Changes Proposed for Alameda School Zones
Parents demand safer streets for Alameda students after too many are hit by cars.
Photo courtesy Love Elementary
On the morning of Oct. 1, a driver struck a Love Elementary School student at the intersection of Willow and Lincoln. While the student was fortunate to survive the collision without suffering major physical injuries, parents and students remain concerned over the risk of crossing the four major intersections that surround Love Elementary. One concerned parent is Sarah Burningham, who walks her children to Love Elementary and Little Seeds Children’s Center on Santa Clara Avenue every day and has seen too many close calls.
“The roads are really dangerous, and it’s upsetting that there’s no proper signage,” Burningham said. “I don’t think a lot of people quite realize it’s a school zone. How would you know? There’s nothing to tell you.”
Unfortunately, the collision at Love Elementary is far from isolated, with news outlets reporting that seven Alameda students have been hit by cars on the way to or from Alameda schools since the academic year began.
“These are catastrophic numbers, considering that school started August 19,” Burningham said. “Statistically, we are facing an astronomically high likelihood that someone will get hit, and we are lucky that no one has died.”
Burningham joined forces with Love Elementary PTA President Rachel Plato and fellow Love Elementary parent Lauren Gehringer, whose own first-grader was nearly hit by a car while crossing the street at a school crosswalk.
In addition to writing letters and meeting with the Alameda City Council, Burningham, Plato, and Gehringer organized a public rally on Nov. 5 on the steps of City Hall. Over 100 community members from across the island attended, chanting “We want safe streets!” and donning handmade signs.
“The rally made a big difference to show we are not just a handful of parents, and we represent every concerned parent in Alameda,” Burningham says.
At Love Elementary, where police presence has increased during drop-off and pick-up hours, parents are appreciative of the heightened enforcement but worry that police presence may eventually die down, leaving no tangible change to enforce the speed limit or stop drivers from making inappropriate turns.Plato said it took about eight months for Love Elementary to get one lime-green school zone sign on Lincoln, just before Chestnut, a process that took Gehringer writing a letter, putting in a click fix request, and finally, getting a work order through.
Plato said she, Burningham, and Gehringer have requested the city council to expedite changes around the school, including implementing no shared crosswalks between pedestrians and cars during school hours, lowering the speed limit to 15 mph during school hours, signage at all four corners of Love Elementary, permanent cones (lane markers) in the middle of Lincoln Avenue on the school block, and school zone speed bumps.
Since the November rally, the city council created a task force with police, city planners, and traffic engineers to meet with principals from every school to identify problems and to improve high-risk areas. On the day of the rally, the city council unanimously passed Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries among all transportation system users in Alameda. Lisa Foster, a transportation planner in the city of Alameda’s Planning, Building, and Transportation Department, said the recent collisions involving children demonstrated the need for Vision Zero, but she noted the city of Alameda had been working toward a Vision Zero policy since 2017.
“U.S. culture has long treated traffic violence as an inevitable part of life, but Vision Zero posits that traffic deaths and life-changing injuries are unacceptable and preventable,” Foster said. “The data shows that children are disproportionately vulnerable in Alameda, so making streets safer for them is an important element of our Vision Zero work,” Foster said.
While passing Vision Zero is a start, Foster said she believes achieving it will require hard work, commitment, funding, and political will.
“We will need to improve existing facilities, standards, and requirements for roadway design and maintenance, plus make efforts related to enforcement and education,” Foster said.
According to Foster, public works staff members are arranging for near-term improvements at many of the sites where recent child-involved collisions have taken place, such as repainting crosswalks, adding stop bars, and removing visuals barriers at intersections. The city also launched a web-based Active Transportation Plan map where people can note locations that need safety improvements. The map received over 60 comments within three days of launching.
Alameda Unified School District Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi is excited about the city’s Vision Zero initiative and plans to have an AUSD representative on that task force.
“There are limits to what the district can do about engineering traffic on city streets,” Scuderi said. “Where AUSD really can contribute is on the education side. To that end, we have been working with Alameda County’s Safe Routes to Schools program for many years, sending our kindergarteners to Safety Town for decades, and a number of our schools run bike safety classes as well. We have also heard parents’ requests for more education materials for drivers and students alike and are looking into what we can do on that front.”
Ironically, at Edison School, a student bicyclist was hit by a car in October, just adjacent to the campus while on the way to school, on the same week that a bicycle education program was taking place at school.
The majority of child-involved collisions have been the fault of drivers, not students, said Burningham of the officials’ analysis.“Of five kids who’ve been hit, with four of them, there was zero-fault determination on the child’s behalf. The children were following traffic rules,” Burningham said. “For the fifth, it was a no-fault safety determination. There’s a lot of criticism around teaching kids to look both ways, but that’s not what happened there.”
Edison School Principal Gregory Sahakian said Edison will continue to work with the community, city planners, and the district in improving street infrastructures, as well as continuing to build student and family education on safe practices coming to and going from school. But he said driver education is an important piece to undertake as well.
“We understand that drivers never intend to hit a person with their car. We all have places to go, and often may find ourselves in a hurry with the pace of our lives,” Sahakian said. “However, we can all make efforts to be deliberately careful when we drive, especially around schools.”
While advocating for school safety has had its challenges, Burningham said she remains positive about the overall experience.
“It’s reinforced how strong the community is at Love and in Alameda. People care about this place and their kids, their neighbors, and other children being safe.”
Scuderi issued a similar reminder. “Families and schools are the heart of this community. We urge drivers in our community to slow down, follow the traffic rules, and cultivate a sense of responsibility for other people in our community … At the same time, we want our families to be discussing some basic, old-fashioned common-sense things with our kids — such as paying attention, looking both ways before crossing, and being aware of your surroundings whenever you are on foot or on a bike.”