off–road, parking, or loading situations.
Harty, who is originally from Zambia, will be visiting South Africa to study Medical Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, and plans to visit Israel after her time in Cape Town, just as Strang would have upon graduating from BHS. “The mitzvah [a traditional Jewish term for good deed] in this is that it’s going to save lives,” said Harty of her efforts to improve the safety conditions on the Parkway. “To me, I think for Kyle and PJ, not only will lives be saved, but people will realize that they weren’t being idiot teenagers. If they had survived, they would’ve done the exact same thing.”
In the end, the City of Richmond Department of Public Works, at Kwan’s request, installed a curve warning sign, a sign warning of an upcoming stoplight and repainted the pavement markings in the general area where the accident occurred. “If I had been driving,” said Harty, “it could have been me just as easily. They weren’t being idiots, there was really something wrong with the road.” According to Kwan, the Engineering Department put in an additional request with Public Works to install an oncoming turn sign, larger than the standard size for additional visibility, though this has yet to be completed.
Kwan also explained that the City of Richmond also has “hired a Traffic Engineering Consultant to perform a complete engineering study at this intersection, and will be using the results of this study to potentially create a future Capital Improvement Project to provide any additional safety measures that are allowed under state and federal guidelines.” Harty, in an email to Kwan, also expressed her desire for additional enforcement of the 50 miles per hour speed limit in place on the stretch of Richmond Parkway where the accident took place, though this request has yet to be acted upon by the Richmond Police Department or California Highway Patrol.
Harty cited a poem that her son wrote as an assignment for the Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) Academy as a principle inspiration for her virtually single–handed efforts in getting the City of Richmond to improve safety conditions on the Richmond Parkway, “And I believe in ‘one person can make a difference’ because if everybody believed they couldn’t, nothing would ever change.”