Safety Story with Haleema Bharoocha and Tonya Love

Safety Story with Haleema Bharoocha and Tonya Love

The importance of community-led transportation planning.

For this installment of Stories from the Field, Berkeley SafeTREC’s Kris Leckie chatted with Haleema Bharoocha and Tonya Love. In this installment, they talk to us about their recent work to introduce legislation in Oakland to pilot a Community Traffic Safety Program. Read their Safety Story below! 

Could you both share a little about your backgrounds and what inspired you to work in active transportation?

  • Tonya Love (TL): I currently work for Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife as her Chief of Staff. I am also an active public transportation user and utilize active transportation. I don’t drive, so using alternative modes of transportation is necessary not only to get to where I want to go, but also as a form of physical activity for me. 

  • Haleema Bharoocha (HB): As a user of public and active transportation, I have had many unsafe experiences. Unfortunately my experience is shared by many and I realized so much more needed to be done. I co-led "Not One More Girl," a groundbreaking youth-driven initiative at Alliance For Girls combating gender-based violence on BART. The campaign influenced California's transit safety State Bill 1161 and became a national model cited by Transit Center. Since then I have built my expertise in promoting equity and public safety within transportation using non-carceral approaches. I am currently a Transportation Policy Consultant for the Anti Police Terror Project where I support the Safe Roads, Save Lives campaign, advocating for investing in mobility justice for neglected communities. Over the summer, I authored Ride Fearlessly: A Framework for Reimagining Transit Safety at Transform, highlighting case studies for safer transit after interviewing agencies across the country. Across the nation, small but mighty efforts are taking place to ensure all people have access to safe and equity mobility options. It’s inspiring and I hope to continue to contribute to this movement. Increasing use of active and public transportation is essential to so many goals from economic development to reduced emissions, and yet these systems are not often prepared or designed to serve the whole community. 

Last December, Councilmember Carroll Fife introduced legislation to establish a 3-year pilot program in the City of Oakland that allows schools, businesses, and community centers that serve vulnerable populations to apply for temporary encroachment permits to install removable traffic safety treatments and create traffic calming zones in the city’s streets. What set the legislative process in motion?

  • TL: On June 16th, an elder resident was killed crossing the street in East Oakland on Foothill Boulevard and I attended a vigil that was organized by local transportation safety advocates. During the vigil, members of Transport Oakland shared the legislative idea and asked if Councilmember Fife would be willing to support it. Councilmember Fife was interested since there was another fatality recently in her district and Oakland experienced a high amount of traffic fatalities in 2023. From there, Transport Oakland and I worked together on the legislation and I asked Haleema Baroocha to provide research support as part of a class assignment for her Master’s program. 

What was your role in the process?

  • TL: I co-drafted the legislation and led it through the legislative process. I am also leading the working group between Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) staff and Transport Oakland to organize two community meetings for resident feedback. Alongside this work, I am attending additional community meetings and working with a school and local community senior center to brainstorm potential pilot projects. If necessary, I will take the lead in passing accompanying legislation to ensure the implementation of the pilot program. 

  • HB: Throughout the process, I supported the policy research and drafting of the resolution. 

How important is community outreach and engagement in this process?

  • TL: The legislation’s purpose is to allow community members to spearhead their own projects, so it’s central to the process. This pilot program cannot happen without community input, organizing and initiative. Their participation and input is needed in order to see potential projects approved. 

  • HB: Community is what drove the effort with Transport Oakland – they have and continue to highlight the dangers that the communities they work with face.

How would this pilot program prioritize the safety of people that walk, bike, or roll for transportation? 

  • TL: The Traffic Safety pilot program is geared towards reducing traffic fatalities, recognizing that pedestrians, bicyclists and other active transportation users are the most vulnerable on our roads. There is also potential to save the lives of drivers and other vehicle passengers within the pilot program. 

  • HB: This pilot program prioritizes safety for all road users, in particular those on the road, not in a motor vehicle.  

What would a successful pilot program look like to you and what would that take?

  • HB: A successful program will include authentic partnership between the community and the city that enables communication and collaboration towards meeting our shared goal for Vision Zero. It would look like time-sensitive responses to serious dangers on our roads, with swift action through community-driven quick-build projects. Ultimately, a successful pilot will have a tangible impact by saving lives. 

  • TL: Agreed!

What lessons or valuable takeaways have you gained during the process of creating this legislation? 

  • TL: While the mission of OakDOT is to increase traffic safety, they are guided and motivated by laws or regulations and the availability of funds. It has taken some persuasion to get staff to be open to exploring options for meeting the safety needs of residents. From a community perspective, there is also reluctance towards new ideas in terms of possibilities for those driving sharing the road with bikes and pedestrians. How well streets are designed and built can create safety, versus a reliance on enforcement. In certain areas of Oakland, there is reluctance to trust that structural change can be successful after recent upgrades on busy streets involving AC Transit have led to an increase in fatalities. This emphasizes the need for community input, because previous efforts did not have as robust engagement, where suggestions from the community were not truly included in the planning process. The result has left the community disillusioned, angry and mistrustful of future projects. 

  • HB: I learned a lot about municipal code and ordinances throughout the process. The technicality of the law and strategic policy maneuvers that balance both empowerment and regulation was something I hadn’t navigated at such a granular level. 

If you had a superpower and could change anything, what would the future of active transportation safety look like?

  • HB: The future of active transportation safety will have Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leadership at the table and it will be rooted in transformative justice to right centuries of infrastructure wrongs, from redlining to disinvestment. The future will move away from policing and punitive measures, instead focusing on ensuring people have what they need to safely move and navigate the world. 

  • TL: In addition to what Haleema offered, I would love for active transportation and pedestrian and modes of travel to be seen as just as viable and important as driving, not only for the health and safety for all who use our streets, but to support our progress towards creating a healthier planet. 

This Stories From the Field interview was conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of SafeTREC or the Office of Traffic Safety.

Haleema, Carroll, and Tonya smile at the camera with arms around each other

Carroll Fife, center, with Tonya Love, right, and Haleema Bharoocha, left.

Photo credit: Carroll Fife

Haleema Bharoocha

Transportation Policy Consultant

Anti Police Terror Project

Tonya Love

Chief of Staff

Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife