Berkeley Transportation Commission Considers Changes to Protected Intersection

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 7:00pm North Berkeley Senior Center

Neighbors are upset with changes to the intersection in North Berkeley at The Alameda and Hopkins Street. While staff continues to make improvements to the new protected intersection there, some neighbors want it removed, others feel it can be a safety improvement with additional features. The Transportation Commission makes a recommendation to council tonight. 

Residents are concerned because the protected intersection forces cars to slow down and drivers to pay attention and not run into the new raised corner islands. But because drivers are hitting the islands, pedestrians don’t feel safe. Most of these concerns are readily addressed with additional safety improvements and aesthetic changes, but the fate of the country’s 11th protected intersection is in the balance. If you like the new protected intersection, please let City Councilmember Sophie Hahn know.

Check here for the full agenda

Our blog on the new protected intersection

Bike East Bay’s Letter arguing for the Protected Intersection

April 12, 2017
Councilmember Sophie Hahn
Berkeley City Council, District 5
Phil Harrington, Director
Public Works Department
City of Berkeley
Re:    Recommendations for Protected Intersection at Hopkins & The Alameda
Dear Councilmember Hahn and Director Harrington,
As you know, Bike East Bay has been involved in the community process and reaction to the new protected intersection at Hopkins Street and The Alameda. While this project is not, per se, a bike facility, and is not included in the update to the City’s Bicycle Plan going to Council for approval on May 2, it has bike lanes, it is fed by bike lanes, and both streets are bikeways on Berkeley’s bicycle network. This, we have a strong interest in helping. Bike East Bay has also spoken with both of you about this project as well as with many neighbors and people who bicycle, and we have been asked to weigh in with our recommendations for next steps to take in regard to this project. Please consider this letter to be our recommendations.
You may have read our blog about this project, posted last Summer and updated December 17, 2016 on our website here.  Our interest and excitement about the project stems from our desire to learn more about protected intersections and how they operate to improve walking and bicycling, especially since this protected intersection is the first one in the East Bay. Additionally, there are five more protected intersections under design in the East Bay. Three issues are of primary interest to us, and we would like to see them studied and have Berkeley learn from its first protected intersection:
Are right-turning cars yielding properly to pedestrians and bicyclists moving through the bike crossings and crosswalks? Are pedestrians safer, and do they feel safer, in the crosswalks where the corner islands create a protected intersection and encourage cars to travel slower when making turning movements, as opposed to before the project, when cars made sweeping and higher-speed turning movements?
Because so many children use this intersection to go to both the North Branch Library, to King Middle School and nearby park, how are their experiences affected, and do parents feel more comfortable letting their children use the intersection on their own?
With the protected intersection on the ground and in use, Berkeley has an invaluable opportunity to gather this information and data about protected intersections and how they operate. In our opinion, Berkeley has a responsibility to gather this data before removing or scaling back the project due to public reaction, with the exception being any necessary safety improvements. Both Portland State University and the University of North Carolina are currently studying protected intersections in North America in order to better inform national design guidelines and best practices for protected intersections, and Berkeley should be a part of this learning process. Berkeley regularly uses national design guides to develop streetscape improvement projects.
We would also like to see the bike lane approaches on The Alameda and Hopkins Street upgraded, at some point, to protected bike lanes, as residents requested in the Berkeley Bicycle Plan. This would improve operation and safety for cyclists, particularly children. Both streets are plenty wide for protected bike lanes on the approach, and these protected lanes could be implemented with little political pushback except for perhaps Hopkins Street to the west, which will require community planning to find the right bikeway project. In addition, converting the existing regular bike lanes to protected bike lanes would add on-street parking to the area, a rare benefit of a bikeway upgrade.
On the issue of safety, we are happy with the improvements that have already been made to the intersection post construction to improve traffic flow and raise visibility of various aspects of the project. However, we feel that one additional improvement is needed: adding green paint to the bike crossings in the intersection and adjusting the design of the northbound bike lane approach on The Alameda to get the bike lane out of the gutter area. We have shared these suggestions with Public Works’ Transportation Division and they are currently under consideration.
Regarding cars hitting the raised islands and consequently scuffing them, we believe this to be a non-issue. If everything on our roadways with scuff marks were removed because cars continually hit them, our roads would look vastly different and would not even meet State and Federal legal requirements. The pedestrian refuge islands on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley have scuff marks on them, but the surrounding neighborhood fought hard to keep their raised islands when Berkeley considered extending bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue many years ago. Center medians on San Pablo Avenue have scuff marks too, but the medians there with mature trees are considered a neighborhood asset. There are numerous other examples of neighborhoods pushing to keep their scuffed medians across the Bay Area.
On the issue of perceptions, we know that many people do not like the new protected intersection for a variety of reasons. But anecdotally, the people we have spoken with mistake this facility for a bike project and not the pedestrian safety project that it actually is. When informed that the project’s goal is to slow cars and get kids safely across the street, many people change their opinions. We believe public understanding of the project to be vastly different from its actual functions. We say this to underscore the need to let residents get used to changes before making any important decisions about how to move forward. It took over a year for residents to get used to the bike crossing at Channing Way and MLK Jr Way, near Berkeley High School when it was first implemented. These improvements take time.
Our recommendation is to study this intersection and gather data on the points mentioned above while allowing the community time to better understand and get used to the project. Additionally, we feel that aesthetic improvements should be made immediately. Add planter boxes to the raised concrete islands and paint the corner areas a rose color (including the islands) to match the sidewalks in front of the Library. These two improvements will go a long way to gaining public acceptance and understanding of the project.
We are here to help on this project and all others going forward in order to build out a comfortable, low-stress bikeway network in Berkeley. We  will also be at the April 20 Transportation Commission meeting to speak on behalf of this project and answer any questions.
Cordially yours,
Dave Campbell
Advocacy Director
Bike East Bay
Cc:    Farid Javandel, Transportation Division Manager
Public Works Department
City of Berkeley