Berkeley’s rocky relationship between paving and bikes

Cyclists crossing Sacramento near the North Berkeley BART station. Photo: Nancy Rubin

When Israeli neuroscientist Shlomo Bentin died after a bicycle accident last Friday, many of the commenters on Berkeleyside were convinced they knew the culprit: the poor state of the pavement on Bancroft Way. “The pavement quality going down Bancroft is in absolutely atrocious condition,” wrote one commenter. “The reason this could have a bearing on this accident is that cyclists often must deviate from an ideal line in order to avoid htting a huge crater, pothole or logitudinal fissure thereby forcing them to swerve more into the line of traffic.”

Berkeley police are still investigating the accident, and there is no way yet to know whether the pavement is at issue. But cycling advocates and transport experts agree that pavement quality is a factor in both bike safety and bike use.

“The condition of the roadway plays a significant role,” said Dave Campbell, program director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “If you hit a pothole on a bicycle you can go down, and lots of terrible things can happen when you go down.” 

“For bikes, there’s a greater sensitivity to the pavement condition, in terms of the ability to ride smoothly and maintain control,” said Farid Javandel, manager of the city’s transportation division. “Years ago I hit a pothole on my bike and got two flat tires. In a car, I would have been momentarily bounced a bit.”

Both Campbell and Javandel point to the recent repaving of Milvia Street, one of Berkeley’s Bicycle Boulevards, of an example of how important improvements can be.

“It was horrible, horrible, horrible,” Campbell said. He said he’s noticed more bicycle traffic on Milvia since the repaving.

Javandel said the city’s engineering department, which does the street improvement work, does what it can with the available funds. It prioritizes heavily trafficked streets, and streets where the money spent on maintenance can be most effective. “In addition to the streets that carry high volumes of cars, we want to maintain the streets that carry high volumes of bikes,” he said. “We encourage the engineering division to try to get to those as soon as we can.”

Bike lanes and bike boulevards are part of Berkeley’s bike-friendly strategy. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The problems of Berkeley’s pavements was the focus of a City Council worksession last November. City Auditor Anne-Marie Hogan at that worksession made clear that improving the city’s pavements was an urgent task: “If we can’t afford to fix the streets now,” Hogan told the City Council then, “our children and grandchildren are definitely not going to be able to afford to fix the streets.”

Hogan’s data showed that the average pavement condition index (PCI) in Berkeley is 58, which is “at risk”. But poor pavements, with a PCI of 25-49, make up a quarter of Berkeley’s streets, and failed pavements, with a PCI of 0 to 24, are just over 12%.

Since that worksession, the City Council has debated street paving on a number of occasions. In May, Councilmember Kriss Worthington mocked Mayor Tom Bates for leading a “pothole city council” because of his focus on the issue to the exclusion, in Worthington’s view, of other issues. Bates disagreed: “What seems to me the overriding problem of this city is the streets and the state of our water systems.”

The council’s decision to place a $30 million streets and watershed improvement bond on the November ballot was driven by these concerns.

The biggest impact, however, on Berkeley’s pavements — and particularly for cyclists on the pavements — may result from the Alameda County Transportation Expenditure Plan, on the ballot this November as Measure B. The $8 billion plan specifically allocates $220 million to Berkeley over the next 30 years for streets. Measure B also devotes 8.4% of its funds to measures aimed at bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Measure B sets a minimum for cycling-related expenditures, and I think that’s definitely a step that my division is happy to see,” Javandel said. “It reflects what we’ve been trying to do in Berkeley.”

EBBC’s Campbell said Berkeley already does a good job for cyclists, but believes improved paving will encourage more people to get on their bikes.

“People who dont ride feel the streets are unsafe,” he said. “But as more people bicycle there’s safety in numbers. The best thing we can do for bike safety is get more people riding. Berkeley is one of the safer cities to bike in precisely because there are more cyclists on the road.”

