Berkeley’s collection of bicycle boulevards and traffic-calming devices are highlighted in this eight minute film done by Streetfilm.org. A few interesting tidbits gleaned from the film:

  • The signs on Berkeley’s bike ways are purple because it is one of the few noticeable colors that traffic engineers hadn’t already used.
  • The stencils that identify streets as bicycle boulevards are the same size and color as stop signs painted on the ground. This gives motorists a visual clue to watch out for bicyclists.
  • The city embedded magnetic loop detectors in many intersections that change lights from red to green. This means bicyclists have to make fewer stops.
  • Bicycles are allowed to do many things that motorists can’t,
  • There are around 35 roundabouts in Berkeley and the neighborhood is responsible for taking care of the plants inside the circle. These are just the more recent traffic calming devises used by the city. In the 1980s, numerous bollards were installed in neighborhoods to slow traffic.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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50 Comments

  1.  Right because a ‘green city’ bends over backwards to accommodate the automobile. Stupid me for thinking a green city encourages bicycling as a form of transportation!

  2. I am just trying to broaden your sympathies a bit.  Based on your post, it seems you are only looking at things from a driver’s perspective.   Try imagining what it is like from a bicyclist’s perspective.

    There are many conflict between cars and bikes that are the bicyclist’s fault, and also many that are the drivers fault.  But regardless of whose fault it is, any serious crash is much more nerve-shattering to the bicyclist  – and in fact is likely to be fatal. 

  3. “‘…But answer this: Which is a more nerve shattering experience, being a motorist who is hit by a bicyclist, or being a bicyclist who is hit by a motorist?  

    My post recalled the experience of being in an accident caused by a cyclist breaking the law; including  suggestions for protecting yourself from damage caused by another’s illegal actions. 

    In that context I can’t see the relevance of your question, nor would a police officer or a jury.

  4. Here’s what it says on the city of Berkeley website:

    The State of California Streets and Highways Code, 1911 Act, stipulates that the owner of the fronting property is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk in good and non-hazardous condition. Also Section 11.36.020 (H) of the Berkeley Municipal Code stipulates that the damage to concrete improvements (sidewalk, curb and gutter, and driveway) will be considered as a health hazard. Considering that a large portion of the City sidewalks are damaged by the street-tree roots, the City of Berkeley has adopted a policy by which the City repairs, at City’s expense, sidewalks and driveways damaged by the growth of street-tree roots. However, damages due to other causes remain the abutting property owner’s responsibility to repair.Following an inspection by the Engineering Division, the portions of the sidewalk which require repair are marked in white or green paint. Damages marked in white paint are the responsibility of the property owner and the green paint signifies the areas to be corrected by the City at no cost to the property owner. An abatement notice is mailed to the property owner informing them of their responsibility. The property owners may perform the required repairs themselves or hire the services of a licensed contractor. In either case, the property owner is required to obtain a concrete permit from the Engineering Division of the Public Works Department.***

    So I guess you could have it repaired yourself if it’s a big hazard. And if the damage is caused by street trees, then maybe the city will pay for it.

  5. “As any motorist who’s been hit by a bicyclist can attest, it is a nerve
    shattering experience.”

    I agree that there are lots of crazy bicyclists who ignore the law and drive unsafely.  But answer this:

    Which is a more nerve shattering experience, being a motorist who is hit by a bicyclist, or being a bicyclist who is hit by a motorist? 

    Virtually every motorist breaks the speed limit law.  Eg, if you try driving at the legal limit of 25 mph on MLK Way between Dwight and Ashby, you will find that every single car on the road is going faster than you.   

  6. This is dirt cheap and I suspect that there are zillions more that we do not know about.  One horrible case that an attorney I know personally handled in the early ’80 here pretty much ended the life of a young paperboy delivering newspapers ( 2 bags worth ) when he encounter just “one” of Berkeley’s now notorious sidewalk buckles.  Berkeley, the City and corporate entity had *No* insurance and the settlement was enormous and this poor soul is still in a board and care home in Oakland I believe, disabled for life with a life altering and limiting brain injury. 

