Berkeley Vision Zero plan in development to reduce traffic deaths, fatal injuries

Gisselle Reyes/Staff

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The city of Berkeley is drafting a Vision Zero Action Plan that strives to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries on city streets by 2028.

Berkeley City Council members met throughout November to complete work sessions and discussions about Vision Zero. The Vision Zero Task Force is composed of city agencies, including the city’s Department of Public Works, AC Transit, UC Berkeley and Berkeley’s fire and police departments. Co-sponsors for the plan include Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmembers Lori Droste, Kate Harrison and Susan Wengraf.

Between 2012 and 2016 alone, 14 people were killed and 157 others were seriously injured from severe and fatal crashes in the city of Berkeley, according to a Vision Zero presentation given at a City Council meeting Nov. 5. Harrison said planning for bicyclist and pedestrian safety was the number one referral voted on from City Council this year.

“The thing with Vision Zero is that it focuses on the most serious accidents and tries to create tolerance for those accidents,” Harrison said. “Humans make mistakes and get distracted, but what’s important is that we set up a situation to eliminate those serious injury and fatality accidents.”

According to Arreguín’s spokesperson Stefan Elgstrand, San Francisco introduced Vision Zero legislation in 2014, with the city of Berkeley following suit in 2018 to make Berkeley a “Vision Zero city.” Parts of the Berkeley plan include allocating more of the city budget toward street paving that prioritizes pedestrian and bicyclist access. Other aspects of the plan include adding more street lighting to aid public safety.

Elgstrand acknowledged that 10% of people in Berkeley bike to work, while about 15% walk to work. He added that the city recognizes the infrastructure needed in order to accommodate these percentages.

In the lens of environmental sustainability, the Vision Zero plan hopes to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from vehicles by improving the safety and accessibility of biking and walking.

According to Elgstrand, 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley come from transportation, such as cars and buses. By improving bicyclist and pedestrian infrastructure, he said more people may be encouraged to use cars less often.

“The idea is to create more bike lanes and make sure the bike lanes are accessible for bicyclists of all skills because we know there are lots of people who don’t feel comfortable biking,” Elgstrand said. “So, by making the bike lanes safer, that will encourage more use of them.”

At a City Council meeting Oct. 29, the most discussed item was a referral to earmark 50% of citywide funds for the repavement of streets frequented by bicyclists and pedestrians, such as Telegraph Avenue. The item, introduced by District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, was informally named the Berkeley Initiative to Build Improvements for Mobility, Bicycles, and Pedestrians.

Robinson said there is a movement across the country to redesign city centers and downtown areas to prioritize pedestrians and public transit. At the last few City Council meetings, Robinson said dozens of community members attended, “motivated by Vision Zero advocating for safer streets — for greener, more walkable lifestyles.”

Somya Jain, UC Berkeley senior and local government relations director within the office of the ASUC External Affairs Vice President, is part of a campus effort pushing for more lighting on campus. She said in an email that Berkeley roads at night can be dangerous for students when they come back from class or work.

The City/UC/Student Relations Committee met Monday to discuss streamlining the sign-off process for lighting projects on campus, according to Jain. She said in the email that there seems to be a consensus from UC Berkeley students and the Berkeley community about addressing the lack of city and campus lighting.

“We talked about finding ways for the campus to collaborate with the city while also finding ways to amplify student voices and give both undergraduate and graduate students a seat at the table,” Jain said. “The real obstacle that stands in our way is rooted in how the process of replacing faulty lights and following through with lighting requests can at times be inefficient. … The next step is to figure out how to fast-track these lighting initiatives, especially those within areas of concern such as Channing Circle, Parker (Street) between Telegraph (Avenue) and Warring (Street), and Oxford (Street) between Cedar (Street) and Hearst (Avenue).”

Vision Zero remains an ongoing process, as the city is continuously updating street lights in neighborhoods and around campus.

At the moment, Harrison said the city is still in the process of developing and designing projects implemented through Vision Zero.

“Vision Zero is a complete paradigm shift in how cities think about transportation,” Robinson said. “Vision Zero operates with a philosophy that these traffic deaths are preventable … and to make sure that when these human errors happen, they’re not fatal and we know that the design and infrastructure improvements that it will take to save lives is really not that expensive and one of the most important investments we can make as a city.”

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the City/UC/Student Relations Committee met during the City Council meeting. In fact, the committee met and discussed during the committee meeting.