Berkeley had significantly more fatal crashes and collisions causing injuries in 2021 than in the prior year, according to new traffic data released by police in February.
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It was the highest number of traffic deaths the city has seen since at least 1984, the Berkeley Police Department found. There were also 433 collisions last year that resulted in injuries, a 37% increase over injury crashes in 2020, BPD said.
Eight people were killed in 2021 compared to two the prior year. Five of the people who were killed were pedestrians, two were in a car that crashed on Marin Avenue (likely due to mechanical problems), and one was the driver from a solo crash in the Berkeley Marina.
The increase mirrors broader trends in traffic fatalities that have been documented across the nation. Earlier this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called it “a national crisis.”
This month, for the first time, the Berkeley Police Department published annual traffic collision data in an information report to the Berkeley City Council. Council is expected to discuss that report, which also includes 2021 crime trends, in a meeting March 8. (A Berkeleyside report on crime trends is forthcoming.)
The most common causes of Berkeley’s traffic collisions last year were unsafe speed, unsafe turns and right-of-way violations, according to the BPD report.
Read more about traffic safety on Berkeleyside
BPD said cyclists were involved in 93 of the city’s 433 injury collisions (21% of them). Police found cyclists at fault 62% of the time.
Pedestrians were involved in 62 of the injury collisions (14%) and found at fault 8% of the time, according to BPD.
DUI collisions were down slightly in 2021, from 46 to 39, BPD said. Sixteen of the DUI collisions — 41% — resulted in serious injuries.
Major intersections saw the most collisions
In its traffic report, police also shared a top 10 list of Berkeley intersections with the highest number of collisions in 2021. The tally is a list of raw numbers; it does not appear to take into account traffic flow, or the density of motorists in the area. All of the intersections are on major Berkeley traffic corridors.
Three Ashby Avenue intersections top the list: at San Pablo Avenue (14 collisions), Shattuck Avenue (12 collisions) and Martin Luther King Jr. Way (nine collisions). Five intersections on University Avenue and Sacramento Street appear next on the list, followed by Eastshore Highway and Gilman Street (six collisions) and Cedar Street and Shattuck (five collisions).
Four of Berkeley’s traffic fatalities in 2021 — all pedestrians — took place on or near Ashby Avenue, which is a state highway.
In June, Chuck Feezel was fatally injured in a hit-and-run crash by the Telegraph Avenue Whole Foods between Ashby and Webster Street. Police are still trying to identify the driver and have offered a $50,000 reward.
In September, Jeffrey Lindsey was found deceased in the median at Ashby near Adeline Street after an apparent hit-and-run crash. Police are still looking for the driver from that incident.
In November, Angel Barrera of Richmond was killed on Ashby near Interstate 80 when a driver struck him. At the time of last report, the driver had not been identified.
Vincent Koehler, the other pedestrian who was killed last year, had just parked on Oregon Street and was crossing San Pablo Avenue when a driver struck him in the crosswalk in a suspected DUI crash in August, police have said.
In addition, although it did not make the top 10 list, Marin Avenue appeared repeatedly in Berkeleyside stories about traffic collisions resulting in serious injuries or death last year. Along with the fatal crash in May, three older Berkeley residents were seriously injured while walking or biking on a short stretch of Marin over just 10 days in December.
Marin Avenue is said to be one of the steepest streets in the region. Council and community members alike have pushed the city to make the road safer.
Still fewer crashes overall than before COVID-19
Traffic fatalities and injury crashes were not the only reports to grow: According to the recent BPD analysis, non-injury collisions in Berkeley were also up last year compared to 2020, from 273 to 355. That’s a 30% increase.
But it’s well worth noting that — despite the increase and aside from traffic fatalities — last year’s crash numbers are still lower than those reported in Berkeley in 2019, before the pandemic hit and COVID-related lockdowns significantly reduced activity for most people.
In the council item, police pledged to continue tracking traffic collisions closely.
“BPD will continue to collect, analyze and report on crime and collision data to understand and guide needs, the effectiveness of enforcement strategies and shape future deployment and resource allocation,” police wrote.
Learn more about Vision Zero in the 2021 annual report
The city is working across multiple departments to end traffic fatalities and severe injury crashes by 2028 as part of a national campaign called Vision Zero. It won’t be easy.
For one thing, BPD has said it is unable, with its existing data collection system, to separate injury collisions by severity without a manual assessment. That makes analysis of those incidents a challenge.
Last year, police also said they were struggling to keep up with traffic investigations due to chronic short staffing. For much of the year, the agency had just one police officer assigned full time to traffic enforcement because three officers in the traffic bureau were out on injury.
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And the BPD statistics in the February report do not even capture all of the traffic fatalities that touched the community last year: In September, two motorists were killed on the freeway in Berkeley when they got out of their vehicles to argue. In October, a cyclist died from a medical emergency while biking near Aquatic Park. In November, a Berkeley midwife died after crashing while cycling in the Oakland Hills not far from the Berkeley border.
Also in November, a woman biking in South Berkeley was critically injured when a driver ran over her on Sacramento Street north of Ashby. The California Highway Patrol took on that case because the city’s traffic enforcement resources were stretched so thin.
In response to last year’s critical incidents, council members regularly lobbied transportation staff for new traffic safety measures in their districts. The queue is long and staff resources are limited. But officials continue to make requests. The March 8 meeting is no exception.
That night, several council members have asked the city to investigate reducing speed limits on several “high-injury commercial corridors” in Berkeley in line with new state law.
As part of the same agenda, Councilmember Rigel Robinson has asked Berkeley to send a letter in support of Assembly Bill 1713, “which would allow adult bicyclists to proceed through stop signs after yielding the right-of-way to immediate hazards.” The bill — a narrower version of a failed state proposal council supported last year — would let adult cyclists treat stop signs as yield signs, a practice also known as the “Idaho Stop.”
The 2021 year-end crime and collision report is expected to follow those consent calendar items as part of the City Council’s March 8 action calendar. Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.