    It’s safer to walk in the streets than on many sidewalks here. One of my neighbors just recently went down “face first” on Josephine and suffered major injuries as per the surreal and bombed out street surface that appears to have been hit with numerous IEDs.  You can file an administrative claim with the City to attempt to settle such injuries outside of court via this link:   http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=26568

  7. I will offer my perspective as an occasional visitor who uses a bike: usually, it’s simply a matter of wayfinding. People navigate by following major streets such as Ashby, and while the alternative streets may be better, it’s no help if your mental map doesn’t include them. Minor streets have a tendency to dead-end occasionally, or veer off at an angle, and you’re not sure if you should keep going or double back. Often you’ll use landmarks to navigate to your destination (turn right at the church) but you don’t know what the landmarks are on the parallel bike street. Some of the bike streets aren’t continuous– they jag left and right, and if you’re just riding along it’s hard to justify following the bike street if it jags in the opposite direction of your destination, especially if it’s not very well marked, and you don’t know if it’s going to continue in your direction or not. It becomes easier just to go down the main street which you know will get you to where you’re going.

    I used to commute from Rockridge to Cal along College, which is not a bike route, and does have parallel bike routes. I never used them (though granted this was before Google Maps, so I didn’t know they existed). My route was 2.3 miles long, and the directions were: start, continue straight, make a right, continue on for two miles until you reach the destination. 

    Google bike directions, however, and it’ll advise you to stick to bike streets. That route is 2.9 miles long, somewhat hillier, and the directions have 13 steps. In addition, it looks like it has far more stop signs.

    If I were doing it today, I expect I’d still take College.
     

  8. I am a bicycle advocate trying to create a bike boulevard on a narrow section of streets just north of our main drag around UC Santa Cruz (King and Escalona). I would love to get feedback from folks in Berkeley who live on and/or near bike boulevards. Especially if you have lived there a long time. How do you like it? I don’t usually read this blog so please send any affadavits to micah@peoplepowersc:disqus .org

    Micah Posner

  9. Bike lanes and signs are no substitute for responsible cycling. As any motorist who’s been hit by a bicyclist can attest, it is a nerve shattering experience. 

    On a drizzly evening  while making a left turn onto Rose from Spruce, a southbound cyclist ran the stop sign at speed, hit my car in the middle of the intersection, rolling up on the hood and breaking the windshield.

    Fortunately the rider suffered only a banged up knee and a twisted bike. Equally fortunate was the fact that the driver who had stopped at the sign the cyclist ran was a physician. She pulled over to examine rider and stayed until the police and EMT’s arrived.

    She told the police she had witnessed the accident and gave a statement. Apparently the cyclist had attempted to pass her several times going downhill on Spruce in the dark, in the rain, while traffic was at the speed limit, before running the stop sign. The cyclist was cited, I was not. And my insurance company collected my damages from the rider.

    My point: Except in very specific circumstances, bicyclists are required to obey the same traffic laws as cars. When cyclists cause an accident by breaking the law, the motorist must be as alert and proactive in identifying witnesses and taking information as they would in a car v.s. car collision. Don’t lose your head, or your license and insurance may follow. The size inequity doesn’t negate a biker’s unlawful actions. Nor does our natural sympathy for the rider absolve them of the legal and financial consequence. 

  10. Ninth Street is the bicycle boulevard that I use the most between my house and the Berkeley Bowl and in the other direction to Tokyo Fish Market and other favorite spots around Gilman. Occasionally I’ll go for longer rides but downtown and other destinations along major arteries don’t feel safe. That’s very different from my riding experiences in Copenhagen, which has the largest, most complex network of bike paths in the world. I manage a couple of weeks there every year or so because of family ties, and we primarily use bikes. Everybody knows the rules, including lights at night, turn signals, passing, etc. It’s ironic that in highly regulated Denmark, I feel freer than I do here. It’s the safety factor and the respect and consideration that people show each other. It’s exhilerating to ride through the bustling center of a capital city and feel completely secure.
    In studying the EIR for the West Berkeley Project, I noticed that the traffic study did not include any intersections along Ninth Street among the 65 intersections they counted.

  11. the city council is considering increasing the share property owners pay for sidewalk repair from 20% to 50%. The manager stated that most cities charge 50%. I think the city avoided repairs for years, and now the conditions are so bad they are changing the ratio in order to make repairs and lessen liability payouts.

    I have tripped and been injured up the block from my house, 1700 block of Stuart, the sidewalk is in the worst condition, I did not consider suing, but instead contacted public works at least a dozen times about  that section of damaged sidewalk over several years. NO action as of yet. So I give up. I am very careful walking. I walk alot since walking is my primary form of exercise and helps with a neurological condition I have, it is unnerving to walk our sidewalks because of the condition.

    I just was in NY, the sidewalks were great everywhere, and there was less litter on the streets.

     

  12. There have been numerous lawsuits. Just this week, the city awarded two people who sued it for tripping on sidewalk hazards more than $30,000 each, if my memory serves.

  13. Interesting. It’s been the City’s job to maintain the sidewalks and trees in the median strip in every other city I’ve lived in in California.

