Berkeley happily abandons sidewalks for Sunday Streets

Thousands walked, cycled, and played on a mile-long stretch of Shattuck that was closed to traffic for five hours on Sunday. Photo: Tracey Taylor

An estimated 30,000-40,000 people headed to Shattuck Avenue on Sunday for Berkeley’s first Sunday Streets event which saw 17 blocks, from Haste to Rose, closed to traffic and open to pretty much everything else: from scooters, to strollers, from bikes with triangular wheels to roller blades, as well as people playing music, doing yoga, whipping hula hoops, eating, laughing, running and playing.

“It was a wild success,” said John Caner, Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, who added that he was particularly pleased to see the local merchants doing such great business. “We are absolutely thrilled that it brought so many people downtown. It was zany, creative and a cascade of fun and cultural entertainment for everyone.”

Caner was pleased to see how Shattuck Avenue’s width, originally designed to accommodate trolley cars, was so accommodating to the great numbers of people who stepped off the sidewalks. “It absorbed all those people and could comfortably absorb double that number,” he said.

Adults and children are mesmerized by a performance by MCEucalips at Sunday Streets. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The event, brought to fruition with the work of Livable BerkeleyEast Bay Bicycle Coalition, the Downtown Berkeley Association, the Ecology Center, and the North Shattuck Association, was closely modeled on the Open Streets concept which came to San Francisco five years ago. “We took their time-tested policies and guidelines and used them which was one reason it was so successful,” said Emunah Hauser who was one of Sunday Streets’ key organizers.

According to Caner, the event cost $50,000 to put on, with a significant part of the budget allocated to paying the city for permit, police presence, and traffic management. San Francisco waives the fees for its Sunday Streets events.

Many of those who participated said they hoped it would be the first of many such events. “We heard from people who said they would like to see it happen every month,” Hauser said.

Update, 3:50pm: We asked the Sunday Street organizers for clarification on the cost and resources involved in putting on the event. Here is what they said:

The event cost over $50,000 to produce plus many volunteer hours dedicated to the project. Funding was raised through donations and sponsorships, both cash and in-kind. Sunday Streets Berkeley is submitting an agenda item to the City Council for a consideration to waive fees for permit, police presence, and traffic management, to ensure producing Sunday Streets Berkeley again is financially viable. San Francisco Sunday Streets’ annual costs for ten events per year is approximately $500,000, not including city fees, and also depends on lots of volunteers contributing. San Francisco waives the fees for its Sunday Streets events, as do most cities across the country with ongoing, successful Open Streets events produced by 501(c)3 organizations. Sunday Streets San Francisco is nationally recognized as a resounding success, and their organizational structure is an ideal model for other cities by the non-profit advocacy group Open Streets Project.

Shattuck Avenue easily accommodated the estimated 30,000 people who came to Sunday Streets. Photo: Pete Rosos

Kids played with fall leaves on the street

A dancer performs next to Missing Link Bicycle Coop. Several bike shops were offering free repairs. Photo: Pete Rosos

Musicians representing a wide variety of genres were culled from all over the East Bay. Photo: Pete Rosos

A child does nature sculptures at artist Zach Pine’s stand. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Yoga was one of many activities, both creative and physical, offered on Sunday Streets. Photo: Bill Newton

Watch a video by Alex Merenkov of some impressive improvised break dancing, as well as his gallery of photos taken at the event. And check out Berkeleyside’s Flickr pool for dozens of photographs taken on the day by our readers.

Shattuck Avenue goes car-free for 17 blocks on Sunday [10.11.12]
Can car-free Sunday Streets come to Berkeley? [05.11.12]

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

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  • Anonymous

     The intersection of Saul’s clientele and people who bike/walk is probably a lonely place.

  • Mnfarrel

     There were only a few. No big deal, one had a fierce pit/chihuahua. One of the regular young healthy panhandlers (not a gutter punk) tried to hustle me. Go away.

  • N Berkeley Resident

    Congratulations to the organizers, I have been going to festivals around the world for 20 years and this was one of my favorites right in our backyard. It had such a community feel versus the overwhelming Solano “stroll”.

    Really a perfect mix of friends, neighbors, performers, local food options, etc. No food trucks and stands is a great call there are plenty of festivals for that.

  • deirdre

     I was checking the sidewalk on front of John’s $1 Ice Cream/Shattuck Cinemas for that very reason.  The man whose sign reads ‘too ugly to prostitute’ (or something close to that) was not there as of 11:30 am.  I wish he wouldn’t display his other cardboard sign with expletives on it on the sidewalk right where all the kids are standing in line for ice cream.

