Community says ‘no way’ to new signs at Marin Circle

Marin_Circle_3 Larry Raines

“Right of way” signs that were put up at the Marin Circle on Jan. 16, then removed 10 days later. Photo: Larry Raines

On Jan. 16 some new traffic signs were erected at Marin Circle in north Berkeley: four yellow, reflective oblongs bearing the words ‘Traffic in circle has right of way.” It wasn’t long before local residents were up in arms about the signs, claiming they were an unnecessary eyesore on an historic, cherished local landmark.

On Saturday, the city quietly removed the signs. “Victory,” declared Sara Holmes, President of  Friends of the Fountain and Walk, who was one of several local residents to fire off emails to city departments, the media and and local councilman Laurie Capitelli complaining about the signs. On Saturday Holmes had received a minimalist email from the city of Berkeley’s Kevin Lewis. It read: “To all the signs will be taken down.”

Marin_Circle_4 Larry Raines

The four signs at Marin Circle were seen as necessary by many in the community. Photo: Larry Raines

Many community members had made their views plain through Berkeleyside. On Friday, Berkeleyside posted a photo, taken by Sarah Schroeder, of the signage on our Facebook page. Within minutes, readers were providing comments. Within 24 hours, 130 people had expressed their opinion.

Many were offended by the new traffic signs and questioned whether they were needed. If they were, they asked, could they not could be positioned more discreetly, perhaps on the roads that enter the circle? Katherine Anderson Schaaf wrote: “The signs are ugly. They should be in the the feeder streets. This just ruins the way the fountain looks!” And Elizabeth Hawk wrote: “Berkeley has become THE city of signage … and more signage to explain the first sign. Have the residents become stupider or the management more controlling?”

However there were also many who believed the signs were a sound idea. Rita Kaplan Klonsky Wilson wrote: “I think these signs will help a lot. People in the U.S. don’t tend to know this law. I’ve seen many almost-accidents at the Marin Circle.” And Heidi Ross wrote: “I think it’s ugly, but necessary. Too many people don’t understand how traffic circles work.”

A city spokesperson said the signs were erected after the city received calls from people who had safety concerns. She said there had not been an increase in the number of accidents on the circle. She said she couldn’t say at this point why the signs were removed, but would provide more information if it became available.

Larry Raines noticed what he termed the “unsightly signage” on his way to work on Friday last week. He wrote an email to local officials and the Friends of the Fountain and Walk asking for support in getting them removed. “There are many beautiful traffic circles all over the world with no signs telling people how to use them, why do we have to do that here in Berkeley? Are our citizens uneducated?” he said.

Marin Circle by Alina

Marin Circle on Jan. 27 — the new signs have been removed and only the orignal black and white ones remain. Photo: Alina Constantinescu

Holmes, who personally does maintenance work on the fountain, along with fellow volunteers, told Berkeleyside she was surprised that the city had not given any notice about the signs, as it has always worked very collaboratively in the past with the community and with Friends of the Fountain and Walk, not least when the fountain was reconstructed in the 1990s. She recalled that when the city was proposing putting in some yellow stanchions several years ago, it sent out a flyer first and “the idea was knocked out of the water.”

The Circle and Fountain Walk were designed by architect John Galen Howard and built in 1911 with the idea they would make an ornate entry to what many hoped would be the state’s capital. The Circle was originally designed for rail use, but today an estimated 30,000 cars make their way around it every day.

The signage on the circle has now returned to its pre-Jan. 16 state with a couple of black and white arrow signs indicating direction of travel.

Councilman Capitelli said the signs had come as a surprise to him. He has talked to city manager Christine Daniel who has promised to report back to him on the process that lead them to being erected.

Holmes said she didn’t think the city realized what a “big deal” this was. People were mortified when they saw those signs, she said. “They sprang into action.”

One of Berkeley’s most beloved landmarks turns 100 [10.11.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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

    I totally agree.

  • Susan K.

    I like the part about the “oblong” signs. ???

  • Out in the flats, if you want a new stop sign, there has to be a life threatening accident. But up in them hills…”the signs were erected after the city received calls from people who had safety concerns.” Pah-leez.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I love how this story is drawing a board range of comments while the far more consequential story about the need to make deep budget cuts has far fewer unique participants.

  • batard

    By and large I observe Berkeley drivers don’t understand traffic circles. I hail from the east coast and have driven in Europe so I get it. That said, I’m actually not sure how to interpret the 4-way stops that have been converted to circles:

    Does one yield to the driver on the right, or the driver on the left?

    Whether it’s these circle conversions, blue wavy lines down the center of the road, bicycle easements or speed humps, I’ve grown wary of Berkeley’s traffic engineering.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yield to the driver on the right.

