On Halloween, a 7-year-old boy was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Berkeley, leaving him with a broken leg. The next day, my mother was taken to the emergency room at Alta Bates after suffering a stroke. Again, I am reminded that safe streets and emergency vehicle access are not mutually exclusive.
When I was at Berkeley High, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and later diabetes. Watching my mother confront these illnesses sent me through the whole gamut of grief during my adolescence, and it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I could process our new reality. It has been all the more difficult for her, a fiercely independent woman who raised me and my sister as a single parent, to confront the loss of her mobility. We were grateful to the city for installing a blue curb near our home years ago while she could still drive.
As painful as this has been, my caretaking work sits at the core of my vision of service. Experiencing the deterioration of my mother’s health, while most of my peers who remain in Berkeley are likewise living intergenerationally as caretakers, compelled me to enter public service.
A truly just city must include all ages and abilities in its common spaces. We won’t achieve this by prescribing certain modes of transport to certain classes of people, but by making our public realm safe enough to enable travel modalities best suited to each person’s needs – proactive siting of blue curbs, speed enforcement, accessible sidewalks and safety infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, including those with disabilities. The status quo of unsafe speeds, unprotected crossings, and unmetered or unrestricted parking does not accomplish our goal of genuine inclusivity.
When my mother had her stroke, thanks to Berkeley Fire’s emergency medical technicians, she was able to get to Alta Bates swiftly. As Berkeley residents continue to age and our population continues to grow, we will need to invest in new and more robust fire and EMT infrastructure to improve our response times in the long run.
Berkeley must also be a city inclusive of elderly and young people who deserve safety in their neighborhoods and on their routes to school. Like many neighborhoods in District 2, bounded by Sacramento and Interstate 80 and bisected by state highways San Pablo and Ashby, residents here have called for traffic calming for decades. Representing this community commits me to improving our emergency response times while ensuring preventable emergencies don’t happen again.
While the city’s Traffic Calming Program requires a formal petition process by residents, there are also two traffic calming projects in the works serving this area: the Alameda County Transportation Commission has planned safety enhancements for San Pablo Avenue and parallel bike routes, and the city is currently planning the Parker-Addison Mobility and Safety Improvements Project. Our Vision Zero Action Plan also guides citywide paving policy. Changing the car-dependent status quo will always feel daunting, but we do not have the luxury of pretending that if we halt any uncomfortable change, the status quo will magically start protecting us from ongoing safety problems.
We must resist the siren songs of culture war and factional antipathy to realize our vision of a safer, healthier city. We cannot afford to lose focus on our goal of inclusion: Everyone who shares our public spaces deserves to feel welcomed and protected. This core value is what makes us a community.
Terry Taplin is a Berkeley council member for District 2.
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