  • The Sharkey

    It seems hard to believe, but perhaps my other comments weren’t clear enough.

    My complaints are about the HIGH PRICE OF THE CITY FEES, WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN WAIVED OR REDUCED TO SUPPORT OUR DOWNTOWN BUSINESSES, not the length of time it took to plan the event.

  • Fantastic event! Thanks and I hope we do it more often, maybe twice a year?

  • deirdre

    I just wanted to add how much I enjoyed running into dozens of my Berkeley friends and acquaintences whom I would never otherwise see roaming around in random fashion.  So THANK YOU for coming out. 

  • deirdre

    When I first moved to NYC as a college grad, I showed up with great expectations to see The Easter Parade.  I was thinking, hey: bands! floats! souveniers! Mardi Gras beads!  Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the whole deal was just closing Fifth Avenue and letting people walk up and down the street.  Now, of course, I’ve learned to appreciate it.

  • CJ_Higley

    Those who were bored or unimpressed must have attended a different event than the one I attended.  I was blown away by the number and variety of activities and musical acts.  And the music was stellar!  I especially loved Circus Finelli and the maniacal dudes with the torn-open piano and raspy clarinet. My kids and I had a blast just strolling through the car-free streets of downtown with thousands of our neighbors.  It reminded me of La Rambla in Barcelona.  We stopped for gelato, picked up some new comic books, and bumped into friends and classmates throughout the day.  Loved the breakdancing and the dodgeball.  Huge huge success!  More please!

  • EBGuy

     He was there on Saturday.  We got ice cream with a couple of families and sat on the planters.  Overall a pleasant experience (in downtown Berkeley?!  The BID is definitely having an effect in some spots).  Anyway, I heard the sign guy saying he would  be doing a circuit that takes him up to Fortuna, so perhaps he had left already by Sunday.  He was talking to a younger, scruffy looking traveler with a backpack and guitar.  That guy said he would be heading to Hawaii once he saved up the funds.  Hmmmm, maybe I’m going about this wrong…

  • Anonymous

     Well, I plan building a rocket and visiting the moon and Mars as soon as I save up the funds. More likely he’ll just die in a gutter with a spike hanging out of his arm or crushed while trying to hop a train.

  • guest

     Join me there, won’t you?

  • Sustainablejeff

     From the City’s perspective, the question is not, How much will this cost? The question they ask themselves is, How much money can we generate for the City off of this thing? Of course they are going to charge thousands of dollars, because they can. It’s a cash cow for them. Same for every city everywhere.

  • Crostada

    Roger that, the city should be partnering on this.

  • It reminded me that Berkeley is a city that doesn’t want to be a city.

  • Lynmitramalapitan

    We, Samavesha and the Art In Nature Festival’s artists outside ACCI Gallery on Shattuck and Lincoln really enjoyed this event. If it’s happening again next year…we’ll be there. : D

    Sunita (LMM) 

  • Next time they need a dedicated biking lane next to the median each way.  It was unpleasant, and unsafe, to ride with all the kids and adults walking erratically around.  Either a dedicated bike lane (and mandatory walking of bikes outside the lane) or free valet bike parking for those who ride to the event.  I left after a couple blocks unfortunately, as I was concerned with hitting a wandering kid or dog or adult on cell phone, all of whom were cutting in front of me. Great idea but either it needs to be more bike friendly and safe or just make it walking only with secure bike parking available.  I saw several near misses and it will get worse as it gets more popular.

  • Mbfarrel

     Obviously pedestrians should be confined, properly, to the sidewalks.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I biked all the way from Rose to Haste and part way back, and I had no problem.  There were times when I had a bit of trouble maneuvering around crowds listening to a musical act, but there were not big problems.  I rode slowly, because my goal was to look at and enjoy the event.

  • Neighbor

    As much as I love the Stroll, I’m glad this was different. The Stroll is too crowded and hectic, especially with little kids. I also appreciate the emphasis on creating your own fun with street chalk, and on physical movement up and down the street. Saw a group having a kids birthday party near Safeway. Awesome! Who needs more pottery from Petaluma and candles from Marin, any way?

  • Neighbor

    Maybe with more community support we can get more volunteers to step up? Cal? Berkeley High? Anyone listening?

  • Graham Freeman

    I walked through this event to the Missing Link bike repair shop, where I picked up my bike, and rode my bike back through the event on my way home.   While I was walking, I saw only responsible pedestrian/skateboard/bike use.  While I was biking, I often had to go very slowly (or even stop temporarily) because of pedestrian traffic, but I didn’t mind and nobody else seemed to either.   Once I decided that I wanted to bike at a fast pace, I used one of the 99.99% of city streets that didn’t have an event going on that day.