Neuroscientist Shlomo Bentin killed in bike accident [07.16.12]
Cyclist killed in accident involving a dump truck [07.13.12]
Berkeley Council approves pools measure, debates streets [06.27.12]

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  • BerkeleyCitizen

    The bicyclist who died was wearing a helmet.

  • PMM

    Heartfelt regrets to the family of the fallen cyclist, whatever the cause.

    However, since the topic has been so eloquently raised here:

    Gross overpayment of City-hired or -mandated contractors is, in my experience, a “below the radar” issue that I am very happy to see being addressed here.

    As any Berkeley homeowner who has attempted a “major addition” can attest, there are many City-mandated hoops to jump through which require employment of private firms who charge many times more than the market requires. 

    My least favorite example: paying in excess of $150/hr. for some moonlighting construction employee to literally watch epoxy dry on 3 threaded rods retrofitted into my existing foundation as part of the overall earthquake safety scheme.   I had to employ the City-authorized firm —  couldn’t shop it elsewhere — and paid over $450 for a guy who stood on my driveway near the rods with a clipboard for only a fraction of the “3 hour minimum” for before taking off.  When I got his “engineer” boss on the phone to enquire re such a transparent, City-sanctioned rip-off, he wasted no time and hung up on me.  Of course, if I didn’t pay him, my remodel would be held up due to lack of his precious certificate.  When I asked the City employee in charge of the list of contractors, they pass you back to the contractor. 

    This is just one example of hundreds of these sort of consumer rip-offs that are facilitated and/or ignored by the City’s leadership.   Heads up on mandatory sewer inspections and any sidewalk replacements. 

    I hope that Berkeleyside’s intelligent and informed readership, and (someday) our City’s leadership, will work to stop the consistant gouging of Berkeley residents by City-mandated private companies.  It is costly and induces cynicism.   I’d ask that my councilperson, Kriss Worthington, make it a priority to collect and investigate all such “City list” schemes.  Fair pricing for Berkeley’s hard-working residents.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Re: the picture, California Vehicle Code specifically states that only Pedestrians have the right of way in a cross walk.  If you are a bicyclist who is RIDING your bike, you are obligated to follow the rules of the road, just as a motor vehicle, and wait until it is safe and clear for you to cross the road.  If you want the right of way in the crosswalk, WALK your bike.  As a bicyclist, I wish more bikers understood this instead of getting all righteous when cars won’t stop for you while you are riding.  Get off the dang thing and you’ll be fine.

  • Mbfarrel

    Take your elderly mum out for a walk with bicycles whizzing all over the sidewalk and get back to me.

  • Gimpytroll

     But then they’ll have one less thing to be self-righteous about.

  • Prinzrob

    Even with more bikeways and better pavement in Berkeley’s future, the best way to quickly increase one’s safety is to be aware, visible and predictable while biking. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition continues to offer free adult, family, and youth safety classes in Berkeley and all over the East Bay, so to sign up for one or request a class for your school, business, or community group check out our calendar online at:

  • Prinzrob

    Thanks for the plug, and I’ll add that adults need the education just as much as kids do, so feel free to sign up for one of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s free adult, family, or youth bike safety classes or request a free class for your school, business, or community group online at:

  • Charles_Siegel

     “Get off the dang thing and you’ll be fine.”

    You will be fine de jure, but not de facto. 

    You may be shocked to hear that drivers sometimes violate the law that gives pedestrians the right of way. 

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Point taken. I’ve been hit and doored, so I didn’t mean to be cavalier.

  • Prinzrob

    @yahoo-UTAORC2LANQF2ONEFJYXBSITTA:disqus I love Berkeley’s bike boulevards, except for all the stop signs and where they intersect arterial streets, as cyclists are left waiting for traffic to clear just to find a small gap where they can cross without getting run over. If we want more cyclists to ride on bike boulevards we have to make them just as efficient as the arterials, as people driving bikes have places they need to be, just like people riding in cars.

