Opinionator

Op-Ed: We need a safer, greener way to Tom Bates fields

By Nancy Humphrey

Nancy Humphrey is a Berkeley resident and a soccer mom who drives to the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex several times a week, year-round.

The Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex, located just south of Golden Gate Fields, has been a boon to local athletes since it opened in 2008. The Mayor’s office estimated at that time that the fields would be used by about 250,000 people each year, and a look at the fields at almost any time of day confirms that they are indeed well-used year-round by both adults and children.

However, the complex is through the insanely dangerous Gilman/80 interchange, which is difficult enough for vehicles to navigate safely, and is essentially impassable by foot or on a bike. The reason that’s an issue is because there’s *no* public transportation to or from the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex.

During the height of soccer and lacrosse seasons, the fields are probably used by 100 or more kids per hour between 3:30 and 7:30 or so. They’re heavily used all day Saturday and Sunday as well. Because there’s no public transportation available, and because the route to the fields is through the most dangerous intersection in the area, kids have to be driven there. That’s terrible for the environment, for conditions at that already overtaxed intersection, and for traffic in town in general.

Shame on us for making a facility in town that’s essentially only accessible by car.

Athletes who live south of University have the option of using the pedestrian bridge to cross the freeway and follow the bike path to the field — my own daughter does it that way — but that’s impractical for those in most of Berkeley.

I’d like to see the city or AC Transit ensure that there’s some reliable, timely transportation to these fields, ideally from downtown/BHS, and possibly passing one or more of the middle schools.

If our young athletes could get to the fields safely without having to get there by car, we’d all be better off.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

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  • Doug Donaldson

    The proposed double round-about reconstruction of the Gilman Street/I-80 Ramps/Frontage Road intersection complex would help vehicular and bicycle access to the playing fields. Unfortunately, the most recent ballot measure to fund highway improvements in Alameda County failed by a few votes. I believe that the Gilman Street project was one of the projects that would have been funded, had it passed.

  • Mike Catton

    My kids ride their bikes from North Berk, over the bike bridge at Addison, and back up the bay trail to the fields. They reverse it on the way back. STill, transit would be good.

  • Testit

    Seriously, public transportation for kids to get to Bates sports complex! An enormous number of these kids are under 12. When’s the last time you saw a 10 year old on public transportation or even walking in Berkeley without an adult?

    Kids are driven everywhere, school (since so many kids don’t go to a school within walking distance or parents are afraid to have their kids walk or ride their bicycle anywhere alone), sports, play dates, and extra-curricular activities. This is not a small part of why there is so much traffic in Berkeley.

    Take the number of kids who are driven to school, a sports, play dates, etc. each day and you get probably over 3,000,000 trips per year, perhaps 5,000,000+. The cultural inertia behind this will be difficult to change. Somewhere between 8,000 and 14,000 trips per day. Imagine the benefits of having kids walk, ride their bikes, or take public transportation instead of being driven. They would socialize with their friends (like most of their parents did as kids). Far less fuel would be used and put into the atmosphere. Parents would have a lot more time to do better things. Millions of dollars would be saved. Quality of life would be dramatically improved.

    But there are two main things preventing any move in this direction. The Berkeley education philosophy that drives the policy of assigning kids to schools other than the closest school and parents’ fear that their kids will not be safe out on their own (a vicious cycle where kids are actually less safe because so few kids are out playing unsupervised, if kids were everywhere like when most of us who grew up in the US were kids then it would be much, much safer).

    There seems little chance of any such change. Likewise, little chance of public transportation to the Bates Sports complex because so few people would use it and the lack of will to expand the public transportation network.

  • Dana

    Thank you for this piece.
    First: That dangerous intersection is calling out for a traffic circle; thousands exist throughout Europe, controling multiple spokes. They work wonders, keeping traffic moving, safely. As it is, it is close your eyes and hope for the best! And yes, NEVER go through it on foot or bike. It’s time for a
    “Berkeleygoround” ala Emeryville. AT LEAST to service the Blue Barn and Bates/Gilman fields and on up to, say San Pablo where players could catch AC Transit.

  • TN

    There is limited AC Transit service to within a half mile of the fields. The 51B stops in front of the Seabreeze at University Avenue and West Frontage Road on the other side of the freeway. There is a multi-use path along Frontage Road to the fields. Not all the 51B buses go beyond the rail station but some do. I can’t access AC Transit website right now to confirm the schedules of the buses that do. (This is a recurring problem.) The 51B buses that go west of the freeway also serve the marina area and the hotel.

