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 »
  • bgal4

    Too bad, those signs make a great canvas for graffiti.

  • The Sharkey

    Signs ain’t cheap – how much did this little “Oops!” cost the city?
    It seems to me that these would have been more appropriate (and less of an eyesore) if placed at the corners where traffic is entering the circle rather than on the lawn in the middle of the circle.
    Instead of getting rid of them completely, they ought to just stick them underneath the stop signs on all the arteries that enter the circle.

    “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?”

    They aren’t uneducated, they’re just not used to them.

    Traffic circles are an extreme rarity in the United States. Unless they are designed for automobile traffic and are in intersections of 3 streets or less, they almost always cause problems here, and usually put pedestrians at risk by pushing cars into dangerous proximity of crosswalks.

  • David D.

    Yikes. I know there are a lot of oblivious drivers out there, but do we need to cover every nook and cranny of town with signs like this? It’s not quite as bad as those “HILL” signs in the City, but come on. If it’s really a problem, post these on the approach streets on the same pole as the stop/yield signs.

  • Tom Smith

    I’d like Berkeleyside to facilitate the reporting of other useless signs so that we can join together to get them all taken down.

  • Chris

    Wow – it is so obvious this is the wrong place for these signs. Put them on the approaching streets if you must.

  • Guset

    Everyone knows the rules of the road in Berkeley:
    The more expensive car always has the right of way.
    When in doubt accelerate!

  • Name

    Drivers in Berkeley are already pretty awful. Instead of erecting new signs, better education on how a roundabout works and how to follow other traffic laws would be more practical.

  • Dia


  • It’s been my experience that drivers don’t yield to traffic in the circle not because they don’t understand the rules but rather they don’t want to lose 10 seconds of they’re precious life by waiting. Also if your dying to add signs make the people entering from the Arlington stop. It’s rather scary, as a pedestrian, crossing there when your not sure when the next Audi is going to come blazing through.

  • jjohannson

    One fixable problem with the circle is interrupted flow; some of the entry points are yields while others are controlled by stop signs. The joiners entering from a dead stop are at a disadvantage, and their necessary lurching into the circle metastasizes into the stops and starts that cause trouble. All cars should enter at idling speed (5 mph).

    Another necessary change — everyone needs to chill the f*** out when they’re in the circle. Being in the circle does not make you Pope.

  • EBGuy

    Yes, put them right below the Yield signs.

    PS – Bring back the Gnuth.

  • Tom Smith

    Berkeleyside should solicit suggestions of other signs that are unnecessary
    eyesores and we can lobby to have them all removed.

  • joshua a

    I think the city deserves some props here. They made a decision that seemed good to a traffic engineer, but when the people pointed out that traffic flow is not the only concern, they cooperated and took the sign down.

  • Albanyan

    And you’re reading Berkeleyside because….?

  • Berserkly

    you might start with the signs in the median opposite the Cheeseboard, telling everyone not to sit.

  • ex berkeley

    Why I moved out of Berkeley. There is always a fight of some kind, and the city always “knows best”.

  • SFMH57

    Clearly, from what I’ve seen at that intersection, there are a LOT of drivers who think they
    are pope, president, king *and* emperor.

  • Just Sayin


  • SFMH57

    Thank you for bringing that one up. One of these days, there will be a horrific accident there and the college students who survive and their parents and the families of the deceased will be totally outraged, outraged I tell you, that it occurred. And there will be lawsuits. (You can sue over anything you want. But getting a decision and a check is another thing.)

  • xootsuit

    Berkeley’s sense of traffic control is as zany as a professor emeritus with Alzheimer’s. The City ignores, hell, half welcomes, potholes because they function as speed bumps. Chronic failure to improve the roads contributed to the death of that visiting foreign academic who was trying to bike home last year. Poor guy expected to find enlightened civilization here. The City sometimes tries to develop safety through appeals to morality. Remember the foolish little flags the City put into containers on certain busy streets, warnings pedestrians could wave to stop traffic? Early reports on that scheme included at least two fatalities. Now the City faces a soul-wrenching struggle over the aesthetics of the Arlington Circle–entrance to the realm of the upper middle class. Oh, the agony.
    This blog post would’ve been a lot more interesting if it included some accident statistics for the spot. Anecdotes about “near accidents” don’t count. We’ve all seen those at this spot.

  • mnicely

    Amazing, we’ve been complaining about speeding cars, deaths and multiple accidents on the section of Marin I live on, and can’t get the City to do anything about it because they can’t afford it. Yet some people complain that an accident might happen and they get unnecessary signs. Guess the hill folk have more pull than us poor folks down the street.

  • Biker 94703

    Whatever happened to DIY? That’s the big problem, people like to complain online but aren’t willing to take a wrench to the problem.

  • Eddage

    Just another example of Berkeley’s crazy traffic controls. Most irritating are all the road blocks that direct traffic onto College and Ashby Avenues causing gridlock. This basically turns the adjacent streets into semi-private roads that are publicly funded. And there are the totally unnecessary forced left and right turns all over the city. Ridiculous. The traffic department should be overhauled.

  • Eddage

    I don’t know why the City just doesn’t add more planting there on the median instead of having lawn. No signs needed.

  • adornowest

    Dear Man in the Black Mercedes this Morning –

    Just because I was going slower than you like in the circle does not give you the right to drive in a way that endangers me. You should be ashamed.


