Can car-free ‘Sunday Streets’ come to Berkeley?

On May 6, parts of the Mission District in San Francisco were closed to cars for that city's "Sunday Streets" program. Photo: Emunah Hauser

Thirty-six years ago, the mayor of Bogatá, Colombia had a novel idea. He wanted to close some of the city streets on Sundays to give bicycle riders, roller skaters and pedestrians a chance to enjoy the city in a different way.

The street closure was a huge hit, and over the years the concept has expanded to include 70 miles of closed streets every Sunday. About 1.5 million people take advantage of the car-free environment each week, about 20% of the population. They not only walk and bike, they dance, do yoga, and have aerobics classes

The idea, termed “Sunday Streets” or “Open Streets,” has been so popular that it has spread around the world, to cities like Kiev, Tokyo, and San Francisco. Now a group of Berkeley officials and activists want to bring the concept to Berkeley. They hope to close off a 10-to-16-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue to cars on a Sunday in October.

“It mirrors what is happening around the rest of the country,” said Mayor Tom Bates, whose office, along with that of Councilmember Jesse Arreguìn, is promoting the plan. “It creates a sense of community. It liberates you from your car. You can walk around and enjoy the businesses.”

Shutting down a large portion of the downtown for an event will cost about $30,000, according to Erin Rhoades of Livable Berkeley, one of the groups involved. The others include the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the Downtown Berkeley Association. Those funds will pay for an event organizer, promotion, police protection, barricades and other incidentals.

“It would be a really positive event for Berkeley,” said Rhoades. “To get people envisioning the downtown in a different way. It’s family friendly and a great day for merchants, too.”

To raise the funds, Livable Berkeley is holding a fundraiser Saturday May 12 in the Drinks District at Donkey & Goat Winery on Fifth Street from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Trumer Brauerei will be offering beer. And there will be live music.

“This fall, we’re planning to close the Downtown to cars on a Sunday, turning the Downtown into a paved park where people can bike, walk, jog and dance, meet up with friends and play in the street,” says the invitation.

Tickets are $10 and are available via Brown Paper Tickets.

To get breaking Berkeley news from Berkeleyside follow us on Twitter and on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel to ensure you see our latest videos.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • MFox327

    What an excellent idea, I hope it can become a regular thing.

  • Charles_Siegel

    My thanks to the groups that are working on this. 

  • guest

    Ah yes, take away the one day people can park for free and have enough time to go see a movie.  It won’t help the movie theaters.  Will it really help the merchants?

    Why not close Sacramento with its new roadwork or San Pablo?

  • joshua a

    This is a great idea. Let’s hope it goes well and becomes a regular thing. 

  • really? It costs 30,000? Don’t get my wrong I am sure that it how much it costs. It’s just amazing that shutting down a street for a day costs so much.

  • Andrew

    Interesting idea and worth a try. But I wonder where all of those people who would attend will park if they don’t walk or ride their bike there? And where will traffic be diverted – to MLK?

    Personally, I’d rather see this done further north on Shattuck in the Gourmet Ghetto, but that’s just me being selfish.

  • EricPanzer

    When Sunday Streets was first proposed along San Francisco’s Embarcadero, merchants at Fisherman’s Wharf were deeply skeptical. Now they can’t get enough of Sunday Streets.

    I predict much the same will happen in Berkeley. So let’s work to make this inaugural Sunday Streets on Shattuck hugely successful, so we can make it a recurring and frequent event!

  • The Sharkey

    I like the idea, but I wonder why they’re not considering Telegraph instead.
    Perhaps I’m wrong but shutting down Telly to traffic seems like it would be easier and less disruptive (2 lanes instead of 4) and might help a part of town that seems to be struggling more than usual right now.

    Since it wouldn’t happen until October, maybe it could coincide with installing some of those LED light strings that were being discussed in the Telegraph Ave revitalization meetings.

  • The Sharkey

    I was initially skeptical too, but everything Eric has said is completely accurate. It’s been a huge boon for local merchants in San Francisco.

  • CJ_Higley

    Hooray for Sunday Streets downtown.  Thanks to Erin and others who are making it happen!  See you at Donkey & Goat tomorrow.

  • AnthonySanchez

    People should actually go to the one in San Francisco to see firsthand how successful and fun it is! As you pointed out, it’s huge boon while getting people to take public transportation or bike. It’s a win-win.

  • Bill

    Why does it cost so much – police overtime?  Maybe the’ll be able to tell me at the Livable Berkeley fund raising event on Sunday.

  • EricPanzer

    Telegraph already has multiple days where it is closed to traffic for various festivals and crafts fairs, Solano Avenue has the Solano Stroll, and Gourmet Ghetto has the Spice of Life Festival; but Downtown Berkeley doesn’t have anything remotely like these events. Having Sunday Streets on Shattuck Avenue will help bring that same energy to Downtown Berkeley and will put the emphasis on area merchants and the community, rather than on vendors.

    Nevertheless, I would love to see this event expanded to also encompass Telegraph in the future. San Francisco’s Sunday Streets routes stretch for very long distances indeed. It’s utterly pie in the sky, but it would be nothing short of phenomenal if we could create a Sunday Streets event that ran the full length of San Pablo, Telegraph, and Shattuck, with connections on University Avenue and Bancroft. Hey, a person can dream, right?

  • LMM1

    Correction:  Bogotá, Colombia  

  • jjohannson

    As it stands, you can’t park on the street long enough to see a movie anyway.  I’m sure the folks at the Elmwood theater are watching longingly…

  • Charles_Siegel

     Eric: That is a great idea for the future.  As a step in that direction, I hope that, after it succeeds on Shattuck this year, it can expand to Shattuck and Telegraph with Bancroft as a connection next year.

