Can Berkeley be most bike-friendly city in the country?

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Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates rides along the newly opened West Street Pathway on the morning of May 9. Photo: East Bay Bicycle Coalition

On Bike to Work Day, Berkeley’s mayor Tom Bates (who famously ditched his car several years ago) got on his bike to show support for the two-wheeler set and laid out his commitment to make Berkeley “the most bike-friendly city in the country.”

At a series of press events this morning, Bates spoke of updating Berkeley’s Bicycle Plan so that it was the best bicycle plan in the country. He also hopped on his own bike first thing to take a (helmet-less) spin down the brand new West Street Pathway.

“Lowering our transportation GHG emissions is a key component of our award-winning climate action plan,” Bates said.

On any given morning, over 5,000 people bike commute through Berkeley, the nation’s fourth most popular city for bike commuting, according to the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. But, according to Dave Campbell the EBBC’s program director, the city has work to do.

Berkeley will start updating its Bicycle Plan this year for the first time since 2000.

“We have enough money to do a robust bike plan,” he said. “The mayor has committed resources and staff behind it.”

Campbell says building bike paths, and connecting new and existing ones to commercial destinations, is at the heart of the plan. The West Street Pathway, which serves pedestrians and bicyclists, runs along the former Santa Fe Railroad Right of Way. The section between Cedar-Rose Park and Strawberry Creek Park officially opened on April 20. Campbell estimates it will take 12-18 months to see the whole bike plan through to completion.

The East Bay’s 20th annual Bike to Work Day today was a record-breaking event: 13 mayors from Alameda and Contra Costa Counties rode their bikes to work, and over 14,500 cyclists biked by one particular Energizer Station this morning.

Share your personal photos of your experience of Bike to Work Day with us (email them to tips@berkeleyside.com or tweet them to us at @berkeleyside), and we will share them on our Facebook page.

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  • Prinzrob

    East Bay Bike Party happens once a month (2nd Fridays) from about 8-midnight, and the route is planned on different streets in a different East Bay city each month. The total amount of time that they will be rolling past your house probably amounts to a couple hours a year. What happens the rest of the time? Noisy cars gunning their engines, honking their horns, squealing tires, motorcycles blaring down the street, etc. I love it when they come down my street, it’s a great alternative to the usual automotive din.

    I stopped riding with East Bay Bike Party just because it is getting so big and I don’t care for huge crowds, but I certainly don’t criticize them for having fun and being festive on a Friday night. The organizers do their best to control the crowds and there is an internal rule to try to bike legally and courteously while inconveniencing other road users as little as possible (and keeping the event positive/non-confrontational). However, if there are a thousand people on the street doing 10mph they aren’t going “slower than traffic”, they ARE traffic. If they are blocking someone’s drive then that person can just use something that bicyclists know about all too well, called “other streets”.

    “I thought bicyclists consider themselves environmentally friendly.”
    People who ride bikes are not the Borg. They have individual identities and reasons for getting on a bike, each one of them as valid as the next. Beyond that, I don’t see how putting a speaker on a bike constitutes an environmental hazard.

    “Seems the only point is just to draw attention to themselves”
    From my experience it’s mostly about just being social and having fun on a Friday night. Part of the reason for all the lights and music is so that people don’t get lost en route and stay with the group, and so that they are easily recognized by other road users and less likely to get run over.

  • Prinzrob

    Many of Berkeley’s Bike Boulevards are non-through routes for car traffic, and are often prioritized for traffic calming and pavement improvements. Of course you can still bike on whatever streets you want, but some riders prefer to avoid traffic whenever possible and the boulevards provide decent alternatives to the arterials for them. Also, the wayfinding signage on the boulevards makes it much easier for a casual cyclist to get to a destination without a bunch of route planning needed in advance. Also, encouraging more bicycle traffic to take a specific route greatly increases the mode share on those roads, making every cyclist on that street more expected and therefore safer.

    As Charles_Siegel noted, the Bike Boulevard implementation is unfortunately quite incomplete in terms of the arterial intersection treatments, and hopefully the upcoming improvement at Hillegass/Ashby will be a great blueprint to get similar installations going in other parts of the city. However, I feel that the boulevard network is already a much more calm and comfortable biking experience in Berkeley than most other city streets. There are a few I avoid (I prefer Allston to Channing when heading to Southwest Berkeley, for instance), at least until the intersections are improved, but I still feel that they are a great benefit to the city and one of the reasons why the bicycle mode share here is as high as it is.

  • guest

    When I travel with my bicycling child, i always take the blvds: they have much less traffic and much safer intersections. Also all the signs go a long way to alerting drivers that a lot of bicyclists should be expected.

  • Chris J

    I guess the ‘thing’ for me when it comes to biking is that unless the path minimizes contact with vehicles like cars, its utility isn’t that great. I mean, I don’t know paths one way or other. Connecting to other cities…I’m sure this is a helpful, beginning step, but I guess I long for a world where cars are on separate paths entirely, or as I Europe supposedly where entire bike lanes are physically separated, even when sharing the same road as cars.

    I use the bike to commute–because its fun, its good exercise I enjoy, and it not only saves me $$ from less used old car but also contributes to a cleaner planet. I would just like to feel less at risk out there and not have to wear a helmet.

  • Hogan

    · As a keen commute city cyclist one time Copenhagen resident the fact that people are equating not wearing a helmet with some irresponsible social crime is laughable and a little scary.
    Personally, I don’t wear one and I don’t make my child wear one. A well maintained cycle and good road sense are the best things you can provide for yourself and your child.
    This whole “armor up” culture not only takes the simple (and overwhelmingly safe) joy out of cycling, but much worse has slowly shifted the perception of responsibility for collisions onto the cyclist and also given cycling a reputation as a dangerous pursuit.
    The type of collision that would need to occur for the helmet to save your life is so remote as to make the wearing of one utterly pointless. But hey still people like to judge despite the facts.

  • Chris J

    Good points. I wear a helmet simply because I have to live with my wife who falls under those pic tenets most mothers ascribe to. Arguing with her is a losing proposition.

    That being said I suspect European drivers ate genlly more aware than our domestic US drivers so maybe protection ain’t a bad ideA.

  • Hogan

    Agreed.
    I think the sad thing is though, the more helmets worn, the less people cycle. The less people that cycle, the less investment there will be in cycling infrastructure. etc etc Research (and common sense) shows that cycling is safe when more people are cycling. So its a vicious circle sadly..