  • brindlegrl

    put them on the feeder streets! drivers are blatantly ignoring the signs already there, like stop and yield.

  • brindlegrl

    not really. we’ve been trying to get stop signs on spruce for decades to stop the speeders. nothing happens.

  • Barbara Bull

    Try the round-abouts in Mexico City or Paris!

  • Linda

    I drive around the circle every Wednesday morning, often in the dark just before dawn. I have learned just to slow down, look around, allow another driver to go first to keep smooth flow. Works every time. Applicable in other merge settings too.
    Thanks Berkeley, for removing the signs.
    We need the driving practice, and the lovely view…T

  • Daniel Dumont

    I remember these types of comments from grade school in Berkeley.

  • Daniel Dumont

    This traffic circle has been there for all of my 60 years and the signs prior to entering the circle have always been sufficient to remind everyone of who has the right of way.

  • seriously?

    White Whine.

  • berkeleygirl


  • guest

    Suggestion: Begin with the signs on traffic circles around town that say – wait for it – “traffic circle.” Yes, they were acquired from the Department of Redundancy Department. Wait. Maybe they came from Cpt. Obvious, Inc.

  • guest

    “Guess the hill folk have more pull than us poor folks down the street.”

    How did ‘hill folk’ come into the discussion? Do you know the addresses of people quoted as supporting the signs?

  • Pawtucket

    Anyone else old enough to remember that a runaway truck all but demolished the fountain in the ’50’s?

  • Berkeley Driver

    I drive this circle every day. The signs were awfully ugly, as everyone agrees. But for the few days they were in place, the signs were EFFECTIVE.

    I have become increasingly concerned that drivers DO NOT UNDERSTAND how the right-of-way works in a traffic circle. I don’t know why some drivers don’t understand, but there are dangerous mistakes of right-of-way at this traffic circle all the time. Something DOES need to be done because it is UNSAFE.

    Maybe some long, low signs to the same effect. In stone, with brass-inlay. Tasteful, discreet, but clear.

  • asmena

    intersection on Cedar, just west of Shattuck, has 24 (TWENTY FOUR) signs….c’mon folks why do we allow our city to be trashed like this?

  • asmena

    yes, stickery plants…

  • zorro

    Like the median in front of the Cheese Board, the garden/calming circle at Vine and Spruce will someday cause a fatality. Many times I’ve seen right and left turns that nearly struck a pedestrian who wasn’t seen because of the tall vegetation.

  • asmena

    the turning lanes, west side of Cedar and Shattuck…one lane for left turns, one lane for right turns and straight ahead uphill…a few turn left, most go straight, and a few turn right…the problem is when it is time to drive it is also time to walk and a right turner is stopped by pedestians and thus stops straight aheaders…prior to the roadway markings straightaway drivers could skirt the blocked turner using the usually open left lane and things went smoothly…can someone think of a real job for the traffic engineers office? maybe recycling redundant signs…de-sign Berkeley.

  • asmena

    wrenching solutions are temporary

  • Berkeley Councilmaven

    Why are there so many ugly and superfluous traffic signs? Easy. More make-work for City employees, more money-raising traffic citations, and more unnecessary regulation of residents.

  • TangDizzle

    Actually, those barricades and roadblocks are there to prevent commuters tearing around on side streets trying to save a few seconds. Many of the drivers on Ashby are commuting from Orinda/Walnut Creek into and out of San Francisco. Why do they need access to Russell St. et al? Why are they using a two-lane “highway” rather than 24? Many of the folks using College and the Warring/Derby/Claremont corridor are UC Berkeley students and staff. A large segment of the staff lives out of town and should be encouraged to either use BART, which is close and convenient to campus, or take advantage of ride-sharing programs rather than clogging the streets as one person per car commuters. The students are transients who jack-up my car insurance rates by driving like idiots; I could care less about their interests. Moreover, a number of these side-streets (Benvenue, Russell) are designated “bike boulevards” that provide safer routes for bicyclists. Opening those up to commuter traffic would defeat their purpose and pose an unnecessary safety risk to our residents who prefer to use bicycles. I’m really sorry that the ability of children to play safely and for residents to walk safely in their neighborhoods has inconvenienced you. Your response sounds like veiled anger towards the supposed and wrongly assumed affluence of the residents living in the Elmwood.

  • Dave Diamond

    Now we need to get rid of those utterly useless and almost as unsightly “direction of travel” signs. Those are ridiculous. If you must put a sign up for the one person out of a million who can’t figure out that you have to go to the right, then just put arrows on the roadway like they do in all the other roundabouts in the world.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan


  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    poison oak!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    This is just another example of how Berkeley does things without thinking it through and then pays for it to clean up the mess…happens over and over!

  • ScratchSF

    Well, they took down the yellow signs but put up some stupid signs telling you which way to go around the circle…: As if ANYONE has ever got that wrong. How about taking those down too! C’Mon!

  • Cammy

    For someone who frequently uses the circle, I welcomed those signs. I didn’t think for a minute they detracted from the fountain. There are many who still don’t understand the rules of the circle – what it means to yield and who has the right of way. I’ve often seen pedestrians with a false sense of security use the crosswalks around the circle, only to come inches from being hit by a car. True, the fountain has historical significance, but the heavy traffic and often unsafe decisions made by cars going through the circle warranted these reminders.