Meet Ghanya Thomas: Traffic Patrol
On our daily commutes, most of us listen to the news or music, read or just zone out. Not Ghanya Thomas, executive assistant to CIO Tom Andriola. After witnessing a near-miss of a pedestrian one morning, she started paying attention to the traffic signals and signs that alert drivers to pedestrians, noting differences between neighborhoods. In lower-income neighborhoods, she noticed, they were few and far between. “It adds to the disrespect that residents feel,” she says.
A master’s student at Cal State East Bay at the time, Thomas turned her observations into a project for a public administration course. For her project, she interviewed the owners of a corner market, among others, who told her of the traffic-calming effect of rapid-flashing beacons that had been installed following two fatal accidents in the nearby intersection. Now Thomas was more than interested. She wanted to do something.
“People in lower-income communities have higher rates of pedestrian fatalities than affluent neighborhoods. Mostly they are forced to walk or rely on public transportation because they can’t afford the expense of having an automobile,” she says, citing data showing 23 percent of all California traffic fatalities are pedestrians, 75 percent higher than the national average. And in her hometown of Berkeley, which has one of the highest rates of bicycle and pedestrian commuting in the state, in 2012 alone, the last year for which complete data are available, there were 112 pedestrian collisions resulting in an injury or fatality. Thirty-one of these collisions involved a victim under the age of 15 or over the age of 65.
After grad school, Thomas wanted to take her traffic safety interest to the next level, and she applied for an opening on the city’s Transportation Commission. She was appointed in September 2013, representing District 7, and this year was appointed as co-chair of the commission and chairs the pedestrian subcommittee. The commission studies issues assigned by the City Council and makes recommendations.
Last spring, Thomas organized a pilot for a proposed citywide pedestrian safety campaign, It’s Up to All of Us, an outreach and educational program crafted by the California Department of Public Health. Partnering with the Berkeley Police Department, California Walks, Bike East Bay, Alameda County Safe Routes to School, UC Berkeley SafeTREC, the Zachary Michael Cruz Foundation —and with no city funds — the grass-roots coalition conducted a safety survey at four busy downtown intersections, interviewing nearly 100 people in a single day. Additionally, the group, along with the Berkeley Police Traffic Division, held an Education and Enforcement activity at Shattuck and Center, distributing safety-related fliers and posters—Smart Phone, Dumb Move, Cross Like Your Life Depends on It. “Now drivers and pedestrians are distracted because they are focusing more on (texting) their smart phones. Although the majority of the people stated they felt safe crossing the street, according to the Berkeley Police department 60 percent of all pedestrian related collisions occurred in crosswalks.”
The program was so successful that the commission has approved a proposal asking the Berkeley City Council to provide funding to continue the program next year.
Of her work on the commission, Thomas says, “It’s great to be connected to the community in a meaningful way and to see how things get done — and to be around people who get things done.” In our mind, she’s one of those people.
This article, sponsored by UCOP Staff Assembly Communications Advisory Subcommittee, is part of a series about celebrating the people of the UCOP community. We welcome suggestions for future articles at UCfeedback@ucop.edu.