Tuesday, June 4, 2013

City Plans to Lower Speed Limits Around Schools

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- In a bid to improve safety for kids walking and riding their bikes to school, the city is considering lowering speed limits to 15 mph at all the elementary schools here and will make pedestrian safety improvements at four of them by the end of the summer. 

The City Council last week approved a tentative plan to lower the speed limits near the 11 schools and could vote on the item by September, said City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who proposed the idea. 

A 2008 state law gave cities the power to lower the speed limits on streets with fewer than two lanes around schools where the speed limit is already 30 mph or less. 

"We have a hard time controlling speed around schools," Wengraf said. "We want to encourage kids to walk and bike, but some of these schools are just not safe." 

The speed limit item has been referred to the city's transportation commission, which will make specific recommendations to the City Council, Wengraf said. 

At Rosa Parks Elementary School on Allston Way, the only school that already has a 15 mph limit, it doesn't often slow drivers down, said Don Williams, a crossing guard there. 

"People come down here like a bat out of hell," Williams said. "They either don't know what the sign means or they just don't care. They treat this street like a main drag." 

In addition to looking at lowering speed limits, the city will spend $739,000 in state grant money on projects at four elementary schools to make crossing nearby streets safer. Crosswalk improvements, driver warning signs and improved sidewalks and bike lanes are in store by the end of the summer for Thousand Oaks, Berkeley Arts Magnet, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X elementary schools. 

Berkeley Transportation Manager Farid Javandel said the two most significant pedestrian improvements will be at Shattuck Avenue and Virginia Street and University Avenue and Seventh Street. 

At the Shattuck Avenue intersection the city will install four button-activated flashing warning signs for students on their way to Berkeley Arts Magnet School, which is just west of Shattuck on Virginia street. 

"When you push the button, the lights on each sign start blinking really fast," Javandel said. "In terms of visibility it's like having police car lights on each sign." 

At Seventh Street and University Avenue, an intersection used by students going to Rosa Parks Elementary School, the city will create a pedestrian "refuge" on the center divider where people can stand before crossing the second half of the street, Javandel said. 

Javandel said the city was awarded the grant money in 2009 after conducting a pedestrian audit of schools to identify how the areas could be made safer. 

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.

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