by Eric Klein
Following on the heels of a disturbingly large number of incidents involving school children and automobiles, including an accident in February that killed a kindergartner, the Berkeley Unified School District is focusing more of its energy these days on traffic safety.
Making use of about $900,000 in federal money, Alameda County Safe Routes to Schools is working with the district and the city to improve safety at four elementary schools in Berkeley, by looking at engineering improvements like traffic circles and those blinking pedestrian beacons.
Safe Routes to Schools will also be working with all of BUSD's elementary schools, providing pedestrian and bicycle safety training in the classroom. But first those schools' principals have to schedule the sessions. According to Susan Silber, education coordinator for Alameda County Safe Routes to Schools, many principals and teachers have told her they are too busy with reading, writing, and arithmetic to make time for a two-hour presentation on walking and biking safety. Silber asked the school board to provide "strong encouragement" to the principals to make time for the safety curriculum.
The Berkeley school board members seemed amenable to Silber's recommendations and added a few suggestions of their own.
Board Vice President Karen Hemphill recommended a closer look at pedestrian safety issues for kids specifically after they get off a school bus. Hemphill also speculated that perhaps some drivers-ed "red asphalt"-style scare tactics might encourage headstrong middle school kids (like her own son) to wear their bike helmets.
Board Member Shirley Issel added her two cents, saying that the city's yearly influx of young motorists attending the university, who drive poorly and are unfamiliar with the city's streets, contribute mightily to Berkeley's unsafe traffic situation.