    I don’t think that this is ideal for the young athletes but it isn’t that there is no service at all.

  • N. Berkeley soccer mom

    I have been saying this for years! Both of my kids play at Gilman 3x/week. Though I am involved in two large carpools, four kids in each, it is draining to get them down there and back during the evening rush hour. Public transport or smaller vans at key collection points would be great. Practice times are fixed, 4:00-5:30, 5:30-7:00, etc so it would be so awesome. No, I can’t have my kids ride there — too far, their city bike skills at such a harrowing interaction, etc just don’t make sense, especially with soccer balls, etc. We do our best with the carpools but I dream of such a thing.

  • Guest

    Too bad BUSD engages in busing. I guess they care more about State Mandated Diversity than they do about safety for kids and saving the environment.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Typical Berkeley/ Bates poor planning this should have been addressed prior to opening and or during the planning process…but someone was a little too anxious to get his name on the field so he could flaunt it for re-election…comes back to the 6 P’s (poor planning provides piss poor performance)

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    There happens to be an issue of safety in the late evenings after practice. people make comments without thinking because they are lazy not because there aren’t other options…

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am known as a backer of transit, but I don’t see how it could be feasible here. There would be so few riders that it would require a very large subsidy per rider. When there are so few riders, buses emit more CO2 per passenger mile than cars, so it would not be green.

    This is really not a great location for soccer fields, because it is not very accessible except by car. But at the time it was built, the soccer parents really wanted more fields, and there was no other location available in Berkeley.

  • Robert_Collier

    This was an excellent op-ed. I think many readers would be appreciative if Berkeleyside could provide some follow-up reporting about whether there are any fall-back plans for the Gilman interchange project proposal after the failure of Measure B1. More specifically, what sort of bicycle lanes are envisioned and would they be separated from the freeway access traffic?

  • Amber Evans

    A sub-regional transit study in West Berkeley Emeryville and West Oakland is under way right now. The Project Area is just east of I80 but if you care about transit access to the fields this is a gret place to note that: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EBOTS

  • Markos Moulitsas

    Ah, so it’s better to tear down athletic fields used by thousands of are youth and adults, living a healthy lifestyle and learning about working together as teams and learning to strive for success … because you want more cars?

  • Charles_Siegel

    I believe it.

    It is one of those hard decisions where there is not a perfect choice.

  • guest

    You are correct Doug.County Measure B1 would have rebuilt Gilman AND Ashby interchanges, so that the sports fields would be better served as well as Aquatic Park south end, which has a substandard on-ramp to be closed by CalTrans when it gets the funds. There will be a rerun of this measure in Nov. 2014 and if the two interchanges are included we should all get behind it.

  • Robert_Collier

    Here is the City’s fact sheet for the Gilman interchange project, courtesy of Berkeleyside:
http://www.berkeleyside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Gilman-Interchange-One-Pager-fall-2012.pdf …. It shows that the bicycle lanes would cross the bottoms of the freeway access ramps, which would no longer have stop signs. The cars off the freeway will merely slow down as they exit the freeway, cross the bike lanes and enter the roundabouts. The cyclists will have to scatter like pins in a bowling alley. In other words, the danger for kids heading to and from the Bates fields may be greater under the planned new interchange, not less.

  • EBGuy

    Here is the conceptual drawing (a bit larger) http://www.berkeleyside.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/PSR_L-1.pdf from the article that that BS did this past February. In addition to the off ramps, I also have concerns about cars gunning it as they turn the corner to get on to the highway — and then happen upon a crosswalk. I also think there is better pedestrian visibility (and safety, due to stop signs) in the current layout. The roundabout design DOES provide more mid road refuges (on the frontage roads), but those will be sorely needed as the pedestrians play frogger with faster traffic. At any rate, if I did send my kid through this intersection, I would tell them to dismount from their bikes and make eye contact with drivers before attempting the crosswalk.

  • Robert_Collier

    See comments re: the interchange design. It appears very unsafe for cyclists – the freeway off traffic won’t have to stop at the pedestrian crosswalks. If that’s true, the design needs to be changed.

  • Jame

    It would open up transit and bike access to that Target as well. That area has in transit options and none of the inner east bay targets, save the planned Alameda one have reasonable transit access.