Vision Zero Prioritizing Pedestrian Safety

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Our community was terribly saddened when we heard the news of Judy Appel and Alison Bernstein being hit by a car while crossing a street. I am thankful to hear that my friends are expected to make a full recovery, but acknowledge the road to recovery will be long and tedious. While this incident may have made the headlines, the reality is this story is not unique. Between 2012-2016, Berkeley on average experienced 3 fatalities and 31 serious injuries annually as a result of traffic collisions. While pedestrians and bicyclists are involved in only 7% of crashes, they account for a third of the fatalities. It does not and should not have to be this way, which is why we are taking proactive steps to address pedestrian safety.

An estimated 17% of Berkeley commuters walk to work, with 10% biking. As someone who does not drive, I am one of those thousands of Berkeley residents who primarily walk or bike. Under the Climate Action Plan, we want to encourage alternative forms of transportation. But one key issue as to why people choose not to bike and walk given the opportunity to do so is because of safety concerns. Both the Bicycle Plan and the proposed updates to the Pedestrian Master Plan prioritize the need to address these concerns.

One of the biggest projects the City is undertaking is Vision Zero. The premise is simple - we must create the conditions necessary to prevent fatal crashes. It is a tried and true policy that first originated in Sweden in 1997. Since its implementation, traffic deaths in that country have plummeted by 70%. In recent years, major cities across the United States have begun adopting this policy, including San Francisco in 2014.  Last year, I cosponsored legislation to make Berkeley a Vision Zero City. We have stepped up implementation efforts in recent months, with the creation of a Vision Zero Task Force being approved by Council last month.

Vision Zero is about creating a culture of traffic safety using a data-driven approach. Specifically, it focuses on the “Three E’s”: Engineering, Enforcement, and Education.

  • Engineering: Redesigning existing streets with traffic calming and pedestrian improvements.

  • Enforcement: Take a proactive approach on addressing the five violations that cause the most injuries/fatalities. These are violation of the pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, red light violation, stop sign violation and yield-while-turning violation.

  • Education: Increase public awareness of laws and violations, and highlighting human consequences of these actions, in order to change people’s driving behaviors.  

One key part of Vision Zero is addressing speeding. A pedestrian that is hit by a car going 40mph has a 10% chance of survival, whereas being hit by a car going 20mph has a 90% survival rate. 14% of our streets account for 93% of fatal and serious pedestrian injuries. Many of these High Injury Corridors are notorious for speeding. City staff and the Task Force will be looking at best practices to use for traffic calming measures on this corridors and will present their findings and recommendations in the final report. The City Council is set to approve the Vision Zero Action Plan this Fall.

Other steps outside of Vision Zero are also taking place to address pedestrian safety. Improving our streetlights can help prevent night crashes, which make up a significant number of such incidents. A few years ago, the City switched to LED lighting. Recently, we have experienced issues with the diodes, as many of them have malfunctioned long before their standard life expectancy. The company we contracted the lights from has taken responsibility for this issue, and over the next couple of years, all streetlights will be replaced with new lights, free of charge. These lights will be stronger and more focused, allowing for our streets to become well lit without increasing overall light pollution. Other projects, such as the Shattuck reconfiguration, are designed with pedestrian safety at the forefront.

Collectively, we can make a difference in improving traffic safety. No one should have to worry about their safety while walking, especially in a city as walkable as Berkeley. I am confident that based on the precedence these policies have had in other cities and countries, this will work in Berkeley.

Jesse Arreguin