Berkeley Police Department receives grant to improve traffic safety

Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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Berkeley Police Department received $150,500 in grant funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety last month to improve its traffic safety and reduce traffic-related injuries and deaths.

The grant is awarded each year to cities across California to promote safer roadways, with funds distributed Oct. 1. BPD plans to use the money to fund DUI checkpoints and patrols and to organize enforcement in areas based on city collision statistics, among other plans.

Berkeley encourages more forms of alternative transportation, including walking and biking, than most other cities, said BPD Sgt. Emily Murphy, who facilitates the grant. More pedestrians and bicycles, however, require the police department to implement a wider variety of enforcement tactics.

“What’s unique about Berkeley is actually the way that we traverse our roadways in our city,” Murphy said. “(The grant) is great in that it gives us the funding so that we can enforce it from all sides — pedestrians, bicyclists and the vehicles.”

In 2011, the most recent year for which the office of traffic safety has data, there were 632 fatalities and injuries from collisions in the city of Berkeley. Of those, 166 were from bicycle collisions, the highest number among similarly sized cities. There were 94 deaths and injuries where pedestrians were victims.

The primary collision factors in Berkeley between 2010 and 2012 were unsafe speeds, improper turning and right-of-way violations, according to Jill Cooper, associate director of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley.

According to Chris Cochran, a spokesperson for the California Office of Traffic Safety, grants are issued annually. Agencies can apply for funding to address specific problems, such as more DUI checkpoints or bicycle safety training, or they can apply for more generalized funding.

BPD received a blanket grant, according to Cochran, aimed at addressing a number of different traffic issues citywide, including bike and pedestrian safety.

Although BPD has received similar grants from the traffic safety office in the past, Cochran said directly quantifying the effects can be tricky. Because there are so many different types and causes of collisions, it is difficult to hold agencies to a specific number of fatalities or injuries. Agencies receiving grants, though, must report back to the office of traffic safety on at least a quarterly basis.

“Judging whether a crash is a result of something that could have been prevented is hard to say, but we look at overall trends by city,” Cochran said. “What are the numbers doing?”

Regarding efforts to reduce fatalities, Cooper spoke of the different “E’s” of traffic safety, including education, enforcement and engagement. While enforcement may help reduce specific collision factors, she said, public awareness can help create a culture of consciousness around traffic safety.

“Traffic crashes aren’t inevitable; they are preventable,” Cooper said. “We all have the right to use the streets and get to where we want to go safely.”

Contact Katy Abbott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @katyeabbott.