On Election Day, Berkeley voters will have a chance to make a $10 million investment in pedestrian safety. But some say the investment would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Measure L, which requires a two-thirds vote for approval, would raise an estimated $1 million per year for 10 years to pay for traffic circles, lighted pedestrian crosswalks and other pedestrian safety improvements.
An increase in property taxes would pay for the measure, with the average Berkeley homeowner paying an additional $24.70 per year for ten years, according to city estimates.
Supporters say Berkeley streets are some of the most dangerous in the state and call passage of Measure L a life and death issue.
“The improvements need to be made now to save lives,” said Wendy Alfsen of the Transportation Commission.
But opponents say pedestrian injuries are on the decline and call the measure a waste of money.
“It’s just another boondoggle,” said Art Goldberg, former chair of the Citizens’ Budget Review Commission, which advises the City Council.
Measure L opponents cite California Highway Patrol statistics which show that the number of pedestrians injured in Berkeley dropped from 126 to 106, or 15 percent, between 2000 and 2001. CHP figures show an even more dramatic decline since 1990, when 164 pedestrians were injured.
But City Councilmember Dona Spring, who supports Measure L, said the city only has a limited amount of money it can spend on pedestrian improvements every year out of its general fund. A $10 million boost from the taxpayers, she argued, is necessary to ensure adequate pedestrian safety.
“We’re only able to afford one traffic light per year (from the General Fund),” she said.
Berkeley resident Ted Edlin, who is leading the charge against Measure L, said the city should focus its efforts on a much less expensive public education campaign, teaching walkers to stay alert.
“Pedestrians have the right of way,” he said. “(But) they need to look for oncoming traffic.”
The Berkeley Police Department found 13 of the 31 pedestrians killed in Berkeley between November 1984 and June 2002 at fault for the accidents, according to department figures. Drivers were blamed for the rest.
Councilmember Miriam Hawley, who supports Measure L, said public education is a good idea. But she argued that concrete pedestrian improvements are needed to prevent injury and death.
“Even a few traffic deaths are too many,” she said.
According to Berkeley police, one pedestrian and one cyclist have died in accidents this year. One pedestrian died in 2001 and another was killed in 2000.
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