One of Berkeley’s liveliest commercial blocks has been overrun by double-parking drivers, posing problems at times for buses and emergency vehicles that need to get through. Police hope two nights of focused ticketing in the days ahead will help solve the problem, which has been described as “absolute gridlock.”
The 2500 block of Durant Avenue, just east of Telegraph Avenue in the Southside neighborhood, is popular with students and many others due to its high concentration of late-night eateries — including King Pin, one of Berkeley’s longest-running doughnut shops.
The block has always had high foot traffic, with its wide range of budget-friendly dining options: from Top Dog and Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana to Thai Basil Cuisine and Artichoke Basille’s Pizza. Looking for burritos, sandwiches, curries or barbecue? You can find those too.
During the pandemic, the block has become even more crowded, however, as motorists increasingly double-park on Durant Avenue with seeming impunity. Some of those drivers are on the clock for restaurant delivery apps. But others are simply visitors who have opted for convenient parking near their destination, confident that there are unlikely to be consequences.
For a long time, as the pandemic wore on, that assumption was likely to be true. Police said they were generally not ticketing on the block, in part because the city was considering the creation of short-term parking areas for people making quick pickups on Durant. That idea remains under consideration but is still in the concept stage.
As months of minimal enforcement turned to years, the street has grown increasingly clogged with motorists double-parking on both sides of the one-way street, leaving just the center lane open to passing cars. At times, that lane too slows to a halt. The congestion has put buses behind schedule and impeded emergency access.
As a result, several months back, Berkeley police officers on patrol began to issue tickets periodically to double-parked drivers in an effort to return the block to some semblance of normal circulation. But it hasn’t made much of a dent in the crowded streets.
This coming weekend — on Friday and Saturday nights — police say they will focus even more attention on the block during a special operation. For four hours each night, officers will be out to issue tickets when they see traffic violations.
“The operation comes in response to several complaints from the community about vehicles that double-park on the one-way thoroughfare during the busy evening hours,” BPD said in a prepared statement. “When multiple people double-park their vehicles on a roadway, it runs the risk of blocking or delaying mass transportation, critical emergency services and other large such vehicles.”
Police said they plan to put out warning notices over the next few days so people aren’t shocked by the sudden uptick in enforcement.
They also plan to remind motorists that parking is free for the first hour in the nearby Telegraph Channing parking garage, at 2450 Durant Ave., just west of Telegraph Avenue.
Durant Avenue: “Absolutely an unsafe situation”
The double-parking issue has been on Councilmember Rigel Robinson’s radar for quite some time.
“With the current street configuration, gig drivers working for Doordash or UberEats often decide to park in a travel lane to run inside and pick up orders,” Robinson, who represents the Southside district, wrote in a council item in October 2021. “The congestion has been exacerbated by the pandemic because of the increase in take-out orders. Durant is a major bus corridor servicing many lines including the 51B, 79, 36, and 6, and the car traffic and illegal parking can cause serious delays in bus service.”
In the item, which was a budget referral, Robinson asked the city to consider the creation of a public parklet on the north side of Durant and a bus-only lane on the south side to address some of the impacts and make the block work better for pedestrians and public transit alike.
Last week, Robinson described the current traffic situation on the block as “precarious and seriously dangerous.” Double-parking has made visibility a challenge, particularly for pedestrians, he said.
“People try to cross the street without really knowing what potential variables are moving around on either side of them,” he told Berkeleyside. “It is absolutely an unsafe situation. City staff has been looking at and brainstorming what to do with it for some time.”
Robinson said planners — aided by a county grant — are studying the possibility of a dedicated bus lane, and that the Telegraph Business Improvement District (TBID) is spearheading efforts related to the parklet. Angled parking on the north side of the street might also be in the cards.
“Some combination of those strategies could really change how cars get around on that block,” Robinson said.
Alex Knox, the TBID’s executive director, said the 2500 block of Durant has become “pretty intense at times.”
“Quite regularly, it gets to a point where it’s hard for really anybody to get up and down the block,” he told Berkeleyside on Friday. “You see a lot of cars competing for space, drivers getting frustrated. It creates an uncomfortable environment.”
The double-parking behavior on Durant Avenue has become so entrenched, Knox said, that motorists largely seem to ignore police officers — even when they have high visibility on the block.
“You’ll have a squad car with its lights on going up the block — with a car pulling right behind it and double-parking, on either side of the street,” he said. “It’s quite the thing to watch.”
Rather than using the Telegraph Channing garage, which is less than a block away, or parking on nearby Bancroft Way, many drivers opt for the “easiest and closest option,” he said, and just park in the roadway on Durant.
Plans afoot to hear from Durant Avenue merchants
Knox said the TBID is planning to get merchants on the block together over the summer to collect their thoughts about the situation as well as any changes they would like to see. The goal will be to come up with a vision and set of priorities that would guide any recommendations to the city about how to reconfigure the street.
Knox said he knows how tough it is to run a business, particularly these days, and wants to ensure the merchants are heard. And he said, realistically, it will take time to come up with the right solutions.
“It’s a very, very important block that I feel has been overlooked,” Knox said. “It’s one of the most active, bustling business environments in the city — yet it’s gotten very little attention. It’s sort of been left to the status quo for quite some time.”
One challenge, he said, is that the block was not included in the Southside Plan update the city has undertaken to look at zoning and density in the district. He wasn’t sure why that was.
“The bottom line is that there is no plan for this block,” Knox said. “We’re starting from scratch a little bit to figure out how to make it work for everyone.”