Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved, in concept, a 20-year vision to improve the city’s bicycling infrastructure.
The plan would create “a citywide network of low-speed, low-traffic-volume neighborhood street ‘Bicycle Boulevards'” featuring a “network of ‘low-stress’ bikeways serving all Berkeley neighborhoods, schools, the Downtown and commercial areas, and the University of California at Berkeley campus,” according to the staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. City staff described the plan as a “vision network,” and said everything in it will require further input and discussion as plans proceed.
Projects in the first wave — to be completed by 2025 — include bikeways on Milvia and Center streets, improvements on Claremont Avenue and the Ohlone Greenway, new bike crossings at 18 locations, new bike boulevards on Addison and Fulton streets, and the completion of bike boulevards that already partially exist on Russell Street and Channing Way. The city also plans to study nine potential “complete streets corridors” — and build out at least one as a pilot — on Gilman Street, Hopkins Street, San Pablo Avenue, Adeline Street, Hearst Avenue and Delaware Street, Shattuck Avenue, Oxford and Fulton streets, Bancroft Way, and Dana Street. The philosophy of complete streets aims to take all modes of transportation into account during planning to create safety for everyone, whether they are walking, biking, using public transit or driving.
The plan is estimated to cost $62,565,100 to implement. That includes nearly $383,000 spent already for development. Several existing local and regional ballot measures, as well as additional grant funding, will be used to foot the bill, according to the staff report. Construction is set to cost about $34.5 million, plus a contingency budget, with the rest of the money for staff time. A variety of lane types are featured in the 66.3 miles of new network: standard lanes, paved and unpaved paths, shared-lane markings called “sharrows,” and bike boulevards, which are “shared travelways with low motor vehicle volumes and low speed limits that prioritize convenient and safe bicycle travel through traffic calming strategies, wayfinding signage, and traffic control adjustments.” There are also “cycletracks,” also known as protected bikeways, which are one- or two-way bike paths separated in some way from vehicle lanes. About half the construction budget, nearly $17 million, is to be used for intersection and traffic-calming improvements, according to the plan.
Dozens of cycling advocates, young and old, turned up early Tuesday evening and stayed late into the night to show their support for the bicycle plan. Many held signs and wore bright yellow shirts or reflective vests to indicate their support.
City staff said the plan is needed in part because of the 58% increase in bike counts in Berkeley from 2005 to 2015. An estimated 8.5% of the population bikes to work; according to the city, Berkeley’s bike-to-work rate is the second-highest in the nation. But safety could be improved, and many riders or interested riders have said they don’t want to take the risk given current conditions. The city averages 163 bike-related injury or fatality collisions each year. According to staff, from 2011-16, 21% of the city’s injury or fatality crashes involved cyclists, and another 15% involved pedestrians.
The city began working on the bicycle plan in 2015. Since then, it has held or attended 22 meetings and events to get input, collected more than 1,000 comments, and received 600 survey responses about how the city should craft the plan. Staffers said they made a point to bring the plan to the community to get robust feedback, including from those who would not normally attend city meetings.
Councilwoman Cheryl Davila took issue with the assertion, saying the city needs to do more outreach: “I never got a piece of mail about it,” she said.
In the end, the city says it will work hard to develop what it calls “low stress” bikeways: those suitable for all ages and abilities, including children. The new plan is a “comprehensive update” of prior plans from 2000 and 2005, and “reflects the evolution of bicycle policy, planning, and design that has occurred over the past sixteen years.”
Numerous cycling advocates with Bike East Bay — formerly the East Bay Bike Coalition — have said repeatedly that Berkeley has fallen behind many other cities in recent decades. Wrote Liza and Bobby Lutzker on Berkeleyside earlier this year, “the existing infrastructure is now outdated and does not meet the needs of Berkeley’s bicycling community, especially families. There is no safe way for young kids to ride through downtown or to the UC campus area. (Riding in that area last year, our friend Meg Schwarzman was nearly killed.)” Schwarzman herself came to council Tuesday night to share her story, and urge officials to approve the plan. She said she no longer bikes on city streets, but hopes Berkeley will create a network going forward that will be safe for everyone, including — perhaps one day — her young son.
Several people voiced concerns about the plan, including the safety of two-way “cycletracks” such as the one proposed on Milvia Street, and whether industrial neighborhoods had been adequately studied. But most who turned out were in support.
Council debated some of the finer points of the plan, and ultimately approved it with some revisions from AC Transit and the Alameda County Transportation Commission, along with some amendments from the dais. Council agreed to designate Milvia as the first bikeway to tackle, and asked staff to look at finding some car parking on nearby Addison Street for Ace Hardware — at 2020 Milvia — after its owner expressed concern about potential impacts on its business, of reduced vehicle access, due to the new bikeway. Officials said they hope to see more education about safe cycling, for drivers too, baked into future planning.
Council agreed to accept language from the city’s Transportation Commission that highlights how a complete bike network, without gaps, could help the city fulfill its Climate Action Plan goals. The Climate Action Plan “sets a goal of reducing transportation emissions 33% below year 2000 levels by 2020, and 80% below year 2000 levels by 2050.” It says, further, that public transit, walking and cycling “must become the primary means of fulfilling the City’s mobility needs in order to meet these emissions goals.”
Council also agreed, in response to Councilwoman Lori Droste’s amendment, to bump Claremont Avenue up into Tier 1, seek money from nearby Safeway for traffic mitigations, and have regular report-backs from staff about Tier 1 projects. It was also Droste’s suggestion to pilot at least one “complete streets” project — rather than simply study them — so Berkeley will have one finished project in the city by 2025. The next round of projects, Tier 2, is estimated to be done by 2035. Staff says it plans to report back often to the city on its progress.
An amendment from Councilwoman Sophie Hahn that sought to increase public outreach, broaden the language of the plan to reference other modes of transportation and users, further specify how the process would work, and highlight the “special needs and hazards” in commercial and manufacturing districts, was a matter of some debate on the dais. In the end, council only agreed to include excerpts from Hahn related to consultation with stakeholders, and the special needs of business and manufacturing districts including West Berkeley.
Officials said Hahn’s other suggestions were either already included in the plan or might have impacts that could be too broad to be feasible. Some members of the public were less measured, and said Hahn’s ideas would have crippled bike planning and projects going forward due to the vague yet extensive requirements for public outreach.
In her defense, Hahn noted that her request several months ago to postpone approval of the bike plan — though she met with some community pushback — allowed important agencies, such as AC Transit and the county transportation commission, to weigh in. She said, despite the city’s outreach efforts, it did seem to have missed some critical stakeholders.
Council unanimously approved the bicycle plan update just before 11:40 p.m.
Wrote Steve Solnit, after the meeting, on Twitter, “At last, Berkeley has a visionary bike plan in time for bike to work day! Passed by council just before midnight.” Bike to Work Day comes next week Thursday, May 11. Plans include “a morning ride with the Berkeley City Council, 149 energizer stations all over the East Bay where you can get a free canvas bag full of goodies, and twelve evening Bike Happy Hour celebrations.”
Mayor Jesse Arreguín also chimed in on Twitter after the vote, writing, “Thank you @BikeEastBay for your advocacy and for sticking around this late into the night.”
[Note: After publication we swapped the main photo to improve clarity about the plan for the final “low-stress” bike network, and added further information about types of bike lanes and other infrastructure proposed, as well as more on the financial specifics.]