Death of local cyclist spurs renewed traffic safety efforts in Berkeley

Rachael Garner/Staff

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Residents and community members are calling for increased law enforcement of traffic violations, more funding and education on traffic safety after a Sunday morning collision between a cyclist and vehicle in the Berkeley Hills.

Local cyclist Kurt Wehner, a 62-year-old Berkeley resident, was involved in a collision with a vehicle at the intersection of Spruce and Eunice streets, sustaining life-threatening injuries. He died Monday afternoon due to blunt trauma, according to the Alameda County coroner.

In particular, neighbors and community members are calling for more resources in the area, such as reduced speed limits and increased enforcement. Councilmember Susan Wengraf, in whose district the accident occurred, said neighbors had been complaining about traffic on Eunice Street for years.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said a lack of resources and funding were major obstacles to improving traffic safety education, enforcement and infrastructure.

“(There are) many unsafe streets — not only main streets but neighborhood streets,” he said.

Arreguin said one prospect was Measure BB, the Alameda County Transportation Commission Sales Tax, which would renew a transportation sales tax, generating revenue that could go to improve local streets and roads as well as bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Andrew Fischer, a UC Berkeley alumnus and resident of the neighborhood for three years, said bicyclists come “blasting through” the area. Fischer, who lives on the corner of Eunice and Spruce streets, said on weekends, he has noticed that bicyclists headed downhill on Spruce rarely stop at the intersection.

He emphasized that, in his opinion, bicyclists need to take responsibility for obeying traffic laws.

Robert Prinz, education director for Bike East Bay, said he contacted Wengraf offering to work with the city to implement more robust bicycle education. His organization offers education programs to local schools and businesses and is working on a project to bring protected bike lanes, bike traffic signals and green bike boxes to a number of Berkeley streets. Bike East Bay has strongly endorsed Measure BB in order to address the infrastructure problems.

Stop-sign and speed violations are among the most common community complaints regarding traffic, according to the city of Berkeley’s website. Berkeley Police Department runs focused enforcement projects targeting resources to areas with a large number of collisions or a large number of complaints.

Since 2006, Berkeley has had an official traffic calming policy. The policy, adopted by Berkeley City Council and renewed in 2009, provides a mechanism for neighborhoods to gather signatures and initiate a request for the city to investigate excess traffic and to implement appropriate infrastructure measures.

Arreguin said any future project decisions should be neighborhood-driven processes.

“We’re not doing enough,” he said. “We need to prioritize (safe streets).”

Contact Isaac Smith at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @IsaacGSmith.