Investing in traffic safety

On Tuesday, the Menlo Park City Council meeting agenda #K2 includes proposals to hire back two police officers for traffic enforcement.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, cities in the Bay Area and across the US, are exploring ways to provide traffic enforcement and safety improvements without armed police.  Berkeley has already approved such a measure, and similar measures have been under consideration in Oakland.

According to the article in The Appeal below, “Of all the functions that could be separated from the police department, one of the most significant would be the removal of traffic enforcement. Over 24 million people each year come into contact with police during a traffic stop, according to data from the Department of Justice. And traffic stops can be especially dangerous and discriminatory for people of color: Black drivers are 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers, and as much as twice as likely to be searched, according to a study of 100 million traffic stops conducted by the Stanford Open Policing Project. And 11 percent of all fatal shootings by police in 2015 occurred during traffic stops, according to a Washington Post database of police killings.”

Prior to Covid, the staff reports notes that Menlo Park had relatively high collision rates, so the solutions we were using before Covid weren’t delivering safety.

Improving safety for people using roads is important, and there are many needs for which armed police are not the most effective or cost-effective strategy.

  • To protect the safety of children going to school, crossing guards would be helpful
  • To help children learn to bike and walk safety, education specialists would be helpful

And, in the long run, improving streets for safe driving speeds and safer walking and bicycling will have the greatest impact.

As the nation rethinks how best to provide public safety, Menlo Park should review investments in roadway safety beyond policing.

Here are some resources on the issue and other cities:

Berkeley Policy for unarmed civilian traffic stops

Presentation to Oakland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Reimagining Traffic Safety

Encinal Elementary School Crossing Guard Sammy Williams stops traffic for a pedestrian after school on Jan. 23, 2014. Michelle Le/The Almanac

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