The city of Oakland has installed its first 15 mph school speed limit signs outside of Garfield Elementary School, part of the citywide Safe Oakland Streets initiative’s efforts to prevent fatal traffic crashes on the city’s streets.

City leaders, school officials and community members gathered earlier this month to celebrate the installation of the speed signs, which now appear on Foothill Boulevard, 22nd Avenue, and 23rd Avenue. All three streets are on the city’s High Injury Network, a record of streets that account for more than 60 percent of severe crashes in Oakland.

“No Oakland family should feel unsafe while traveling to and from school,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf at the June 16 event. “Because of dangerous drivers, we have suffered too many tragedies in our streets.”

Garfield Elementary School, located on 22nd Avenue in Oakland, is one of the first schools to receive 15 mph speed limit signs as part of the city’s Safe Oakland Streets initiative. 22nd Avenue is on the city’s High Injury Network as one of the streets that account for more than 60 percent of severe crashes in Oakland. (Photo by Mengyuan Dong/Bay City News)

The area around Garfield Elementary has seen several traffic tragedies in the past few years. In 2019, a collision killed a woman and injured a 4-year-old girl at the Foothill and 22nd Avenue crosswalk. Earlier this month, a 73-year-old woman died in a hit-and-run crash just a few blocks away on 16th Avenue in East Oakland.

“The pedestrian safety has been a long-time issue here at Garfield. There have been many complaints about traffic safety among parents and teachers,” said Kakishiba, executive director of East Bay Asian Youth Center.

Kakishiba’s organization has been working with the school administration for multiple years to make improvements, including organizing parents to do volunteer safety patrols.

In the slow lane

Garfield Elementary is one of the 20 schools identified by the Oakland Department of Transportation for 15 mph speed limit reductions this year. Department director Ryan Russo said they decided to prioritize schools on the High Injury Network and those in historically underserved communities that may experience inequities.

Nine more schools will receive new or updated signs by the end of this summer before the new academic year begins. Signs at the other 10 schools on the list will be installed by the end of 2022.

Under California Law, 15 mph zones can be established on streets with no more than two lanes within 500 feet of a school. The city’s transportation department expects to place around 35 speed limit signs through the process.

Simply installing speed signs is not enough

“I can have all the signs in the world, but somebody needs to enforce the speed limit.”

Councilman Noel Gallo

The idea of having more crossing guards on school roads was also discussed at the event.

“I can have all the signs in the world, but somebody needs to enforce the speed limit,” said city council member Noel Gallo.

The city still struggles to recruit enough crossing guards to help stop reckless driving and guide pedestrians at intersections. Current crossing guards work part-time in two shifts a day, first in the early morning and then in the afternoon when students depart from school.

Grey Gardner, a commissioner of the Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said automatic enforcement, such as adding cameras, is considered one of the most equitable approaches as there won’t be any personal bias. However, it is still currently illegal in the state.

Gartner wants the city to build more actual infrastructure, such as posts and corners, to make it harder for people to drive fast and recklessly on the street. Attending the event with his almost one-year-old daughter, he said he often gets shocked when people even don’t stop for the stroller at crosswalks.

“I’m just hoping by the time … we can walk her to school without worrying,” Gardner said. “There’s a lot that still needs to be done.”

Installation of 15 mph speed signs will continue through 2023 at eligible locations at the remaining approximately 30 OUSD elementary schools.

Who made the list

A list of the currently identified schools can be seen here:

First tier

• Achieve Academy

• American Indian Public Charter School

• ASCEND Charter School

• Bridges Academy @ 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

Second tier

• Acorn Woodland

• East Oakland PRIDE

• EnCompass Academy

• La Escuelita

• Esperanza/Korematsu

• Franklin Elementary

• Horace Mann Elementary

• KIPP Bridge Academy

• Lockwood STEAM Academy