Zachary Cruz, in whose memory his parents are crusading for safer streets. Photo: Zachary Cruz Foundation

Frank Cruz has turned a horrific personal tragedy — the death on a crosswalk of his five-year-old son Zachary — into a crusade to make Berkeley’s streets safer for pedestrians.

And tomorrow, at the end of a month which was named Zachary Cruz Pedestrian Safety Month by the city for the second year running, the Zachary Cruz Foundation will hold a benefit concert for pedestrian safety.

Zachary, who would have turned eight on March 12, was run over and killed while walking with a group of school children and teachers at the intersection at Derby and Warring on February 27th, 2009.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, Berkeley is the most dangerous city its size in California, in terms of pedestrian-auto injury collisions. In 2009, the year Zachary lost his life, there were two other fatal collisions in Berkeley and 106 pedestrians were injured in traffic accidents in the city. All three of the fatal collisions  involved pedestrians in crosswalks.

The Zachary Michael Cruz Foundation, founded by Zachary’s parents, Frank and Jodie Cruz, has achieved a significant amount in a short time. It has been working closely with the Berkeley Police Department to raise awareness and enforce pedestrian safety. It has established a Zachary Cruz Memorial Scholarship at UC Berkeley and a scholarship for emergency medical response tuition.

“Lives continue to be lost every day in preventable pedestrian-auto collisions,” said Frank Cruz. “If we don’t fight distracted driving, and other dangerous driving practices, pedestrian-auto collisions will continue to claim the lives of innocent people like Zachary.”

The 2011 Zachary Cruz Benefit Concert for Pedestrian Safety will take place at the New Parish at 579 18th Street in downtown Oakland on Thursday March 31, and will feature local indie rock bands The Soft White Sixties, Poor Bailey, and Manatee. The event is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Police Department and the Berkeley Firefighters Random Acts nonprofit. For more information on the event, and the Zachary Michael Cruz Foundation, please visit the foundation’s website.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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20 Comments

  1. I’m beginning to think that cell phones should be required to have a mechanism which disables them if they are moving.

    This morning I saw a pedestrian walk right into moving traffic at an intersection as he was engaged in a heated conversation on his phone. He was lucky, everyone else stopped. He was oblivious. He didn’t even notice. I regularly see cyclists ride with only one hand on their handle bar at night while holding a cell phone to their ear. Needless to say I see drivers just as distracted..

    Yes, operators of motorized vehicles have a greater responsibility than cyclists or walkers. But it isn’t just drivers.

    I’m not a fan of cell phones. And yet I feel that I need to have one, especially on the street. I’ve called 911 on the cell a few times. Twice it turned out to be to report incidents which ended up being fatalities, one a homicide in Berkeley.

    We all need to develop better judgement about the use of these necessary evils.

  2. If you want to run in front of 2 tons of moving metal be my guest. Just make sure your insurance covers the damage your body does to my fender.

    VEHICLE CODE
    SECTION 21949-21971

    21950.

    (b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of
    using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly
    leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path
    of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
    No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a
    marked or unmarked crosswalk.

  3. My understanding is that the driver was not charged or cited for killing Zachary. Here is an idea to make streets safer for people: start charging reckless drivers who injure and kill people. Reckless driving is a choice, not an accident. It would send the message that people should take responsibility for safe driving.

    Why didn’t the Berkeley Police or DA charge the driver? Why didn’t Berkeleyside note this fact? What message does this send about their commitment to safe streets?

  4. I can only imagine that things will continue to get worse for pedestrians because more and more drivers are distracted by their phones instead of focusing on driving. I walk everywhere I go in Berkeley, often pushing a stroller. At busy streets like Sacramento and MLK I am surprised how many drivers fly by ignoring me, instead of stopping. I have noticed that more drivers will stop in the morning than in the afternoon. On busy streets I try to avoid crossing at intersections that are not controlled by lights even if they have a well-marked crosswalk.

  5. Yes pedestrians can seem to be “darting” out in CROSSWALKS. but the pedestrian always has the right of way, and yes it is ALL on the driver to be constantly scanning for pedestrians while moving at 20-40 MPH in a steel potential lethal weapon.

  6. Aye to that, I noticed this when I moved here 25 years ago and it’s been a constant since. Peds will march out in the street and defiantly look the other way, as if DARING you to violate their sovereignty. Around campus it’s a different story, but perhaps even more dangerous. Bikes and peds darting in and out everywhere, paying no attention to traffic laws or the rhythm and order of things, leaving it entirely up to the motorist to take it all in and ensure safety for all.

    Not surprised Berkeley is rates poorly, but motorists are not the problem.

  7. Speaking for myself, I used to be one of those reckless pedestrians! There’s and underground mythology is that Berkeley is ruled by the pedestrians, and that people can just walk out in front of cars, and they will stop. I know this, because I used to live it until I got more in touch with my own morality.

  8. Indeed, the entire sentence from your post was apparently taken verbatim from the Foundation’s site. Has Berkeleyside verified the statistic?

  9. Can Berkeleyside please provide support for its assertion: “According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, Berkeley is the most dangerous city its size in California, in terms of pedestrian-auto injury collisions?”

  10. I recently moved here from Boulder, Colorado and here are the pedestrian safety measures I really miss:
    -on-demand flashing lights at high-use crosswalks
    -multi-use paths for pedestrians to walk on (the bicycle boulevards are nice but not the same)
    -clearly marked crosswalks on busy streets, particularly on Sacramento St. (there aren’t enough IMHO)

    To the credit of Berkeley residents, most people are very aware of pedestrians and stop appropriately. I was pleasantly surprised about that. But there’s always that one jerk speeding along and talking on a cell phone, and that’s all it takes. Good for Frank Cruz and his family for turning their tragedy into a local movement that could benefit a lot of us.

  11. As much as I’d like to see more responsible drivers, it seems like it might be more useful to encourage defensive pedestrians. More than once, I’ve seen people here enter the crosswalk assuming cars are going to stop for them. Berkeley is pretty unique in that, most of the time, the cars actually *will* stop–that’s a great thing about this city. Unfortunately, that’s not typically how it works in other cities or on most of the East Coast, and it only takes one person who doesn’t understand local customs to cause a tragedy.

  12. It would be great to see an analysis of where accidents have occurred. Does the city publish anything like this? I have always assumed that Berkeley’s decades-long “traffic calming” strategy is responsible. All the cars in the city are funneled to just a handful of main streets. The corner where Zachary was killed is one of the most heavily trafficked in the city, especially during after-school hours, when it is an endless snarl of impatient drivers. Ironically, many of the surrounding blocks are quiet cul-de-sacs created in the 1970’s by concrete planters. The few streets that go all the way through town from east to west and north to south must support the 10s or thousands of people who work downtown and on campus.

    When I moved to Berkeley in 1980 I was told that this plan of blocking off so many streets was deliberate in order to discourage people from getting into their cars, and to encourage walking and biking. If this is true, it has backfired: it is more dangerous to be on foot or on a bike in Berkeley than to be in a car. Since the plan was implemented, the suburbs to the east have grown exponentially, and the traffic will only increase with the new Caldecott bores. It is past time to re-evaluate the traffic calming system.

  13. The question is, why is it so dangerous? Is it just distracted drivers or also the layout and design of the streets or that we are both car and pedestrian intense? Does anyone know? If we can figure that out then perhaps we can make it safer by working through the challenges.