A group in Berkeley is advocating for the election of leaders who will fight traffic violence with urgency in light of multiple recent motor-pedestrian collisions.
The group, called The Pedestrian Party, posted a call to action on their official website to vote into office those who will prioritize combating pedestrian harm and vote out those who put automobiles first.
“In Berkeley and in cities around the country, regular people have had enough of being scared for their lives as they just try to move around their city, and don’t believe that we should have to accept a constant stream of killings and major injuries as a normal part of our day to day activities,” said a spokesperson from the group, who wished to stay anonymous for citing fear of retaliation from their employer, in an email. “The Pedestrian Party is a new movement to help organize that energy.”
With a focus on accountability to short-term measurable results, the party deems long-term plans such as Vision Zero, the city’s action plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities and increase safe mobility, as simply a “declaration of values” for politicians to make without the necessity of delivering immediate results.
The spokesperson recalled the urgency to make constant adjustments in policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t take the same approach to this public health crisis of traffic violence,” the spokesperson said in the email.
The spokesperson noted that the effort is not headed by transportation policy experts, but rather by regular citizens who are demanding their leaders to end such violence.
While the party is not making any endorsements, the spokesperson added, they want to ensure that voters are pressing candidates directly on the issue.
“Car drivers are not shy about pressing candidates and elected officials on their needs, parking, etc.,” the spokesperson said in the email. “We pedestrians need to use our voices too, so that’s not all they’re hearing.”
The urgency in this call to action stemmed from recent data on traffic violence and rising trends in pedestrian injuries. According to the spokesperson, data from the U.S. Department of Transportation said that traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021.
This severity is magnified in the city, according to Ben Gerhardstein, a coordinating committee member at Walk Bike Berkeley, a city resident-founded organization advocating for safe walking and biking and partner of The Pedestrian Party.
“40% of trips in Berkeley are made by walking and biking, but account for 61% of severe and fatal collisions,” Gerhardstein said in an email. “I think the recent collisions are a reflection of the unacceptable status quo.”
Darrell Owens, an activist with the East Bay Transit Riders Union, alleges this high rate of collisions is due to a prioritization of main roads for high-speed cars rather than people by the city traffic engineer. Owens also noted that given the city has among the highest number of non-drivers in the U.S., prioritizing their safety is key.
Gerhardstein noted the importance of consistently pushing for traffic reform.
“Those goals will be realized by making our streets and public spaces people-centric, not car-centric,” Gerhardstein said in an email. “Getting there will take sustained pressure from community members who want safe streets.”
Grayson Savoie, external affairs director for Telegraph For People, a student organization on campus fighting for transit and pedestrian safety, also noted the importance of political engagement from community members.
“We can improve the streets of Berkeley by putting our ballot in the midterm election for Measure L to provide funding for street repairs,” Savoie said. “To politicians, remember that pedestrians are your constituents.”