    Beyond that, most of the destinations people need to go to are on arterials and not on bike boulevards, so we need to design ALL of our streets to accomodate cyclists safely, and to encourage everyone to operate their vehicles within the law.

  • Tzedek

    Vladisav Davidzon,

    Bicycles are specified to be vehicles in California.  

    Sidewalks are specifically for use by pedestrians ONLY everywhere in California.   

    Read California Driver’s Handbook, available for free at any DMV office or on line: 

    Therefore, state and federal courts have consistently held that anyone riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is knowingly violating California law.

    Therefore, settlements by towns and cities in California, when there has been injury or death, have been substantial.

    And, to me, it seems self-important bicyclists who ride on sidewalks are, well, really full of themselves and their own self-importance without appropriate regard for welfare of the greater community.

    (Mr Davidzon, information about settlements made by any number of cities when
    bicyclists have hit pedestrians walking on sidewalks or crossing streets legally are available, you just
    have to know where to look.  If you’d like to pay my consulting rate, I can provide very specific data including data of settlements paid by Berkeley to injured pedestrians.  Researching and maintaining databases of this type of data has provided my income, … )

  • Charles_Siegel

     It does not sound plausible that the city has to pay if a bicyclist acts illegally and injures someone.

    That is like the city paying the damages if someone robs me or murders me.

    I can imagine that cities made settlements rather than spending money to fight the lawsuit.  I cannot imagine that the plaintiff would have won if the city had fought the lawsuit.

  • Tzedek

    What is often argued is that a city or town had not enforced California law, and is, therefore, negligent and liable.

    Cost of litigation is high.   Assurances of defense is iffy.

    If, for example only, Vladisav Davidzon mows down a young father walking on a sidewalk who has a stay-at-home wife and three kids.   Mr Davidzon has very pointedly and unpleasantly made clear to Berkeley and the general public that he specifically chooses to violate California law by riding on sidewalks and, unless Berkeley does something specifically to stop Mr Davidzon from riding on sidewalks in Berkeley, Berkeley may be negligent.  If, for example only, Mr Davidzon were to so injure this innocent pedestrian who had, until this injury, a long and productive life ahead of him:   this young father with a wonderful family has now been rendered without an income.   We hope (in our example) Mr Davidzon would be held to be responsible, but what if Mr Davidzon rides away, nameless leaving this young father injured and bleeding, and Mr Davidzon cannot be identified as the individual responsible for these devastating injuries?   In these cases, cities pay for these devastating losses.

    As to robbery and/or murder:  well, cities often settle those cases, too.

  • Prinzrob

    Or it is possible that the driver waved them through to take the photo. Happens to me all the time at that intersection, although I still make sure all lanes are either clear or yielding before I cross.

  • Tzedek

    Thank you, Berkeley Citizen !

    When a bicyclist is approaching an intersection, there is no way for a pedestrian or a motorist to know if this particular rider will obey the law or not:  to stop at a stop sign, for example.    If more bicyclists knew and obeyed “the rules of the road,” there would be less ambiguity and fewer accidents !

  • Charles_Siegel

     Note the self-contradiction in your theory:

    “Mr Davidzon has very pointedly and unpleasantly made clear to Berkeley
    and the general public that he specifically chooses to violate
    California law by riding on sidewalk”

    “what if Mr Davidzon rides away, nameless leaving this young father
    injured and bleeding, and Mr Davidzon cannot be identified as the
    individual responsible for these devastating injuries?   In these cases,
    cities pay for these devastating losses.”

    Your theory depends on the accident being caused by a bicyclist who has stated that he disobeys the law.  Your theory also depends on our not knowing who was the bicyclist who caused the accident.

  • Mbfarrel

    Both cyclists (Often turning right) roll through the limit line. Cars usually stop, but who knows?

    They certainly take up more of one’s attention than if they stop as the VC requires. While they’re taking your attention something more important may be happening, but you may not recognize it until…
    BTW did you know that Berkeley requires vehicles to stop before entering the right-of way?
    That means before crossing the sidewalk.