  • kj

    Another guy coming down Marin a few years back ended up in the fountain as well, I recall. Berkeley should build a runaway vehicle ramp on Marin, so it doesn’t happen again (snark)

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    @Eddage, I’ve always felt that those roadblocks have provided certain lucky Berkeleyans with their own private streets, thanks to us, the rest of the taxpayers. Check out Russell above College. It’s like a gated community.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I wonder if it really does come down to class. Those of us in the middle class, trying to stretch every dollar see how much of our taxes goes towards the mismanagement of the City and we physically feel it. Vs. those who don’t pay those ever marching upward property tax bills think we need even more money in the pot and those with more $$ than they know what to do with just don’t care.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The simplest, safest solution would be to add a stop sign on each of the streets that enters the circle.

    Normally, roundabouts are supposed to work without stop signs. But this one is dangerous enough that we would do well to require drivers to stop before entering the roundabout.

  • Kevin

    Think about what you all are complaining about, then think about what other communities around you are facing.

  • The Sharkey

    New people move into town every year. While you may have 60 years of experience with this circle, others do not. Road signs are there to assist those who are the least familiar with the area, not those who live next door.

  • The Sharkey

    More or less. It seems like only middle-class Berkeley residents give a damn about the gross mismanagement of funds by the City. The rich don’t care because it’s a trivial amount of their overall wealth, and the poor don’t care because they aren’t paying taxes.

  • David D.

    From a technical standpoint, traffic circles and roundabouts are not the same thing. There are a couple roundabouts in town, but almost everything else is a traffic circle. Traffic in a roundabout has right of way and entering traffic yields. Traffic circles function pretty much like 4-way stops (although Berkeley does have several where just the side street stops, so I understand why there could be confusion).

  • David D.

    Since you are taking the high-and-mighty route, can you please explain why a resident on Russell has more of a right to a peaceful street than a resident on Ashby? What makes Piedmont Avenue so much more special than College Avenue? They’re all two-lane residential streets.

  • David D.

    Stop signs have no effect on speeding. If you don’t believe me (a transportation professional with no affiliation with the City of Berkeley), do your own research.

  • Mbfarrel

    I used to have a large and slightly disreputable older van. Believe me. more expensive cars stayed away.

  • Mbfarrel

    Traffic in “The Circle” has the ROW. It is a named street and cars entering the Circle must yield. This intersection works very well when traffic moves at 12-15 mph, and a little courtesy is involved. The latter is not part of our civic persona.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Ashby is an an anomaly. Ideally, commercial streets like University and Telegraph should carry through traffic, and residential streets should be protected.

    But let’s not throw out protection for all residential streets, because there is too much traffic to accommodate purely on commercial streets.

    Incidentally, do you know there was a plan in the 1960s to demolish housing on Ashby in order to create an “Ashby Freeway”? Fortunately, that is one of many proposed freeways that was stopped during the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Eddage

    I live off of Solano Ave. and used to live off of Piedmont. None of those streets are blocked off and function fine. Road blocks, forced left and right turns, and speed bumps are signs of poor city planning and urban design.

  • guest

    To the person who disliked this comment:

    Please explain the value of a sign (that costs real money) that labels something when it obviously is what the sign says. Thanks!

  • Truth Sayer

    It is a misconception that more signs improve safety. Note that locations having numerous signs and markers on the pavement, posts, and pavement reflectors tend to be more confusing and cause more accidents.

  • The Sharkey

    I was unaware that non-whites were not allowed to drive in Berkeley.
    How surprisingly racist for such a historically liberal city!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I agree.

  • mark in west berkeley

    Signage in Berkeley (and almost everywhere else in this country, outside of exclusive enclaves) is a constant visual assault. Massive billboards, poorly-planned and redundant parking and directional information, and random commercial add-ons make it just plain stupid ugly.

  • TangDizzle

    First of all, no one said anything about “rights.” And I’m not exactly sure you are getting “high and mighty” from or what ad hominem attacks add to the discussion. I merely pointed out that comments like those of Eddage and BerkleyCitizen seem to wrapped in a misplaced sense of anger and jealousy towards those who have made smart real estate decisions. BerkeleyCitizen seems to be under the impression that only certain Berkeleyans pay taxes and that the residents in the Elmwood, etc. are merely “lucky” rather than profiting from smart real estate decisions. Perhaps because Ashby is a HIGHWAY those people who CHOOSE to buy a home there have less of a “right” to a peaceful street. Perhaps because College is largely commercial and a bus route, etc. those people who CHOOSE to buy there have less “right.” You have an awfully strange understanding of “rights” and the way in which our society functions. The city of Berkeley has chosen to try and control traffic by funneling it through certain corridors while at the same time protecting a sense of quiet neighborhoods among the nearby streets. As a resident of the Elmwood, I know better than most how annoying and frustrating it can be to get home during rush hour because I have to navigate those very same routes about which you complain. In another sense I benefit from them. However, no one is forcing you to drive on College or Ashby. There are many alternative routes that receive less traffic and are less frustrating. The fact of the matter is that you make conscious choices and you must live with the consequences of said choices. You can choose to buy a house wherever you can afford to live, and you can choose what routes to drive around town. Don’t get angry and jealous because others made better choices than you.

