In Response to OursDid's Call for Immediate Change, Berkeley Becomes 10th California City to Adopt Vision Zero

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By Heather A. Gloster

Berkeley, CA --

Last month, nine years to the day after five-year-old Zachary Cruz died in a Berkeley crosswalk, his father issued a challenge to Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council.

"I'm here today to remind you that my son died on the streets of Berkeley 9 years ago," OursDid founder Frank Eugene Cruz told the council. "A pedestrian or bicyclist has been killed or seriously injured in our city every month" since his son's death in 2009 Cruz continued, citing data from UC Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.

Cruz thanked Mayor Arreguin for allowing him a platform to speak and for adjourning the meeting in Zachary's memory. 

But, Cruz continued, "words simply aren't enough when people are dying."

Cruz concluded his remarks at last month's meeting with three challenges for the mayor and the council: adopt Vision Zero within the next year, restore funding to the city's embattled traffic division (cut in half since 2009), and commit the city to making "tangible change" on the road safety crisis issue in Berkeley.

Partially in response to Mr. Cruz's passionate call to action in February, the City Council voted unanimously at their March meeting to adopt a resolution in support of Vision Zero originally drafted by Council Member Lori Droste.

Berkeley is just the 10th California city to officially embrace Vision Zero's goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries through an inter-agency focus on engineering, education, and enforcement. 

Successful for the last three decades in Europe, Vision Zero has gained traction among U.S. mayors and city councils in recent years in response to a road safety crisis that is reaching epidemic levels across the United States, especially for pedestrians. According to data released by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) last month, pedestrian fatalities are at a 33-year high across the U.S. Locally, Berkeley continues to rank among the most dangerous cities its size in the state of California. On average, one person is killed or seriously injured every month while walking or biking in the East Bay college town, according to the UC Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.

Council Member Droste, who represents the same Berkeley district where Mr. Cruz's 5-year-old son died, had met with the Cruz Family on the anniversary of the boy's death at what is now known as "Zachary's Corner" to publicly support the launch of OursDid.org and discuss her commitment solving Berkeley's road safety crisis in Zachary's honor. Tuesday's unanimous vote comes after months of behind-the-scenes work by Council Member Droste and other city officials.

In his comments to the council after the Vision Zero resolution had passed, Mr. Cruz, visibly emotional and flanked by a half-dozen other pedestrian and bike safety advocates, displayed a large photo of his son and thanked the city council for taking the first steps to make the city safer for Zachary's two younger brothers to walk. Cruz emphasized that implementing Vision Zero in the city was also the progressive choice, noting that the most vulnerable road users are children, the elderly, people of color, and the poor.

On Twitter today, Cruz commended the City of Berkeley, Mayor Arreguin, and Council Member Droste for keeping the "revolutionary promise of Berkeley alive." 

Cruz elaborated on that idea: "It truly is a radical gesture for any one in California to critique a car culture that has literally shaped our definition of ourselves as Californians for the past three quarters of a century. In our deep love for cars and what they represent, Californians have come to accept that deaths and serious injury are unavoidable. Berkeley's adoption of Vision Zero is revolutionary because it says, 'That's simply not true. We will no longer accept death, tragedy, pain, and trauma as a normal part of life in a car culture for cyclists and pedestrians.'  Vision Zero is revolutionary because it doesn't say, 'Let's reduce deaths and injuries.' It sets out for nothing less than a complete culture shift on this issue. It sets the bar at zero. Zero deaths in ten years. Vision Zero imagines a new kind of American car culture where we no longer accept that the dead bodies of children and old folks on our streets are  'normal' or 'inevitable'--the price we must pay if we continue to worship the automobile as a symbol of Americanness."

"OursDid is coming for you next City of Oakland!" Cruz jokingly barbed Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on the organization's Instagram.