  14. I’m pretty sure that property owners are responsible for fixing the sidewalks in front of their property. At least we were! Several years ago the city hired a contractor to come through our neighborhood and rebuild / level all the broken parts, but each property owner was responsible for paying for the costs to fix the part in front of their own house.

  15. I’m surprised there haven’t been more lawsuits against the city about personal injuries that are a result of sidewalks that haven’t been leveled/fixed.

  16. Don’t like. Fixing crumbling roads is beneficial to the gas mileage cars get. Many roads in Berkeley (and many sidewalks too) can really use tending too. It is something private citizens can’t do and the town should do more of.

  17. I was waiting for others to notice the obvious.  What they did in Palo Alto was to “enforce” existing laws with all bicyclists and the fine for these infractions, including no helmets and no proper and certified lights at night are very high.  Result = more safer streets, less fatalities and injuries, more city revenue.  Will it happen here in Berkeley?  Nope.  When was the last time you saw any bicyclists stopped for such a thing?

  18. The city has limited funds and prioritizes all requests for traffic calming devices, because it can only afford to build a few each year.  Therefore, there is usually a long, long wait.

    This will only change if there are large numbers of citizens demanding a higher priority and more funding for traffic safety.

    Speed humps are by far the cheapest traffic calming device, and we could do much more traffic calming if we could build them.  But there has been a moratorium on building them for many years, because a relatively small number of disabled people claim that they are harmed by the impact of going over the hump. 

    The city is currently trying out a different design for speed humps that is supposed to be more disabled-friendly.  If they work, we might be able to start building them again – but don’t hold your breath.

  19. As far as I’m concerned they should get rid of those barriers there by the Monterey Market. The car jams create a hazard for the bicyclists! but dont blame the traffic barriers on the Bike Boulevard. They were there long before.

  20. The Bike Boulevards are a great thing, but the city needs to spend a little money on fixing the crumbing asphalt.

  21. Fine, but I live in an area of Berkeley that is not served by public transit in the evening hours (after a concert, play or movie lets out, for example), and is at an altitude of about 1000 feet.  Not much of what is shown, talked about or discussed in the planning seems to recognize anything but the more level parts of Berkeley.  I’ve been bicycling in Berkeley since 1957 and do not feel the efforts to make the city more “bicycle friendly” have had much impact on me, my children, my grandchildren or my great grandchildren.

  22. Hi Blogo,

    I used to hate those bollards also when I was a student at Cal. Now many years later we’ve lived among them for eleven years in the Elmwood and I think they are great! I still get tied up in them occasionally in parts of the city where I’m not as familiar with them. I have come to regard them as simply analogous to cul de sacs, same difference.

    But, I think things could be improved, and in the spirit of my advice to others of offering constructive suggestions, here goes:

    – Google maps, Bing and other mapping services don’t know about them, so submit map edits to Google for the ones in your neighborhood. That way over time all of our nifty phone and car based mapping apps won’t misdirect us. I’ve submitted edits for the two on our street, and one of those has been accepted.

    – Better signs. It would be very helpful for out-of-town drivers to have a little more guidance so that they don’t end up in frustrating dead ends (like the one on our street) which then pisses them off. Their next move is a hasty U-turn, followed by an aggravated acceleration back the way they came. Why not have a set of uniquely colored “Bollard guide signs” that would point the way to the most efficient way from here to there?

    – Make them look better and more permanent. Jeez, they’ve been in place something like 30 years and they still look like someone just dropped in junkyard debris with a crane. If more of them looked like the one at the corner of Piedmont and Russell that would be great.

    I am in favor of making our intersections less dangerous and more efficient, which would also reduce the frustration level of drivers in Berkeley. Why so few left turn lanes, much less left turn lanes with signals?  For example, the intersection of Claremont and Ashby is very accident prone due to two lanes coming at each other head-on (East & West bound Ashby), no left turn lane or signal from Ashby and very poor signage warning that a lane in each direction is about to end!

    OK that last part wasn’t directly related to the bollards… just a pet peeve!

  23. i agree. riding on ashby or dwight makes no sense. i mean unless you are just going one block it is really dangerous.

    i think entitlement is ok though when riding on one of the bike blvds, which people do USE a lot.

  24. So why don’t more people USE the bike lanes? There is nothing more irritating and dangerous than people riding on Ashby, or Sacramento. There are parallel bike streets one block away. But many bikers continue to use these major, fast-moving streets/state highways, most with an air of total entitlement. Yeah, I know it is legal, but sure is stupid, especially at night.

