Local District, Council Seek Traffic Safety Improvements

Photo: The Berkeley Unified School District and the City Council are working to improve traffic safety measures around local schools to help reduce accidents involving children.
Emma Lantos/Photo
The Berkeley Unified School District and the City Council are working to improve traffic safety measures around local schools to help reduce accidents involving children.

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In light of recent pedestrian accidents involving young children, the Berkeley Unified School District and the City Council have begun to implement additional safety measures around schools.

Four vehicle collisions involving district students trying to cross the street have occurred since January, one of which resulted in the death of LeConte Elementary School kindergartner Zachary Cruz, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

On March 24, the council approved a recommendation to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, requesting that he consider reducing the speed limit around district schools from 25 to 15 miles per hour.

The council also voted in favor of authorizing Kamlarz to submit a grant application to the Caltrans Safe Routes to Schools program requesting $898,660 for traffic safety improvements to four local schools.

"The grant that we're requesting will allow us to install lights and other traffic safety measures," said Councilmember Darryl Moore. "We need people to slow down and be cautious and careful."

The district has also implemented its own initiatives aside from the council's measures, encouraging parents to take more time in the morning to walk their children to school, Coplan said.

"We have a certain amount of issues with people dropping kids off at school sites in a hurry, and that puts the kids at risk," he said. "If parents take 15 minutes to walk their kids to school, I think people will find it's the best 15 minutes of their day."

The district hopes to educate the community on alternative methods of safe transportation by working with Safe Routes to Schools, said Nora Cody, the program's Alameda County director.

"We need to change the culture in terms of encouraging fewer cars to drive to the schools," she said. "And we need to get kids riding the bus. The fewer cars going to school, the safer it's going to be for everyone."

The program also suggests more crossing guards for consistent traffic enforcement, according to Cody.

"It's one of the best investments we can have in safety," she said. "We're going to be advocating that the city try to find more funding somewhere, but you can't put a price tag on the life of a child."

Coplan said district bus drivers have organized independently for the past four weeks to change transportation methods, such as parking in close proximity to other buses to prevent unseen students from passing between them.

"One of the common practices we see is people dropping kids off opposite from buses, so (children) run across the street and through buses," he said. "Now they're parking nose-to-tail, so kids can't squeeze through."

Coplan said he hopes to collaborate with city officials to improve pedestrian safety measures around schools, adding that he believes the Berkeley community will be open to the changes.

"We're really confident that we've got a community that really cares and is concerned about the safety of their kids," he said.


Contact Keena Batti at [email protected]

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