  • Mbfarrel

    Bad punctuation, bad, bad punctuation.
    > line; cars

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

     Please see – it appears that the law was changed under the previous Governor specifically to address the issues you raise. 

  • 4Eenie

    While I was walking across Adeline last night around 6:00 PM, the cars to the left of me stopped to let me cross. The cars on the right stopped to let me pass. Even the bus stopped to let me pass. A man on a bike, however, missed me by about a foot and didn’t even slow down. There was no way he did not see me and my two dogs. He clearly didn’t understand or care to follow the rules of the road.

    On the other hand, crossing Adeline during any kind of rush hour is a scary experience, an experience I deal with at least twice a day. The cars are often too busy to stop or they skirt around the polite cars who stop for the peds xing, so I am never confident that I can cross the street safely. I always make eye contact with the drivers and wait until I’m given clearance. I can wait to cross the street.

    And on the other other hand, I also don’t “demand” my right to cross, as I see so many other pedestrians do. Some peds walk out in the middle of traffic like they own the street and get absolutely indignant when a car doesn’t stop on a dime for them.

    Common sense and respect, people! Cars, bikes, AND peds!

  • bfish

    Completely agree. I ride westbound on Russell, and because it is somewhat uphill, I don’t mind the very large number of stop signs, but the crossings at Sacramento, Adeline, Shattuck, etc are very dangerous.
    Traveling eastbound, I head over to Alcatraz, where I only have to stop a few times, and I have traffic signals to make things safer at the big street crossings.

  • bfish

    Sorry – eastbound is uphill and westbound is downhill. Sigh.

  • Guest

     Is Bancroft in worse condition than Market in SF?

  • MarinAveUser

    Not a day goes by in my daily driving around Berkeley where fail to I see a cyclist ignoring basic rules of the road, such as stopping at a stop sign, or yielding to a pedestrian at a clearly marked crosswalk. 

    I see young and old, male and female, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, Christian, Mormon, and Jewish and Pagan, Vegan and meat eater, millennial, slackers and boomer cyclists completely thumb their noses at cars, drivers, pedestrians, AC buses, regular, and TransBay, and anyone who interferes with their “momentum.” 

    Not ALL cyclists are bad, some DO obey the rules. However, blaming the condition of the road for a specific fatal accident is premature. If the city is found to have been at fault, they they will be liable. If not, the road surface will stay the same, until there is money to fix it.

    Now about how that money that was going to go for buying an armored car…Wait… different budgets… I see… Well then lets declare our potholes a danger to the security of our nation… Report a pot hole to Homeland Security!!! See… Problem fixed. Right?


  • Tzedek

    Hhhmmmm   …

    Actually, I proposed two hypothetic accidents:

    In one hypothetic accident, a cyclist known to be a proud scoff-law (who might or might-not take responsibility for hitting a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk).

    In the other hypothetic accident, an unknown cyclist rides away after hitting a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

    Either hypothetic accident leaves the innocent hypothetic pedestrian unable to work to support his hypothetic family all because a self-important cyclist scoffed clear and simple civil conduct and violated California law.  

    Certainly, we’re all for making roads safer for cyclists, but some cyclists behave as though they have “rights” that put all others at risk:   pedestrians, other cyclists, and motorists, all of us.   The arrogance of some self-important cyclists will continue to injure and kill innocents.  

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Because you always stop very completely at each and every stop sign and never go even 1 mile over the speed limit while driving – and you certainly have never ever gotten a parking ticket either? :o)  

  • Guest

    “until there is money to fix it”  There’s plenty of money to fix it and all of the roads in Berkeley over time if you don’t piss away $250,000 on single pensions, especially when that lifetime pension is HIGHER than the salary the former city manager ever earned in one year. 

    Multiply this type of corruption/payola across thousands (tens of thousands?) of current and former city employees and there will never be enough money to fill any pot holes, repave streets, operate swimming pools or maintain sewer lines or park facilities.

