milvia bike blvd. flickr/paytonc
Now, in 2014, San Francisco and Oakland have leapt ahead of Berkeley in designing safe streets, taking on major national leadership roles within NACTO in the process. San Francisco has aggressively implemented its bicycle plan and prioritized pedestrian safety through its WalkFirst program. Oakland can’t build bike lanes fast enough [sfgate, 27.04.14.] and is completely rethinking Telegraph Ave [gjel, 24.04.14.] to improve safety and comfort for people who walk, bike, and take transit. Even El Cerrito has joined the complete streets party as it plans to reshape San Pablo Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare.
Meanwhile, Berkeley has seemingly stalled… Berkeley has not aggressively targeted unsafe street designs to improve pedestrian safety. It has seen a number of terrible incidents, most often related to the number of poorly marked and unprotected crosswalks on busy streets. Most recently, Joseph Luft, a 98-year-old psychology professor at San Francisco State, was killed crossing Sacramento Street at Bancroft Way [berkeleyside, 05.04.14], a busy intersection that features a crosswalk but no traffic signal.
Safe designs for bicyclists have also lagged behind. Between 2005 and 2010, Berkeley had 819 bike crashes. Issues of bicycle safety were brought to the forefront when Schlomo Bentin, a neuropsychologist, was killed while riding on Bancroft Way by UC Berkeley [baycitizen]. Approximately 25% of pedestrian collisions and 20% of bicycle collisions occur adjacent to UC Berkeley [safeTREC], an area in which most of the streets are again designed to move large volumes of automobiles quickly despite the fact that only 25% of the university’s commuters drive to work.
Why has Berkeley fallen behind Oakland, San Francisco, El Cerrito, and other Bay Area cities? Part of the explanation probably relates to what makes Berkeley, well, Berkeley. There is a subculture of misplaced environmentalism [ebx, 01.04.09] in Berkeley that strives to preserve the good old days and save the city from changes by newcomers or outsiders. What this amounts to is a strong sense of NIMBYism from a vocal segment of the population—a minority of perhaps 15-25 percent that has a disproportionate effect on city policies. This culture seems to trickle down to the city’s traffic engineering decisions: maintaining the status quo is welcomed until somebody (like the Malcolm X Elementary parents) sufficiently lobby for change.
Berkeley hasn’t seemed to acknowledge that it had real, serious problems when it comes to street safety—problems that run contrary to the very principals of environmentalism, social justice, and public health for which the city has traditionally been a leader. Embracing a status quo in which seniors, children, students, transit riders, low income residents, and other groups are exposed to greater risk of injury or death and are forced to deal with subpar facilities is not what Berkeley stands for.
read more: gjel attorneys, 05.05.14.