  25. Interesting that in this film there is footage of at least two instances of bicycles riding straight through stop signs
    without stopping.  Until that kind of biking behavior stops, it will continue to be dangerous for bikes and cars
    to share roads in Berkeley.

  26. I don’t understand why this path is needed. When I ride south and across University Ave. in this area, I cross using Acton Street which has a traffic signal. Acton’s only a block from the proposed path through the school and is a very quiet street. For that matter all the streets north and south of University Avenue in that area except for the arterials are easily rideable by anyone.

  27. Agreed.  Also, it’s an ordeal to cross South Shattuck, Sacramento and MLK.  Even the Russell St. bike boulevard lacks a traffic light or crossing signal at Shattuck and Sacramento.  Playing frogger with oblivious drivers on cell phones is not a life affirming experience. 

  28. I tried to do that in Oakland several years back after almost being killed by a car of kids joyriding in a stolen vehicle, and it required getting 75% of homeowners on the street to sign a petition and then submit it to my community policing advisory board and convince them to adopt it as an issue.  Don’t know how it works in Berkeley.  You should probably ask your district rep for input, and speak with your neighborhood association if there is one. 

  29.  SBenson said: “it’s pretty clear they thought this easement would never
    get used. ”

    I think that statement is a bit extreme (why would they have granted it
    in the first place); however, it does appear that they are having second
    thoughts, as they’ve had to deal with crime and nuisance issues
    spilling over from Strawberry Creek Park. I was shocked to read that 50
    solar panels had been stolen from their facility last year.  Given they
    are granting the easement, it is not unreasonable for the City to work
    with their design concerns.  There does seem to be some over
    engineering/greening on the part of TBS, but I can’t fault them for
    wanting to make sure there is a drainage plan that doesn’t negatively
    impact the school.  I also think they have the right to assert that
    construction should occur during the summer when school is not in
    session.  It’ll be unfortunate if this segment doesn’t get built in the
    current round.  Thanks for digging up the Planning Commission packet.
     

  30. Dear SB;

    Good luck!  Call the streets and traffic division of the City today and ask about the “process”.  My most primitive understanding after calling them “one” time on this matter to obtain one here in N. Berkeley was frustrating as per the extended review and traffic evaluation process.  Then a neighborhood petition I believe and then a one or two year wait ( I cannot clearly remember this part fully ).  Maybe you will get lucky with this issue especially if it’s urgent ( hint! ) and an issue of immediate safety and personal hazard.  I tried to have them installed here where I live to *protect* the young children as well as myself from my own neighbors who run to their cars and SUV’s and then roar off at horrible acceleration levels, endangering everyone.  Worse they fight with one another in loud nasty horn wars over the right of way etc.  Protecting children is not a high priority in Berkeley and 50% of all parents are self absorbed adolescents and frequently can be seen on N. Shattuck dragging their young children across four lanes of rush hour traffic ( jaywalking ), endangering their lives and personal safety ( child endangerment ).  Good luck and let us know how this works out.  A neighborhood next to me oddly had what is called a traffic table installed to slow people to 20 mph.  It does little but it’s better than nothing I suspect.  People are pissed off that I actually slow down to go over it and tail gate me.  Don’t give up, just take it up to your City council member and or get the lawyers involved. 

  31. That link still doesn’t work when I try it.  I would appreciate the correct link, if anyone can find it. 

  32. Alan is right: the worst gap in Berkeley’s bike route system is those three blocks of Milvia in downtown.  I don’t see how Berkeley can call itself a green city, if it doesn’t have a decent bike route to downtown – a destination that could attract many more bicyclists if it were not so unsafe. 

    Berkeley also has lots more work to do on the bike boulevard system.  The system was supposed to be implemented in three phases: 1) signage 2) safer crossings 3) traffic calming.  More than ten years after adopting the plan, they have only done phase 1 of implementation.  

    They really need to move ahead with phase 2.  There are many difficult crossings.  Try to ride up the Channing bike boulevard, and you will find it is very difficult to cross San Pablo.  Or try to ride up the Virginia bike boulevard and to cross Virginia.

    Some crossings could be made easier simply by adding a four-way stop sign.  Eg, it used to be difficult to cross Dwight on the Ninth St. bike boulevard, with a long wait for a gap in the traffic on Dwight, but it became easy after the city put a four-way stop at Dwight and Ninth.  It is still difficult to cross Dwight on the California St. bike boulevard, and that could also be solved by a four-way stop sign. But the city does not seem to care enough to do even the very easy things that could make bicycling better. 

  33. I live along the proposed extension of the path to the north that would connect the stub of a path to the rest of the greenway. There have been a few community meetings and I believe the plan will be reviewed by the Transportation Commission in June.

