If you’ve driven past Aquatic Park lately, you’ve likely noticed a massive new office development along the water. It’s one of several large construction projects underway in West Berkeley. Despite the resulting spike in commuters these developments will surely bring, the city has yet to take action to address the severe traffic impacts these changes will have on residents.
The Berkeley City Council must prioritize traffic-calming measures in its historically redlined and under-resourced neighborhoods, like West Berkeley, in its current deliberations over next year’s budget. These communities have seen critical projects stalled in recent years due to understaffing at the city Transportation Division and an undue focus of limited resources on a single street in one of the wealthiest parts of town. Berkeley’s District 2 Councilman Terry Taplin was spot on when he said this reflected a “pattern of unequal and inequitable resource distribution.”
One stalled project that West Berkeley residents have been demanding for the past year is a flashing pedestrian beacon at the busy Sixth and Addison crosswalk. It’s a popular entry point for cyclists and pedestrians for the Berkeley Marina, Aquatic Park and Fourth Street Shopping, among others. Even before several developments, including the Berkeley Commons, bring thousands of new employees into the neighborhood daily, West Berkeley’s Sixth Street corridor has been dangerous. The Sixth Street and University Avenue intersection, near the Sixth and Addison crosswalk, had the sixth-highest collisions in 2022, with 10 total collisions and five people injured, according to Berkeley Police Department data (p. 10).
The city’s own stated priorities make the Sixth and Addison crosswalk an ideal candidate for traffic improvements. Berkeley’s Vision Zero Action Plan designates Sixth and Addison as “streets with the most severe injuries and fatalities” between 2008 and 2018. It includes the intersection within its “Equity Priority Area (p. 13).” Yet West Berkeley neighbors have struggled to get any response from the city to their request.
The city’s non-responsiveness is even more disappointing when considering that it is leaving committed private-developer funding on the table. Steelwave, the developer of a major project on Fifth Street called “The Lab,” agreed to fund a pedestrian beacon for the uncontrolled Sixth and Addison crosswalk to get its project approved. Steelwave has requested an invoice from the city to install the beacon, but the city has failed to accept the funds.
Responding to this neighborhood outcry, Councilmember Taplin submitted a budget referral to the City Council last month requesting additional funds for the Sixth and Addison crosswalk to complement the funds already committed from Steelwave. While the budget referral passed the full council vote, there is no guarantee that those funds will make it into the final budget for the coming year. And even if those funds are allocated, understaffing and dysfunction at the Transportation Division may still lead to long delays in the project.
Hopefully, it will not take another pedestrian getting hit by a car on one of these streets to motivate the city to take decisive action, as it did recently when it only turned on a new traffic signal at San Pablo Avenue and Virginia Street – that had sat inactive for months – after two pedestrians were hit by drivers and injured. Traffic safety affects all of us and must be a top priority in next year’s budget, especially for historically underserved neighborhoods like West Berkeley that have to absorb a disproportionate share of the negative impacts of major development projects that benefit the entire city.
Eric Wiesner is a labor union attorney; Sharla Sullivan is a partnerships manager at a construction company; Nathan Hood is a public finance professional; Hans Moore is a government attorney in Oakland who previously served on the Police Review Commission representing District 2. All four reside in West Berkeley with their families.