With 40% of Berkeley streets in fair or poor condition, the city’s roadways are notorious for providing a bumpy ride, but a few rank below the rest.
Using data from the city’s non-emergency line, Berkeleyside analyzed which streets have garnered the most pothole complaints dating back to 2010.
Scroll down to see Berkeley’s five holiest streets
Over the years, a similar set of streets have attracted the most citizen complaints. Most are major arterials, drawing large numbers of commuters, and several have had sections with infamously poor pavement. All that driving rapidly wears down the roads and exacerbates existing problems with potholes.
Happily, some of the worst culprits — like the section of University Avenue by the Marina or a section of Sixth Street in southwest Berkeley — have been repaved in recent years.
Potholes aren’t only a nuisance: They can be dangerous, causing drivers to swerve unexpectedly or throwing cyclists off their bikes, leading to injuries like concussions or torn ACLs.
And rain makes the pothole problem worse. In the last decade, the number of potholes grew steadily each winter and spring until 2020, when rainfall plummeted as California entered an extreme drought.
The number of reports may have risen because road conditions deteriorated and more potholes appeared, or because people started reporting the potholes to the city more frequently.
One thing that may surprise residents: Berkeley tends to fill potholes quickly, according to city data. In January, it took city workers only a day and a half to fill each pothole; in 2022, the average duration for a pothole request to be marked as “complete” is five to six days.
It may not always feel that way, since streets in need of an overhaul can be left to deteriorate for years. It’s much easier and cheaper to fix a pothole than repair even a small section of road: They can be patched with cement for a couple hundred dollars, though problems can re-emerge.
Most pothole complaints come from hills district, West Berkeley
Pothole complaints aren’t distributed evenly throughout the city.
The largest number of pothole complaints has come from District 6 in the Berkeley Hills, which includes streets like Grizzly Peak, long stretches of which were classified as failing by a 2020 city auditor report on Berkeley streets.
Second was West Berkeley, which boasts the infamously rough-going sections of University Avenue and 6th Street, as well as roads that have been peppered with potholes year after year, like Allston Way and Addison Street.
But these numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt: The number of pothole complaints don’t neatly map onto the areas with the worst quality streets.
It may be because residents of different Berkeley neighborhoods are reporting potholes to the city at different rates. Research shows that residents in low-income areas tend to be less likely to report street conditions and use 311 services to make complaints.
In general, there are a disproportionate number of complaints about potholes in the Berkeley Hills. Though District 6 in the hills has better roads overall than most other areas in the city, it has the most pothole complaints. Its roads have an average score of 64, compared with an average score of 57 in the rest of the city, according to the 2020 street pavement report.
These trends are changing, though. In the last decade, the share of complaints coming from the hills has dropped as the number of complaints in the flats, especially West and Central Berkeley, has gone up. Last year, there were still the most pothole complaints in District 6, but by a smaller margin.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents District 6, said potholes and poor street quality remain a major problem in the hills.
Councilmember Terry Taplin, who represents parts of West and South Berkeley, said he thinks the number of complaints from the flats is growing as it becomes easier to report complaints using apps like SeeClickFix. Plus, he said, street infrastructure is increasingly being seen as a social justice issue, which could mean more complaints, too.
“For a long time, issues like [potholes] haven’t had the same kind of draw and passion given to social issues,” Taplin said. “We’re now seeing the confluence of a lot of neglect.”
Wengraf said she credits councilmember Taplin with “alerting his constituents to road conditions” and sharing resources on how to report problems to the city.
We asked Public Works Director Liam Garland to share his take on the trends, but he declined to comment for this story, saying he did not have time.
In the future, city officials are considering creating an “Equity Zone” that prioritizes repairs in parts of the city with the worst quality pavement over major arterials like University Avenue. The equity zone would cover parts of West and South Berkeley. Some have pushed back against the plan and some transit advocates say that arterials should remain a priority.
The shortlist of Berkeley’s holiest streets
No. 5: Sixth Street (145 complaints since 2010)
In 2018, Sixth Street was deemed the worst in Berkeley by a Berkeleyside survey of over 1,000 readers. The street earned a third of all votes. Since then, the stretch of Sixth between Allston Way and Dwight Way has been repaved, to the joy of drivers and cyclists throughout the city. Last year, there wasn’t a single pothole complaint about Sixth.
No. 4: Gilman Street (173 complaints)
All of the roads on the Top 5 list span the entire city, crisscrossing north to south or east to west — except Gilman Street, which has the distinction of shortest road on the list. Despite spanning just 1.5 miles from the San Francisco Bay to its end point at Hopkins Street, it has the fourth most complaints of all the streets in Berkeley and the most of any street in 2022.
Several of the most recent pothole complaints are about the Gilman interchange, which connects I-80 in a web of confusing entry and exit points almost entirely devoid of signage. The area is prone to collisions, which are much more common there than the state average. CalTrans is in the process of installing a pedestrian bike bridge and will create two roundabouts. More potholes were recently reported on Gilman between San Pablo and Peralta avenues.
No. 3: University Avenue (174 complaints)
Second on Berkeleyside’s 2018 reader survey of worst streets was University Avenue, the major thoroughfare connecting east and west Berkeley.
Before it was repaved this summer as part of an $8 million marina project, a section of University Avenue between Marina Avenue and West Frontage Road was one of the worst quality roads in the city, earning a score of 8 out of 100 on the pavement condition index report. Many potholes were reported here and west of San Pablo Avenue. Other pothole complaints on the avenue were concentrated on a section of road approaching the UC Berkeley campus.
No. 2: Cedar Street (188 complaints)
Cedar Street hasn’t earned the same kind of notoriety for poor quality pavement as others on this list, but over the years, much of the street has been peppered with potholes.
Some of the potholes occur on a stretch of Cedar Street between Sacramento Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way that has some of the worst pavement quality in the city, earning a ranking of “24” on a scale of 100. Other potholes were concentrated west of San Pablo Avenue and, over the years, there have been potholes at almost every Cedar Street intersection east of Grant Street.
No. 1: Shattuck Avenue (264 complaints)
The street with by far the most complaints turned out to be among the most frequented streets in Berkeley: Shattuck Avenue, which connects North and South Berkeley and runs through the heart of the city.
Potholes have dotted the entire avenue over the years, with many of the potholes concentrated in downtown Berkeley just south of University Avenue and between Hearst Avenue and Rose Street , a street segment classified as failing, according to the city pavement quality index report. Parts of Shattuck Avenue between Center Street and Allston Way and between Derby and Adeline streets were repaved in recent years.
How we analyzed the data
The map and chart is based on Berkeleyside’s analysis of Berkeley’s 311 complaints database. In many cases, pothole locations are recorded as street intersections, not addresses. To count the number of streets with the most pothole complaints, we double-counted each complaint recorded as an intersection. For example, if a pothole was reported at Sixth Street and Channing Way, we counted it once for each street. This skewed the results toward streets with more intersections.
There is a lot more fun to be had with street quality data. Check out a map showing pavement condition index of every street segment in the city on page 124 of the 2020 Pavement Management Update. Or, starting on page 80, a table of all the street segments in order of best to worst. And as a bonus, here’s a map showing pavement conditions broken down by district, based on data from the city auditor’s 2020 report on Berkeley streets.