District 4, City of Berkeley (Click to view larger). Image: City of Berkeley
District 4, City of Berkeley (Click to view larger). Image: City of Berkeley

More than 40 residents in one of Berkeley’s busiest districts came together last week to voice their frustration about traffic issues on their neighborhood streets.

Constant cut-throughs, shrugged-off stop signs, overgrown round-abouts and high speeds were among the concerns shared at a meeting Thursday night hosted by District 4 Councilman Jesse Arreguín. City Manager Christine Daniel and Berkeley Police Sgt. Robert Rittenhouse also were in attendance.

Arreguín said he scheduled the meeting, at Congregation Beth Israel, because of neighborhood complaints related to pedestrian safety and demands for traffic-calming measures. He noted a recently received petition, signed by several hundred people, calling for the installation of a four-way stop sign at one dangerous intersection. Arreguín also said he was working to bring resident concerns to city officials to have them addressed.

District 4 encompasses downtown Berkeley and is bound by Oxford St. to the east, Sacramento to the west, Dwight Way to the south and Vine St. to the north.

Concerns expressed at the gathering included high-priority intersections, such as the junction of McKinley Avenue and Channing Way, where attendees said they hoped to see traffic-calming tools or more stop signs. Others said they want the city to install barriers, such as those that exist around the Elmwood district near Ashby Avenue, to keep out through-traffic altogether.

“We would like some way to calm things down in a practical way,” said Judy Grether, “and have the neighborhood less accessible to through-traffic.”

Residents also cited problems with roundabouts that cut into crosswalks, and intersections that appear at a glance to be four-way stops, but don’t have what they believe to be much-needed signage, which leads to unsafe situations and driver confusion.

McGee Avenue and Allston Way, said several in attendance, is particularly problematic.

“My heart is in my mouth every time my kids cross the street,” said one mother. “I’m afraid when they go out to play.” She suggested that neighbors take matters into their own hands by posting signs on all the street corners reminding drivers to proceed with caution, as if their own children lived in the area.

One resident said four-way stops at all the intersections in the district was the solution he’d like to see put into place.

“There would be more noise and more pollution, but everyone would have to stop, and that would reduce the amount of cars that would go through,” he said. “Is there a mechanism to do that?”

City Manager Christine Daniel said a change that drastic probably wouldn’t win approval neighborhood-wide.

Some residents blamed vehicles for the bulk of the problems, and advocated for car-free living, while others said “bad human behavior” was the real culprit.

Retired deputy public works director Patrick Keilch, who lives in the neighborhood, said he’d like to see the city get “a little bit creative” in its thinking about how to solve the neighborhood’s traffic woes. He said Berkeley might take some inspiration from the early days of Disneyland, with its monorails and Peter Pan rides.

“It was about getting people place to place safely while they enjoyed themselves and had fun,” he said, urging officials and neighbors to get beyond “the things we’re sometimes stuck in.”

Many of Berkeley’s intersections that had the most annual collisions in a recent study are located in District 4. Pedestrian Master Plan, Appendix D (Space Syntax summary report), City of Berkeley (2010)

In response to a suggestion from neighbor Noah Friedman to hold a district-wide brainstorming session to identify problem intersections and develop a wish-list of solutions, another neighbor said, essentially, “been there, done that.”

Nancy Holland said, a number of years back, the city made efforts to engage the whole neighborhood, and enlisted a traffic engineer “to draw a very complex half-barrier system” that would be installed block by block as neighbors signed on. But due to opposition from some residents, needs expressed by police about street access, and staffing changes at City Hall, she said, the plans never came to fruition.

“If we had the support of all the neighbors, we might have convinced the city that we were talking turkey,” she said. Officials and other neighbors said they’d like to take another look at the plan, and Holland said she’d try to find her copy to share it with them.

Sgt. Rittenhouse, who supervises four Berkeley Police motor officers, urged residents to report problem intersections as well as issues with police who appear to be driving recklessly or taking unnecessary risks.

“Cops speeding when they don’t need to be speeding is a pet peeve of mine,” he told the crowd, adding that one of his duties involves working with the city’s Fatal Accident Investigation Team. “We see the end result of speed or distracted driving all day long.”

Rittenhouse said, in the past year, there were 149 collisions in the police beats that correspond closely to District 4. Eighty-five involved injuries, 18 involved cyclists and 15 involved pedestrians. Five involved intoxication, and one resulted in death.

The intersection of Shattuck Ave. and University: one of the most dangerous in the city for collisions. Photo: Google Maps

Several neighbors brought up the fatal alcohol-involved crash in May, at California Street and Allston Way, that led to the deaths of a recent UC Berkeley graduate and her 6-year-old son.

Some residents attempted to put officials on the spot about the city’s approach to the neighborhood.

“When you take a look at the rectangle bounded by University, Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Sacramento and Dwight, what is your policy toward it?” asked Jack Kurzweil of City Manager Daniel. “Do you see it as a residential neighborhood that should accommodate the local traffic of residents, or do you see it … as through-streets?”

Daniel said the city’s Transportation Commission is at work crafting and refining the city’s traffic-calming policy, which she said was adopted in 2009 and is what the city uses to assess traffic-calming requests. She said the city has tried a range of approaches to slow drivers down, but hasn’t “found the perfect solution yet.”

Kurzweil said Daniel’s response was “the direct opposite of a specific answer to my question” and roundly criticized city staff and officials for a lack of specificity: “You do not get a direct response to a direct question in this town.”

Another resident added that “This city gets an ‘F'” for teaching residents to bike and walk responsibly.

Resident Friedman asked Councilman Arreguín: “How can we hold you accountable for this? What are you gonna do? What is our next step? …. We want action and we want it now. We don’t want to wait 10 years for action.”

The council member responded that he would work with the city manager to go over the long list of concerns that came up at the meeting, and look at the possibility of installing diverters in the neighborhood. He said he could provide an update to neighbors within two weeks.

Arreguín said, after the meeting, that it would likely be several months before any changes can be put into place to address traffic issues in the neighborhood, adding that he appreciated the night’s discussion, and that the city manager and police had been party to the conversation.

“Our streets are not safe,” he said. “People are frustrated. I understand. There’s clearly a need for us to do something about it.”

Pedestrians, kids now safer around Malcolm X School [04.11.12]
Parents not officials pushed through safety improvements [04.10.12]
Crossing at Dwight and Telegraph prompts safety calls [09.26.11]
Making safer streets in memory of little boy [03.30.11]
Malcolm X parents raise concerns over pedestrian safety [03.03.11]
Berkeley dangerous city for cyclists and pedestrians [12.17.10]
Comment: Emerson students at risk from traffic [03.17.10]
Police focus on pedestrians [03.03.10]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...