    The citizens of Berkeley are being both hoodwinked and robbed by their city officials who do not represent the tax payers of Berkeley, but only the city’s employees for whom they actually work (they have been bought and sold).

  • Gimpytroll

    What makes you think I even own a car?

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Because you have never broken any law, whatsoever, right? :)

  • Charles_Siegel

     I was talking about your theory that “a city or town had not enforced California law, and is, therefore, negligent and liable” for damage done by a bicyclist.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Not a day goes by when I fail to see a driver violating the speed limit law.

    Occasionally, a day goes by when I fail to see a driver talking on a cell phone – but I did see one today.

    Of course, the difference is that a driver who breaks the law is much more likely than a bicyclist who breaks the law to kill or seriously injure someone else.

  • Mbfarrel

    If that’s the case wait until some auto goes up on the median in front of the Cheeseboard.

  • Guest

    As an avid cyclist in Berkeley (and beyond), I do NOT advocate that adults or teenagers ride their bikes on sidewalks.  Aside from being illegal and inconsiderate of pedestrians (and sometimes dangerous to them), it’s generally hazardous to  bike riders in particular. 

    On very rare occasions, I have briefly jumped up on a sidewalk on my bike, when I was trapped at a busy congested light with cars turning in front of me.  I have never endangered any pedestrians and I only access the sidewalk as a brief, emergency escape route before returning quickly to the road once that AC Transit bus belching diesel smoke which apparently never saw me and was about to crush me has disappeared up the road.

    Like our crumbling roads, many sidewalks in Berkeley are badly buckled by tree roots (enough to send you over the bars if you hit these cracks at too much speed or the wrong angle), are pitted with pot holes too and are often partially blocked or narrowed by overgrowth or folliage or branches from yards or can be extremely slick (especially in wet weather) with leaves piled up on a corner (not uncommon in Berkeley) — all of  which can be a hazard for a passing cyclist. 

    As bad as many streets are in Berkeley for cyclists, the sidewalks on the whole are worse and, unlike roads, are usually too narrow to navigate away from spot hazards.  As infrequently as aging roads in Berkeley seem to get resurfaced or even patched, sidewalks get even less attention since many residential sidewalks are the financial responsibility of the adjacent property owner and, with all of the city mandated permitting fees, makes an expensive project that much more expensive and out of reach to all but the Mitchel Kapor type robber barons.

  • Gimpytroll

     What does that have to do with your idiotic ranting and admission to ignoring traffic laws?

    Making emoticons after your strawman arguments just underlines your lack of intelligence.

  • Ji Monay

    Biking is a life style choice which is inherently dangerous on busy city streets. I see several ‘near accidents’ every time I drive, and those driving (and riding) remain completely oblivious, until they actually do crash – into each other, a biker or a jaywalker.

  • Tzedek

    According to “Vladislav_Davidzon:”

    –    All elected government officials are “corrupt”
    –    All City of Berkley employees are over paid
    –    Everyone cheats in every part of their lives

    So, “Vladislav_Davidzon” writes, whatever “Vladislav_Davidzon” does that is illegal, causes danger or injury to others, disrupts civil community, disrupts civil discourse, whatever “Vladislav_Davidzon” chooses to do, is just fine because everyone else cheats and everyone else is corrupt.  

    Did we understand what “Vladislav_Davidzon” has written correctly?

  • sky

    OK. Yes. But, it needs to happen. Will we cut off our nose to spite our face by not getting it done?

  • sky

    Yes they do.

  • sky

    Oh yawn. 
    Berkeley is chock full of anti-fun fuddy duddies.

  • sky

    wow, personal attack much?

  • Tzedek

    Sky, if you search “Vladislav Davidzon” you’ll find several webpages of glowing remarks written by “Vladislav Davidzon” about “Vladislav Davidzon.”

    “Vladislav Davidzon” has chosen to make himself a “public person.”