By Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director
A version of this article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Bike East Bay’s RideOn magazine, one of many benefits of membership. Join or renew your membership today.
Berkeley is connecting the dots for people bicycling. With two new protected bike lanes near completion on Bancroft Way and Hearst Avenue this fall, and five additional protected bike lanes in the works, a safe and family-friendly bicycling network will soon link downtown with UC Berkeley campus neighborhoods. Bike East Bay is pushing for our East Bay cities to prioritize protected bike lanes, and Berkeley is leading the way by adopting protected bike lane networks as the gold standard for people-friendly streets.
Members like you are key to building streets that dedicate space for bicycling. Here is a look at how your support for grassroots action and persistent advocacy laid the groundwork for Berkeley’s protected bike lane boom.
Hearst Avenue: From Pop-Up to Reality
Thousands of people walk, bike, and take transit on Hearst Avenue every day to get to the north side of campus or connect to downtown Berkeley. Lack of bike lanes, heavy bus traffic, and a steep uphill stretch made this street intimidating for people bicycling. When the City of Berkeley won a regional grant in 2015 to rebuild Hearst Avenue, Bike East Bay saw an opportunity to upgrade this important campus connection.
With a large grant in hand, we knew the city could deliver a world-class project for Berkeley bicyclists. While early designs called for business-as-usual bike lanes, Bike East Bay challenged the city’s public works department to upgrade the design to physically protected bike lanes. The city responded that the street was too narrow and too much parking would have to be removed. Undeterred, we measured the street and redesigned the parking ourselves to show it could work.
After months of back and forth, the City of Berkeley finally agreed to install protected bike lanes…but stopped one block short of completing the bikeway to Shattuck Avenue, the main street through downtown Berkeley. At this point, Bike East Bay put our grassroots power into action. We asked members and volunteers to help “pop-up” a demonstration protected bike lane at Berkeley Sunday Streets in October 2015. By building the temporary protected bike lane on the very block in question, we showed residents and decision-makers it made sense to fully connect Hearst Avenue to downtown.
The pop-up was a success! After gathering petition signatures in support from most of the neighbors on the block, we convinced the city to complete the bikeway from Euclid Avenue all the way to Shattuck Avenue. We expect construction to be completed on this five-block protected bike lane in fall 2017.
Partnering with AC Transit on Bancroft Way
Meanwhile, on the south side of campus, changes were long overdue for Bancroft Way. Over 10,000 people a day depend on buses that travel in the southside neighborhood of UC Berkeley, but loading and congestion made service unreliable. People were forced to dash across three lanes of traffic or play hopscotch with buses and cars on a street with no bike lanes. With campus-goers shifting away from driving, Bike East Bay partnered with AC Transit to redesign Bancroft way to prioritize safety and dedicate space for people who walk, bike, and take transit.
Nearing completion this fall, the new Bancroft Way features shorter crosswalks, a two-way protected bike lane, dedicated bus lanes, and overlapping benefits for everybody using the street. Neighbors and campus-goers now only have to cross two — rather than three — lanes of traffic to visit local businesses and university facilities. People taking the bus will have faster and more reliable bus service. The dedicated bus lane will also reduce leapfrogging — and potential collisions — with car drivers and bicyclists.
As bicyclists, two-way protected bike lanes enable you to bike uphill on Bancroft Way (the street remains one-way for drivers). Bancroft’s protected bike lanes connect Dana Street with Fulton Street, making these the first connected protected bike lanes in the East Bay.
“More people are riding to campus every year,” said UC Berkeley’s transportation planner Todd Henry. “This new protected bike lane will get you there safely and give your friends the confidence to try biking as well.”
Graphic by Fidel Alfredo Leon Diaz, Bancroft Way intern
Connecting the Network
Hearst Avenue and Bancroft Way are just the beginning. We envision a network of protected bike lanes around campus and downtown Berkeley, which can be achieved through extending existing bikeways and adding north-south connections. And we’re pushing the City of Berkeley to do it in the next three years. See our plans for growing the downtown network on the map above.
It is an ambitious plan and Bike East Bay members laid the groundwork to make it possible. In 2014, you got out the vote for Measure BB, which will fund much of the street repaving associated with these projects. In 2017, you came together to develop a strong Berkeley Bike Plan. Your voices defended and passed an innovative bike plan that — by specifying a network of 20 protected bike lanes — sets a high bar for the city and a powerful example for the rest of the East Bay. Thank you for your support. Bike East Bay will continue to hold the city accountable to this visionary plan for years to come.