    If you are bicycling, it is very easy to go from Shattuck to Telegraph and back.

  • Daniel M

     The best idea is not to drive to a place to experience a car-free event! Even if you have to drive to Ashby or North Berkeley BART you will be spared the torture of circling endlessly for a parking space.

  • Daniel M

    To everyone who is suggesting that the event would be better if it took place in a different location, keep in mind the the Sunday Streets program in San Francisco happens multiple times throughout the year in a variety of different neighborhoods.

    If we turn out and help this to be a success, it will hopefully become the first of many, with future iterations in the neighborhoods you all are suggesting.

  • Bryan Garcia

    Colombia (the country) is spelled with two o’s, not an o and a u.

  • Mike Farrell

    There is plenty of parking in Downtown in lots and garages, especially on Sunday. However it’s not free.
    How very un-Berkeley.

  • Guest

    I have friends who have lived in Bogota for decades.  Bogota has a lot of cars but the country has few roads on which the cars can drive.  Drivers are limited by their license plate number as to which days of the week they can drive within the city.  As I previously wrote, COLUMBIA DOES NOT HAVE ROADS ON  WHICH PEOPLE CAN DRIVE.  If you want to be like Columbia, great.  But I certainly do not.  There are many people within Berkeley who REQUIRE cars for transportation for any number of reasons.

  • Ashleywarrenboyd


  • Berkeleyfarm

    Except on Sunday. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    If we have Sunday Streets, that obviously means we will become like Bogota in every way.   I am sure that they are also going to force everyone to speak Spanish instead of English.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    This sounds like a great idea.  Although I would like it even better if they allowed x traffic through via Dwight so I could still get to church in the morning without a major detour ;)  

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I would suspect hourly staff time or OT to do the barricades and signage is most of that. 

  • Thanks Bryan. Fixed.

  • Thanks LMM1. Fixed.

  • Daniel M

     The Sunday Streets I attended in San Francisco allowed cross traffic.

  • Susan

    Costs include: Traffic safety personnel- police or parking & traffic staff, equipment rental (porta potties, barricades, etc.), insurance, organizer salary/stipend/contract, marketing & outreach, volunteer coordination and equipment (t-shirts, safety vests, food). It adds up quick.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     Cars will be allowed to pass through some major thoroughfares under the plan/

  • Yay!

  • They do this in Rio de Janeiro, it was great with people walking, rollerblading…

    I’d love to see this happen, but like some others, I have a strong gut reaction to the $30K price tag. Who are they paying to do the closure, the CEO’s of JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway?

  • Islain

    One reason why doing this in Berkeley is different from doing it in SF is because of the number of side streets which are already arbitrarily blocked off to thru traffic.
    There are only a few streets in the city which allow you to travel fully across town. Closing one of them creates a not insignificant traffic issue. Especially when the one you’re closing is the main route for buses to BART & the AC hub. If Shattuck were to remain open while surrounding side streets were closed, (So centering the closure on Milvia) that would be a less disruptive choice.
    In our excitement to encourage biking and walking, it’s important to remember that not everyone in our community is able bodied enough for those options.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Thank you, Frances and Daniel.  Much appreciated. 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    See above – security staff, barricades, porta-potties, insurance.  Lots of things that add up. 

  • I saw those comments explaining the $30K price tag before I posted my last comment. 

    The more I think about it, the more I believe the price tag is high because this is being over-engineered into festival event.

    If it had cost this much in Bogota Colombia, they would not have expanded it to encompass 70 miles of streets every Sunday because the city would be bankrupt.

  • Bill

    You could center the closure on Milvia from University through Bancroft and from King through Shattuck, but you could also cut off Shattuck from Center to Bancroft or even University to Bancroft and traffic could still circulate using Oxford and Milvia.  That said I await the opinion of the traffic engineers at AC transit and the city.

  • Guest

    What a wonderful idea! I’ll be there.

  • Guest

    Can you get AC Transit to have more frequent service on Sundays? There are a lot of older folks in the hills who might want to join the fun, who could walk down but need assistance going back up?  Maybe a shuttle up Euclid  to Grizzly Peak a couple of times during the day to supplement ACTransit?  

  • lives in Berkeley

    Uh..yeah!  Lets kill off whatever local merchants have managed to survive the credit crisis, the poor economy, occupy, and everything else.  And while we are at it, frustrate drivers during the one relatively peaceful days of the week when the roads aren’t entirely clogged.  dumb.  dumb.  dumb.  ah Berkeley you are a moth to a flame.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Milvia is a bicycle boulevard and should not be overrun by cars.

  • poohbear

    The naysayers who complain about a little bit of possible inconvenience should really have their brains reprogrammed.   There is very little crosstown traffic in Berkeley on a Sunday, and anyone who has been to the SF events can testify that they are a great success and no big inconvenience to those whose important lives require them to be driving.  So lets enjoy life a little!

  • baklazhan

     We live in a country where when an incompetent driver drives through a crowd and kills ten people, the city gets sued for millions, and loses. The driver gets probation.

    In that sort of environment, of course it’s going to be over-engineered.

  • Great answer!

  • Disgusted

    Great idea, half of the streets are already blocked with traffic “calming” measures, and now you want to close a major thoroughfare.  Berkeley hates cars, and always will.
    Don’t worry about the $30k cost though, with the several hundred dollars you are fined for parking in a metered space on Football game days it will be paid off in no time.
    I’m always amazed that lefty Berkeley has a parking Nazi police state.  Enjoy the gridlock.