    As for the portion that would go through the Berkeley School on the city’s easement, I don’t think the Berkeley School is going to let that happen. I just found this letter from the school in the Planning Commission packet from May 18 (on page 32 http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_Commissions/Commission_for_Planning/2011-05-18%20Packet%20Combined.pdf).   The path does bisect the school grounds and if you look at how they have built up the space it’s pretty clear they thought this easement would never get used.

    I am looking forward to the path being extended to the north. Seems like a positive improvement to the area.

  34. Does anyone know the process for getting an island or bump installed on your street? There are still kids doing donuts at our intersection… definitely not bike safe!

  35. Yes.  They need signage or pavement markings telling cars to yield and merge in a single lane with bikes when they go around the roundabout. 

    Most drivers seem to be totally oblivious to bikes at roundabouts.  They just keep driving, and they move to the right even if there is a bike next to them, crowding out the bike.  You have to be very aggressive to get them to merge.

  36. The school gave the city the right to use the right-of-way on their property, but the city has to design and build the bike path there. 

  37. I really wonder what’s going on with the path south of University. I thought that as part of The Berkeley School’s use permit, they were to continue the path along the west side of their property, to Addison.
    The City has placed a crosswalk and traffic light on University that would continue the path, but I haven’t seen any indication that the school is about to do anything.

  38. I found the home for the West Street Pathway on the City of Berkeley’s website.   It appears to be funded, and there is a presentation with drawings of the various sections.  The other piece of good news is that the section alongside The Berkeley School (old Santa Fe depot) will be implemented to connect University with Addison (and Strawberry Creek Park).
    “The City of Berkeley recently received funding to
    complete the West Street Pathway for pedestrians and bicyclists along
    the former Santa Fe Railroad Right of Way between Cedar-Rose Park and
    Strawberry Creek Park.”
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=67342

  39. A huge bicycle safety improvement that needs to happen (I talk about it every election) is bicycle lanes IN destination areas. Specifically- downtown on Shattuck, Southside on Telegraph, etc. The bicycle boulevards are fantastic for going across town, but they end in districts where one has to to either a) walk a bike on crowded sidewalks or b) risk riding in bike-lane-less high traffic streets. Heck, half the time bicyclists choose to ride on the crowded sidewalks, which is a danger to pedestrians.

    Weren’t there plans to rearrange Shattuck Ave through downtown 2-3 years ago during the debate over BRT? I thought there was definitely room for bike lanes- moreso now that there’s no BRT.

    Jesse Townley

  40. About those roundabouts, they narrow the passing area for cars vs. bikes, which most of the time means the cars will slow down and let the bikes go through the intersections, but not always, resulting in a feeling, as a bicyclist that you are being driven off the road or impatiently tailgated.  Also they are not great for the visibility of kids (think 3 & 4 feet people), or folks in wheelchairs.  I find them quite annoying and worrisome as the parent of two kids and a bicyclist, but they sure make the noisy NIMBYs in South Berkeley happy.  I just hope my kid is not ever hit because of one of them (or anyone elses for that matter).

  41. When visiting some friends who attended UC Davis in the mid-90s, I was thoroughly impressed with the system of bike paths and park-lets that snake throughout the city. I know Berkeley will never be able to reach that level of bike-ability, but it serves as a great semi-local example of what we should strive for.

  42. Does anyone know how plans are coming along for the completion of the bicycle path between University Ave and Cedar Rose Park?

    The last time I walked by there they had only finished half the path, but I remember hearing that they were holding planning meetings on the rest of it recently.

  43. Nice to see the recognition, but there’s still a ways to go.

    For example, the notorious three blocks of Milvia Street south of University (passing in front of city hall) are theoretically a Bicycle Boulevard but have NO protections for cyclists beyond a token “sharrow” or two on the pavement.  As a result there is no safe bike route north out of downtown (Oxford, the only alternative, leads into the very dangerous Oxford/Hearst intersection).  In this and other locations the need to preserve a few parking spaces at all costs is explicitly made more important than public safety.

  44. It makes no sense for this so-called “green city” to have so many bollards and other barricades that force cars to drive a few extra blocks out of their way to get to their destination.  For example, near the Monterey Market, there is a barricade preventing shoppers from driving down California Street.  People are forced to drive down one of the surrounding blocks, and traffic constantly backs up at the intersection of California and Hopkins because there aren’t enough ways to exit the market.  There is nothing to be gained by this nonsense, other than protecting some snooty homeowners on California Street that think traffic should be somebody else’s problem… even though they are the ones who live on the same street as the market!