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Hit-and-Run Ushers Traffic Safety Reform

Berkeley resident Julian Curran was severely injured in a hit-and-run on March 2, 2019 at Ashby Avenue and Fulton Street in Berkeley. In response to multiple high-profile crashes in recent months like this one, many concerns have been raised by Berkeley residents regarding the safety of cyclists and pedestrians on city streets.

Curran passed away from a heart attack on April 5. However, local authorities have not confirmed whether Curran’s passing was related to injuries that he sustained in the hit-and-run.

The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) issued a felony arrest warrant for the driver, Lacisha Atkins, on April 15. As stated in the Public Information Declaration in the matter of People v. Lacisha Atkins, Atkins was seen on video surveillance footage driving and parking the car that hit Curran.

According to BPD Public Information Officer Byron White, “[Atkins] turned herself in on Friday, April 19 and was charged by the DA’s [District Attorney’s] office, with felony hit-and-run.”

Other high-profile traffic accidents in Berkeley in recent months include Berkeley School Board President Judy Appel and her wife Alison Bernstein, who were hit by a car on January 4, 2019 while crossing the street in South Berkeley, as well as two pedestrians that were hit near North Berkeley BART on consecutive days.

In response to concerns over traffic safety, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín has recently announced several plans to address the issue. One of these plans, Vision 0, aims to prevent fatal crashes in Berkeley through data-driven methods. Vision 0 was first implemented in Sweden in 1997, and the country has since seen a 70 percent decrease in deaths due to traffic collisions.

Through Vision 0, Arreguín hopes to increase focus on the “Three E’s:” engineering streets in Berkeley to be safer for pedestrians, stronger enforcement of the traffic violations that most commonly lead to injuries, and educating the public on these issues.

According to Arreguín’s website, a key focus of Vision 0 will be reducing speeding in Berkeley in order to increase the chance of survival of pedestrians hit by cars. This is part of a mental shift that the city hopes to achieve, in which traffic injuries and fatalities are seen as unacceptable and preventable, rather than inevitable.

Talia Cole

The Pedestrian Master Plan is another measure implemented by the City of Berkeley aimed at increasing traffic safety. First introduced by the city in 2010,  the Pedestrian Master Plan is currently undergoing updates with an end goal of eliminating severe injuries and fatalities of pedestrians by 2028. The city also shared a study showing that Berkeley has “pedestrian high injury corridors,” where 93 percent of pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries take place, despite the fact that these areas make up only 14 percent of Berkeley’s streets.

These streets that are regarded as “pedestrian high injury corridors” include Shattuck Avenue, University Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Way which borders Berkeley High School (BHS), and Ashby Avenue, where Curran was hit.   

Every month, Berkeleyside, a local news site, publishes a map showing the location and total number of crashes each month. According to the publication, the Berkeley Police Department responded to 30 crashes in January of 2019, 24 in February, and 13 in March. Despite this decrease, many Berkeley residents see these numbers as representative of the need for increased traffic safety in Berkeley.

However, some citizens believe the high numbers of pedestrians in Berkeley is responsible for the high number of crashes. According to a study by the City of Berkeley in 2017, Berkeley residents bike to work at one of the highest rates in the nation, 8.5 percent. Therefore, some citizens believe that Berkeley streets are safer than indicated by the amount of reported crashes.

Cyclists in Berkeley  are in agreement with this sentiment.  “I don’t believe that Berkeley streets are more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians than the average city. I live in Oakland and feel like Berkeley overall does a better job at providing safe bike routes than Oakland does,” said BHS junior Tia Böttger.

The City of Berkeley plans to continue improving traffic safety in Berkeley in the coming years to prevent Curran’s story from repeating itself.  Hopefully these regulations will keep BHS students safe in the future.