  • TangDizzle

    I was unaware that the residents of these “gated communities” were not also taxpayers like yourself. And living there is not luck, it’s the result of smart and thoughtful real estate decisions. Years ago, one of my wheelchair bound neighbors was struck and killed by a car while trying to cross Piedmont at Ashby. I’m glad to hear that my fellow citizens would like to see that dangerous traffic flow directed onto the side streets. It would be such a great idea to have the out-of-town commuters racing each other up Russell, etc. just to satiate the jealous hunger of those who CHOSE to purchase homes in less quiet areas of town.

  • TangDizzle

    Actually, they are a sign of adapting something planned and designed in an earlier, less-crowded era to better fit the needs of the city as it exists now. It’s not perfect, but just because it happens to bother you doesn’t make it wrong. Moreover, just because the streets off of Solano and Piedmont function well without roadblocks does not necessarily mean that others would – that’s a logical fallacy.

  • TangDizzle

    Exactly! There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. There should be a way to alleviate the traffic on roads such as College, Ashby, and Warring without resorting to attacks on the “overprivileged” and the destruction of neighborhoods that are safe and quiet for the residents who live in them.
    You make an interesting point about the proposed “Ashby Freeway.” It’s nice to live in a city that does not have any big, ugly freeways running through it. However, it does require a bit extra from residents and city planners alike. It’s disheartening to see that so many are quick to demonize those taxpaying residents who have simply made the smart decision to buy a home in a nice, quiet neighborhood. It’s especially distressing to see that people wish to compromise safety merely for the sake of getting to their destination slightly faster. Alas, some folks feel that if they can’t have something then they don’t want anyone else to have it either.

  • TangDizzle

    And just how, exactly, are the “rest of the taxpayers” subsidizing the residents of neighborhoods like the Elmwood anyhow? That doesn’t even make any sense. And if you own a home in Berkeley you must know how high the property taxes are, which should therefore help you realize that the residents of these “gated communities” probably add a lot more than most to Berkeley’s tax coffers. Anyhow, feel free to continue demonizing your fellow residents who made better choices in life than you did. BTW, I grew up in the Elmwood raised by a single mother on a schoolteacher’s salary. My mother struggled to pay her property taxes but it was well worth it to her to pay more to raise us in a safe, quiet neighborhood. Sadly, some folks are so embittered about their own station in life that they want to see others deprived of happiness as well. Have fun with that.

  • Eddage

    And just because you like it doesn’t make it right.

  • batard

    Interesting distinction, I wasn’t aware. Still not satisfied I can tell the difference — is Marin Circle a circle or a roundabout? According to the definition on Wikipedia it must be a circle since then entry is controlled by a variety of mechanisms. If it was a roundabout, entry would all be yielding.

  • batard

    PP, I think you are a little quick to answer and may be ahead of your facts.

  • batard

    not in Bolinas

    lather, rinse, repeat..

  • batard

    srsly, esp. one with the double loops. Even DC has a few killers.

    But you know what? People get it, and it moves a lot of cars.

  • PragmaticProgressive (b) 1

    When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right, except that the driver of any vehicle on a terminating highway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle on the intersecting continuing highway.

  • guest292

    And I’m not exactly sure you are getting “high and mighty” from or what ad hominem attacks add to the discussion. I merely pointed out that
    comments like those of Eddage and BerkleyCitizen seem to wrapped in a
    misplaced sense of anger and jealousy towards those who have made smart
    real estate decisions.

    So you aren’t sure what ad hominem attacks add but you hope to find out by trying some?

    I was unaware that the residents of these “gated communities” were not also taxpayers like yourself.

    In your area the side streets are heavily protected from Rt. 13 and children can be allowed to play in the street without concern for speeding cars taking “shortcuts” to and from Ashby. I think it’s quite nice (although nicer will be someday having less traffic on Ashby altogether).

    In the flats along Rt. 13 many small, narrow residential streets are not similarly protected and problems with speeding cars result. I think this is inequitable, don’t you?

    You have a lot to say about people’s choices. The complaints you are answering are that city-wide funds appear to be used in ways that favor neighborhoods like yours more than other neighborhoods facing similar problems and that the particular extra benefits given to your neighborhood negatively impact other, less pricey parts of the city.

    Did the people in the flats choose to be second-class citizens in a democracy?

    Finally, speaking of choices:

    Rt. 13 (according to Wikipedia) came to be in the late 1950s and before that, farmer Ashby’s road was established as part of Rt. 24 in the 1930s. Many of the people who settled in the flats were victims of red-lining. That is to say that they did not freely choose to settle there, it was where they were permitted to buy.

    As the city was developed, city-wide public policy added up to practices of sacrificing environmental quality and property values in the residential flats. The injustice of red-lining was compounded that way.

    You offered a personal story about the hard work your mom was able to pull off to assure you such a pleasant neighborhood in which to grow up. Many children currently living in the flats are growing up with similar stories about the sacrifices their parents are currently making, alongside stories about how earlier generations of their families were treated with extreme prejudice in this area. It’s a-historical and insulting for you to reduce the conditions in which these children live to “bad choices”.