Marin_Circle_3 Larry Raines
“Right of way” signs that were put up at the Marin Circle on Jan. 16, then removed 10 days later. Photo: Larry Raines

On Jan. 16 some new traffic signs were erected at Marin Circle in north Berkeley: four yellow, reflective oblongs bearing the words ‘Traffic in circle has right of way.” It wasn’t long before local residents were up in arms about the signs, claiming they were an unnecessary eyesore on an historic, cherished local landmark.

On Saturday, the city quietly removed the signs. “Victory,” declared Sara Holmes, President of  Friends of the Fountain and Walk, who was one of several local residents to fire off emails to city departments, the media and and local councilman Laurie Capitelli complaining about the signs. On Saturday Holmes had received a minimalist email from the city of Berkeley’s Kevin Lewis. It read: “To all the signs will be taken down.”

The four signs at Marin Circle were seen as necessary by many in the community. Photo: Larry Raines

Many community members had made their views plain through Berkeleyside. On Friday, Berkeleyside posted a photo, taken by Sarah Schroeder, of the signage on our Facebook page. Within minutes, readers were providing comments. Within 24 hours, 130 people had expressed their opinion.

Many were offended by the new traffic signs and questioned whether they were needed. If they were, they asked, could they not could be positioned more discreetly, perhaps on the roads that enter the circle? Katherine Anderson Schaaf wrote: “The signs are ugly. They should be in the the feeder streets. This just ruins the way the fountain looks!” And Elizabeth Hawk wrote: “Berkeley has become THE city of signage … and more signage to explain the first sign. Have the residents become stupider or the management more controlling?”

However there were also many who believed the signs were a sound idea. Rita Kaplan Klonsky Wilson wrote: “I think these signs will help a lot. People in the U.S. don’t tend to know this law. I’ve seen many almost-accidents at the Marin Circle.” And Heidi Ross wrote: “I think it’s ugly, but necessary. Too many people don’t understand how traffic circles work.”

A city spokesperson said the signs were erected after the city received calls from people who had safety concerns. She said there had not been an increase in the number of accidents on the circle. She said she couldn’t say at this point why the signs were removed, but would provide more information if it became available.

Larry Raines noticed what he termed the “unsightly signage” on his way to work on Friday last week. He wrote an email to local officials and the Friends of the Fountain and Walk asking for support in getting them removed. “There are many beautiful traffic circles all over the world with no signs telling people how to use them, why do we have to do that here in Berkeley? Are our citizens uneducated?” he said.

Marin Circle on Jan. 27 — the new signs have been removed and only the orignal black and white ones remain. Photo: Alina Constantinescu

Holmes, who personally does maintenance work on the fountain, along with fellow volunteers, told Berkeleyside she was surprised that the city had not given any notice about the signs, as it has always worked very collaboratively in the past with the community and with Friends of the Fountain and Walk, not least when the fountain was reconstructed in the 1990s. She recalled that when the city was proposing putting in some yellow stanchions several years ago, it sent out a flyer first and “the idea was knocked out of the water.”

The Circle and Fountain Walk were designed by architect John Galen Howard and built in 1911 with the idea they would make an ornate entry to what many hoped would be the state’s capital. The Circle was originally designed for rail use, but today an estimated 30,000 cars make their way around it every day.

The signage on the circle has now returned to its pre-Jan. 16 state with a couple of black and white arrow signs indicating direction of travel.

Councilman Capitelli said the signs had come as a surprise to him. He has talked to city manager Christine Daniel who has promised to report back to him on the process that lead them to being erected.

Holmes said she didn’t think the city realized what a “big deal” this was. People were mortified when they saw those signs, she said. “They sprang into action.”

One of Berkeley’s most beloved landmarks turns 100 [10.11.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...