Thursday, February 6, 2014

Berkeley Cops Say Lowering Speed Limits Near Schools Won't Make them Safer

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- The city is moving forward with a plan to lower speed limits around elementary schools from 25 to 15 mph despite a Police Department analysis saying it's not likely to make school zones safer. 

"It won't hurt," said Berkeley Transportation Manager Farid Javandel when asked about the department's analysis. "I think it will do some good. The question is how much, and that's hard to say. We always hope for the best." 

The City Council will vote Dec. 17 on whether to spend $48,600 on 112, 15-mph speed limit signs around 11 elementary schools and three preschools. The item is on the consent calendar and will probably be approved without discussion. The money also will pay for speed surveys to determine just how fast cars are driving around the schools. 

The idea to lower the limits was proposed by City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf in May and was vetted by the city's Transportation Commission. 

But a Police Department traffic analysis said the move is not likely to help. It said four children were hit by cars near Berkeley schools from August 2010 to August of this year, and it was the child's fault in three of the cases. Speeding cars were not a factor in any of those accidents, the analysis said. 

Those four children were among 327 pedestrians hit by cars during the same time, and 23 of those accidents occurred near schools. In all the incidents near schools, speed was not a factor, the report said. 

"The collision data does not seem to support a need for lowering the speed limit in school zones," the analysis submitted to the City Council said. "It seems that a review of the signage and the visibility of crosswalks in school zones as well as educating students about pedestrian safety would be a better way to approach the issue." 

A second Police Department analysis on the lower speed limits said "enforcement would be difficult, at best." 

That analysis said the city only has two traffic control officers on duty at any given time Monday through Friday. If the city added two more traffic control officers on motorcycles, the cost would be a minimum of $570,000, the report said, and even then the department could not guarantee anything. 

"We could not guarantee constant enforcement given our priorities for public safety, crime fighting and calls for service given our staffing levels and the 14 school zones being considered," the report said. 

Javandel said he was not "particularly surprised" at the department's reaction. 

"What I expect the Police Department's response is based on is that the mechanism to slow people down is not always as simple as we'd like it to be," Javandel said. "We can post the sign, but it doesn't mean people will obey it. We have plenty of signs all over the place, and people are exceeding them. Then it becomes an enforcement issue. The police don't have the capacity to be at every given school all the time." 

Berkeley schools spokesman Mark Coplan said the district is fine with having the speed limits lowered, but the district would prefer the city also work on getting parents and other motorists to drive more thoughtfully near schools at pickup and dropoff times. 

"Speed isn't a problem at those times," Coplan said. "The problem is when someone parks in the middle of the street to let their kid out, and then someone behind them tries to go around, and we have an accident." 

Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter at

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