Can Berkeley’s Bike Plan Keep it a Top Bike-Friendly City?

Residents discuss the Berkeley Bike Plan at a recent open house. Image: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Residents discuss the Berkeley Bike Plan at a recent open house. Image: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

The city of Berkeley just made its most recent draft bicycle plan available for public comment, and Dave Campbell, advocacy director of Bike East Bay, says it could be better.

The city did some innovative work to create the plan, including conducting an extensive in-person survey of local residents that produced solid data about local preferences. As Campbell writes in Berkeleyside, it was:

The kind of extensive public outreach Bike East Bay wishes all cities would engage in for their bicycle plan updates. A key finding of Berkeley’s public outreach [showed] that 70 percent of Berkeley residents who currently do not bicycle often or at all are interested in bicycling more if streets were safer. It’s certainly no surprise to hear that a higher quality product creates more demand.

City planners also created a map of “low-stress” and “high-stress” zones, based on traffic volumes and collision rates. By overlaying maps of existing bike routes with maps of high-collision zones, they could clearly see where there was the most need for improvement. For example, although Berkeley already has a pretty solid number of existing low-stress bikeways, every one of those routes runs into trouble somewhere. They cross through high-traffic areas or come to busy intersections that are difficult or dangerous—or both—to cross.

The maps make it clear that the bike boulevards do not constitute a connected, low-stress bike network, which may be deterring riding.

The City of Berkeley conducted a "Level of Stress Analysis" to understand better where people might feel safe riding their bikes in Berkeley. Image: Draft Berkeley Bicycle Plan
The City of Berkeley conducted a “Level of Stress Analysis” to understand better where people might feel safe riding their bikes in Berkeley. Image: Draft Berkeley Bicycle Plan

The new bike plan focuses on the spots that interrupt the network. It proposes safer crossings at many hot spots, including new marked crossings, a protected intersection, and crossing lights, depending on traffic volumes.

It also proposes more low-stress bicycle boulevards. These are streets with relatively low traffic volumes where bicycle traffic is prioritized with sharrows and traffic diverters. The new plan also includes removing some stop signs to allow bike riders to maintain momentum along the bike boulevards—in many parts of the city there is a stop sign at every block—and adding speed tables to slow down traffic.

However, Campbell writes:

The main shortcoming of the draft plan is its retreat from an earlier commitment for Berkeley to have a dense network of low-stress, comfortable, family-friendly bikeways throughout the city, including protected bikeways on busy streets residents use every day.

An initial map of [the] draft Berkeley bicycle plan… showed a more dense network of low-stress bikeways, and in fact staff emphasized that a fully connected low-stress network was the direction the plan was taking as a result of public input received. The current draft bicycle map omits many needed low-stress, protected bike facilities.

Campbell points to good things in the plan, like the proposed two-way protected bike lane along Milvia Street through downtown and the proposed protected intersections.

But in other crucial places the plan falls back on the phrase “future studies are needed.” Studies are not necessarily a bad thing, but as Campbell points out, it would be better if calls for future studies were more specific about what exactly needs to be studied. That is, if the plan’s vision includes a network of protected bike lanes, then future studies should focus not on whether to build protected lanes, but on how.

By doing so, Berkeley’s bicycle plan will reflect the vision of the people of Berkeley, expressed over the course of the last two years — a vision of a dense network of modern, comfortable, attractive bikeways for residents of all interests, abilities, [and] comfort levels… that extends throughout the city.

Still, continues Campbell:

Berkeley’s draft bicycle plan… is a good improvement over its current plan, and is better than most bicycle plans currently under development in other East Bay cities such as Concord, Pleasanton, and Moraga. But Bike East Bay members and thousands of people who bicycle in Berkeley every day have higher expectations for the number two city in the U.S. for bike commuting.

The draft plan and more information can be found here.

Written comments are due by September 29. The draft bike plan will be presented to the Transportation Commission on October 20, and from there it will go to the City Council for approval on December 13.

5 thoughts on Can Berkeley’s Bike Plan Keep it a Top Bike-Friendly City?

  1. The bike plan is dealing with #2. One of its main features is improving crossings of bike boulevards.

    At crossings of the busiest streets, they are adding HAWK beacons, which work as well as stop lights.

    Unfortunately, at the crossings of the less busy major streets (such as Dwight Way), they are proposing adding flashers. In most cases, it would be much better to add four-way stop signs.

    Flashers are safe for pedestrians, who step tentatively into the street
    and make sure cars are stopping. They seem much less safe for bicycles,
    who are more likely to proceed without hesitating and waiting for cars
    to stop.

    Flashers send an unclear message. Drivers generally think they mean to proceed with caution and look for pedestrians in the crosswalk. But this doesn’t work for bicyclists, who are not in the crosswalk and are traveling faster than pedestrians.

    Drivers are much more likely to comply with four-way stop
    signs, making them safer for bikes. When drivers see four-way stop signs, they look for traffic on the cross street – including bike traffic. Of course, stop signs are also
    cheaper than flashers.

    I doubt if there is any data about safety of flashers for
    bikes, so they are definitely a leap in the dark, and common sense tells
    me they would be dangerous. The plan should include four-way
    stops as an alternative at all the locations where it now includes
    flashers, to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

  2. I didn’t get to go to these meetings, but I hate biking in Berkeley. My main issues (as someone who is usually headed North from Oakland).

    1. Just about every bike route city line crossing from Oakland/Berkeley is terrible. The signage makes it really unclear what is happening and where you should go. Particularly if you are headed to West Berkeley or downtown Berkeley.

    This week I attempted to come from the MLK-ish St to enter into Berkeley. Crossing Alcatraz was ridiculous! You have to get off your bike, go through a random plaza, use a crosswalk with speeding cars, just to get back on King and the bike route. The signage just has random arrows that you hope you don’t miss any!

    2. Every bicycle boulevard drops you off at busy intersections with crosswalks and no traffic lights. Crossing Ashby, Alcatraz, University, San Pablo, Sacramento, Adeline and all of the major corridors is horrible. It goes from low stress to ultimate stress within a couple of blocks. You have to get off your bike and hope for the best in an unsignalized crosswalk.

    3. Of course plenty of routes have terrible road quality and narrow lanes (ahem Telegraph). That is no fun.

    4. And still other routes have bike lanes to nowhere. You are traveling along, and suddenly the bike lane disappears all together. No signs warning you to route to an alternate street with infrastructure.

    I find it really confusing on the whole. And not very pleasant for newer riders too.

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