Open letter: Bike, pedestrian advocates ask city to stop ‘misguided’ enforcement

Rather than ticketing people walking and biking, the city must accelerate efforts to build complete streets — a more effective and fair way to improve safety for all.

Dear Honorable Mayor and Councilmembers: Walk Bike Berkeley and Bike East Bay write to request that the city of Berkeley Police Department change its years-long, misguided practice of conducting traffic enforcement campaigns that target people walking and biking. More specifically, we ask:

  1. Focus traffic enforcement on the moving violations that cause the most severe and fatal injuries, consistent with the city’s Vision Zero policy.
  2. Offer people on bikes who receive tickets the option of taking a bicycle traffic school class rather than paying a large monetary fine, as recommended in the city’s Bicycle Plan.

In recent weeks, and as recently as today, Walk Bike Berkeley and Bike East Bay members have reported that Berkeley police have set up operations that ticket people on bicycles for safely rolling through stop signs along key bikeways (for instance, Milvia St. and the Ohlone Greenway). We object to using Office of Traffic Safety grants, or other police resources, to fund this kind of targeted enforcement activity. A stop sign ticket comes to around $300, which can be a huge burden to people trying to save money by biking. In fact, it may discourage them from riding altogether, moving Berkeley further away from its Climate Action goals. Transportation accounts for 60% of climate emissions in the city.

Consistent with the city’s Vision Zero policy, we request that the city’s forthcoming Vision Zero Action Plan use a data-driven approach to identify, and prioritize for enforcement, the moving violations that cause the greatest number of severe and fatal injuries. In 2017, the Transportation Division reported that high vehicle speeds, violation of Pedestrian Right of Way, and alcohol/drug intoxication are the primary causes of severe and fatal collisions in Berkeley. Taking a Vision Zero approach, we do not expect the Police Department to prioritize people walking and biking for enforcement.

Unsafe, illegal behavior by people walking and biking should be subject to warnings or other non-monetary penalties. For people biking, we request that the Police Department set up a diversion program, as the UC Berkeley Police Department and other cities have done, to offer people the option of attending an educational class rather than paying a large fine. Bike East Bay offers such classes and has approached city of Berkeley councilmembers and police repeatedly about this idea. It’s time for the city to follow through.

Ultimately, rather than ticketing people walking and biking, the city must accelerate efforts to build complete streets — a more effective and fair way to improve safety for all.

Walk Bike Berkeley, a volunteer-run group founded by Berkeley residents, advocates to make walking and biking in Berkeley safe, low-stress, and fun for people of all ages and abilities. We want a healthy, just, and sustainable transportation system in Berkeley.

Berkeley residents Liza Lutzker, Ben Gerhardstein and Ben Paulos are members of Walk Bike Berkeley. Robert Prinz is the education director of Bike East Bay.