Traffic safety advocates submitted nearly 800 signatures from Oakland residents to the City Council, asking members to move $20 million from the police budget to the transportation department. Carter Lavin, a volunteer for the Traffic Violence Rapid Response group, spoke to people gathered at City Hall. Credit: Jose Fermoso

Traffic safety advocates gathered at City Hall Wednesday to deliver a petition signed by nearly 800 Oaklanders asking the City Council to shift $20 million from the Oakland police to the city’s transportation department in the next city budget. The petition was hand-delivered to City Council President Nikki Bas. 

“These issues are incredibly important because whether you walk, stroll, skateboard, or whatever your form of mobility is, our streets and sidewalks need to keep Oaklanders safe,” Bas said to the group outside her office.

The 2021-2023 city budget allocated $342 million to the Oakland Police Department, while OakDOT received about $80 million. According to the advocates at today’s event, the additional $20 million a year would speed up roadway infrastructure changes, including new traffic circles, speed bumps, and corner street bulb-outs that will make it safer for pedestrians to cross streets. 

“There are so many needless deaths because of traffic violence [and] because our roads are designed dangerous,” said Carter Lavin, a member of the group Traffic Violence Rapid Response during the petition delivery. “We are here today because traffic violence from dangerous roads in Oakland has killed and injured so many of our friends and neighbors and loved ones.” 

Bryan Culbertson, who helped start the Rapid Response group in 2022 to protest the death of an Oakland cyclist, told The Oaklandside that advocates understand Oakland has difficult budgetary restrictions but that most city council members are trying to find additional funding for road improvements because Oakland residents are asking for it. 

”We have disability advocates, civil rights, and immigration advocates,” Culbertson said about the coalition behind the petition. “This issue impacts communities across all different types. It’s a broad issue that cuts across all communities.”

James Burch, the policy director for the Anti Police-Terror Project, one of the groups backing the petition, said at today’s meeting that the 2018 Oakland Equity Indicators report found that pedestrian safety was a serious issue facing low-income communities, especially, Black, brown, and Asian groups in West and East Oakland. In previous budget cycles, the Anti Police-Terror Project has advocated that OPD’s budget be reduced to increase spending on other programs that can improve public safety. 

“Oakland received a score of one out of a hundred when it came to pedestrian safety,” Burch said, referring to a finding in the equity report. “The city has failed to do its duty to keep the people safe. It’s failed to invest in traffic calming measures. It’s failed to properly staff the department of transportation so it can do its job with the hundreds of millions of dollars we have backlogged, for road repairs.”  

Decades of underinvestment in infrastructure have put Oaklanders at risk of injury and death due to traffic collisions. Thirty-five people died on Oakland streets from collisions, including from illegal police chases, red-light running, and speeding last year. Most of those issues are exacerbated, many activists have told The Oaklandside, by inequitable enforcement of traffic law violations.  

Justin Hu-Nguyen, the co-executive director of mobility justice at Bike East Bay, told The Oaklandside that poor enforcement is a key part of his organization’s support for the petition. Hu-Nguyen said he thinks that more police enforcement won’t do much to stop dangerous driving, therefore the city should design roads that make dangerous driving less possible. 

“We’re focused on slower street design and on the most vulnerable people,” Hu-Nguyen said. “It’s about people and not about citations. People are driving too fast and we have so many kids and elders who can’t walk the streets. We have a lot to do to make sure they’re safe.”

Hu-Nguyen noted that one of Oakland’s most prominent advocates for traffic safety, the Roll Out Crew’s Demorea “Truckie” Evans, couldn’t make today’s petition delivery action because he was hit and injured by a car in East Oakland last week. Evans organized a “solidarity ride” last month throughout Oakland in response to disturbing attacks on cyclists. 

Bas said in an interview today that the council is “fully committed to reducing traffic violence,” especially through infrastructure changes, but that the city faces a budget deficit and hard choices are going to have to be made. 

“It’s the largest deficit we have ever faced in recent times. We do not have the CARES Act to bail us out,” Bas said, referring to federal funds that helped balance Oakland’s previous two-year spending plan. 

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.