Many drivers near Cragmont Elementary were found to be among the fastest motorists around local schools during a city speed survey. Photo: ELS
Many drivers near Cragmont Elementary School in North Berkeley were found to be among the fastest motorists around local schools during a city speed survey. Photo: ELS

Drivers will be asked to slow down near 13 Berkeley schools after the adoption by the City Council of a 15 mph speed zone around them, despite a police officer’s analysis of injury collisions near schools that showed speed was not a factor in those accidents, and another officer’s assertion that enforcement would be “difficult, at best.”

According to an analysis completed by a city traffic analyst of 327 documented injury collisions in Berkeley from August 2010 to July 2013, 23 took place near school zones. None of those accidents were caused by unsafe speeds, he said.

Most of the accidents — 73% — resulted from drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Another 23% were due to pedestrians who failed to yield to drivers in the roadway, police wrote.

Thirteen of the collisions near schools took place during the school day, and four involved juvenile pedestrians. The juveniles were found to be at fault in all four of the cases.

New speed limit signs will be posted around many Berkeley schools this year. Image: City of Berkeley
New speed limit signs will be posted around many Berkeley schools this year. Image: City of Berkeley

The traffic analyst, officer William Cocke of the Berkeley Police Department, said in a September 2013 memo that the data did not appear to support the need to change the speed limits in schools zones.

“It seems that a review of the signage and the visibility of crosswalks in schools zones as well as educating students about pedestrian safety would be a better way to approach the issue,” according to Cocke’s conclusions in the memo.

A second Berkeley officer, Sgt. Robert Rittenhouse, who weighed in on the reduced speed limit idea as part of the same memo, noted that the city would need to hire additional traffic officers to effectively enforce the new speed limit, adding, “regular enforcement would be difficult, at best.”

Rittenhouse said the Enforcement Bureau is “already significantly impacted by being understaffed.”

As of September, he said, the city had just four traffic officers who work weekdays. He said the department’s beat officers — who are assigned to a particular geographic area — could, at times, help with traffic enforcement, but added that they have many other responsibilities and are, for the most part, not trained to use radar or lidar tools to measure vehicle speeds.

Hiring a police officer with benefits would cost more than $200,000 a year, Rittenhouse noted, “not including specialty motorcycle training.” Adding two officers and two motorcycles would cost an estimated $570,000, he added.

“Even still, we could not guarantee constant enforcement given our priorities for public safety, crime fighting and calls for service given our staffing levels and the … school zones being considered,” he wrote.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city has no plans to hire more officers for this type of enforcement, and that the goal of the new signs is primarily to increase awareness and safety around local schools. He said the new signs will give officers an additional tool to enforce safe speeds, even if speed has not been shown to be a factor in past injury collisions near the campuses.

According to the staff report prepared for the December 2013 council meeting, the installation of the 15 mph signs is estimated to cost $48,600 to pay for speed surveys, the new signs, poles and installation. Funding will be drawn from the fiscal year 2014 Measure B fund.

Installation of the new 15 mph speed limit signs began in Berkeley last week, according to Chakko.

New 15 mph signs will replace 25 mph signs like this one outside Emerson Elementary School. Photo: Tracey Taylor
New 15 mph signs will replace 25 mph signs like this one outside Emerson Elementary School. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Installation will take place one school at a time, beginning with three Berkeley preschools. From there, installation will move on to 10 Berkeley elementary schools. The only elementary school to be excluded will be John Muir Elementary, which is bounded by Ashby and Claremont avenues. Those roads are not eligible to be changed by the city because they are state routes.

Installation is expected to be complete by the end of the year, Chakko said.

During a speed survey completed in February and March by the city, staff found that traffic around Hopkins preschool, and Cragmont, John Muir and Jefferson elementary schools, posted the fastest speeds, though none of the drivers in the 85th percentile went above 29 mph.

The majority of drivers around King preschool, and Berkeley Arts Magnet, Emerson, Le Conte, Rosa Parks and Washington elementary schools, were among the slowest measured.

Council members passed a resolution Dec. 17, 2013, to authorize the new speed limit on residential streets around the city’s preschools and elementary schools after the Transportation Commission studied the issue earlier last year. Each of the four abutting streets surrounding the schools is expected to receive two new signs, one in each direction.

According to the December staff report, “The Transportation Commission considered the installation of flashing beacons with the 15 mph speed limit signs in school zones to increase effectiveness and compliance, but concluded that the cost was too great to be able to implement that improvement at all schools.”

The new speed limit will be in effect “when children are present,” which is defined as “while children are going to or leaving the school, either during school hours or during the noon recess period,” under California Vehicle Code Section 22358.4.

According to a statement released by the city, state Assembly Bill AB 321, adopted in 2008, “allows local governments to extend school zones to 1,000 feet and reduce speed limits within 500 feet of a school site to 15 mph on residential streets or two-lane roads, where speed limits are already 30 mph or less.”

Community members can expect to see the new signs around three preschools: Franklin Preschool, Hopkins Early Childhood and King Child Development Center; and 10 elementary schools: Berkeley Arts Magnet at Whittier (BAM) and Cragmont, Emerson, Jefferson, LeConte, Malcolm X, Oxford, Rosa Parks, Thousand Oaks, and Washington elementary schools.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...