When school restarts in mid-August this year the speed limit on streets around 10 Oakland campuses will be reduced to 15 mph as part of an effort to increase safety, Oakland officials announced Thursday.
“Changing the streets [around schools] to 15 mph is a critical step to showing our love and our care for our children, our educators, our families,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a press conference outside Garfield Elementary school in the San Antonio neighborhood.
Grey Gardner, a member of the city’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said that the reduced speed limits are part of a multifaceted approach needed to make drivers slow down.
“We have problems with speeding and recklessness and extreme racing that is unbelievable,” Gardner said at the press conference. “And people want to see quick action and approaches.”
John Sasaki, the communications director of the Oakland Unified School District, said that over the last few years, several children died on Oakland streets after being hit by vehicles.
In April 2019, six-year-old Angel Garcia and his mother, Alma Vasquez were killed at 26th Avenue and Foothill in a hit-and-run, and in October of that year, 45-year-old Huong Thi Truong was killed in front of Garfield Elementary while she was walking with her four-year-old niece.
Besides Garfield Elementary, the streets around another 9 schools will have 15 mph speed zones by the end of the year, the city said, and another 30 elementary schools will have them next year. Almost all of the schools that will change speed limits this year are in East Oakland neighborhoods where Latinx, Black, and Asian families, most of them low-income, bear the majority of Oakland’s car collision violence.
Ryan Russo, the city’s transportation department director, said the city examined data that took into account previous collision history, equity concerns, and community health outcomes to pick the schools where the speed limit reductions are taking place.
Russo alluded to the importance of his department continuing to take equity into account to focus on solving problems in the most affected communities.
“The terrible tragedies from April of 2019 to January 2020 did not happen at the school I send my kids to. Those happened in East Oakland, in Fruitvale and here in East Lake,” Russo said. “And they were all women of color who were struck and killed. And I sadly believe if it wasn’t, we would be doing more and we’d be doing a better job in addressing this issue.”
Nearly all of the schools sit on or near streets that the city has designated as being a high-injury network.
Reducing speed limits has been found to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths due to vehicle collisions. The World Health Organization noted last year that a 1% increase in average vehicle speed increases the risk of a fatal crash by 4%, and a serious crash risk by 3%.
Late last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 43 into law, allowing local jurisdictions across the state to lower speed limits around business districts. Oakland intends to do this, but didn’t give an update today on when it will happen.
Russo said that each school will be inspected by city engineers and staff to make sure that speed limit signs are easily visible when they’re replaced. If they are blocked by street poles or other infrastructure, the city will add new poles to reposition them.
The addition of the new signs are likely to be welcomed by students and parents around schools. One parent stopped her car during the press conference to sound her approval.
But some are skeptical it will make a lot of difference.
Councilmember Noel Gallo, who also attended the press conference, noted that enforcement is a critical part of the equation.
“You can put up all the signs in the world but someone needs to enforce the speed limit,” Gallo said. “Right now, we’re still lacking crossing guards around East Oakland.
OakDOT recently took control of the school crossing guard and school safety patrol programs, which the city believes have the ability to change the culture of driving by placing children on the streets.
Enforcement of illegal driving through cultural changes and other means is a visible issue anywhere you are in the city. In the six blocks around Garfield school this morning, this reporter saw six violations in the span of 25 minutes, including two cars running red lights and four different people speeding.
Oakland teacher Jessica Jung told The Oaklandside that she is ambivalent about the speed limit changes.
“It’s a good theory,” she said. “But the big question is how they do enforcement and how is that realized with police officers in the name of street safety? Will they stop more people and how will that affect the community? And are there community engagement to support these changes?”
Jung did say that based on her experience, the use of more crossing guards does help safety around schools, mainly because they make children more visible through their whistles and bright vests.
Bike East Bay advocacy director Dave Campbell told The Oaklandside that more physical traffic calming is needed in addition to the signs.
“Roadway narrowing is needed. It’s going to take a wholesale of doing traffic calming measures to get speed down.”
The location where the conference took place, at 22nd Avenue and Foothill, is an example of the extensive level of work Oakland schools still need to become safer. Hard centerlines were added there in 2019 to force drivers to see pedestrians crossing and to physically stop them from cutting corners when turning. Vehicle collisions declined from about 15 in the 26 months before adding the centerlines to 4 over the same span of time after they were added. But there have been still been collisions there, including on 23rd and Foothill in May 2021, when a cyclist was hit by a car, and last November when a child was hit on 22nd Avenue. Further infrastructure changes, like adding an overhang crossing light, will need to be made there, Russo said.
In a brief interview with The Oaklandside, Mayor Schaff said that if Oaklanders want to continue to see street improvements around the city, they need vote for the bond renewal of Measure KK this fall, which was originally passed in 2016.
“That bond measure is funding these types of safety interventions,” Schaaf said. “Engineering, traffic calming enhancements that don’t require a traffic cop to sit on this corner all day long, but actually are very cost-effective and more justice-based way of making these roads and this intersection safer.”
Oakland schools that will immediately have streets changed to 15 mph:
- Achieve Academy (East Oakland, St. Elizabeth neighborhood)
- American Indian Public Charter School (West Oakland, Lake Merritt/Chinatown)
- ASCEND Charter School (East Oakland, Fruitvale)
- Bridges Academy @ Melrose (East Oakland, Melrose)
- Community School for Creative Education (
- Garfield Elementary School
- Hoover Elementary
- International Community School/Think College Now (shared campus)
- Lincoln Elementary School
- Martin Luther King Elementary
OakDOT will be complete another group of 10 schools by the end of 2022:
- Acorn Woodland
- East Oakland PRIDE
- EnCompass Academy
- La Escuelita
- Franklin Elementary
- Horace Mann Elementary
- KIPP Bridge Academy
- Lockwood STEAM Academy
- Highland Community School (formerly Rise Community/New Highland)