Cycling advocates are pleading with the city to extend a southbound bike lane on Fulton Street, near the Cal campus, following the crash last week that nearly killed a Berkeley mother and doctor.
Bike East Bay has asked the city to paint new bike lanes on two blocks of Fulton, south of Bancroft Way, by May 12, which is Bike to Work Day. Advocates say planning documents approved by officials, as well as recent changes in state law, allow for the extension of the bike lane without much further ado, as long as the political will exists to make the change.
They’ve been trying to get the new lanes painted since last year, when the street was repaved, and say Berkeley’s own bike policies support the concept of painting, or “striping,” bike lanes at the time of repaving.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city is looking into what might be possible on Fulton, but said changing rules at the state level have made the requirements for traffic studies and public review somewhat unclear. He said the city takes the concerns of the advocates seriously, and is working on various efforts to improve cycling safety and infrastructure in Berkeley.
The well-used intersection was thrust into the spotlight last week when 42-year-old Meg Schwarzman was struck from behind and critically injured by a motorist while riding south on Fulton at Bancroft.
Police say the motorist, Berwick Haynes, 47, appears to have been driving under the influence of marijuana, and “possibly other medication,” according to BPD spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. (Toxicology results are pending.) Haynes was arrested but is no longer in custody. He is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 19 in connection with the case, according to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s department.
Haynes has not responded to a request for comment from Berkeleyside. The district attorney’s office said he has not been charged and that the case is still under investigation by BPD.
Schwarzman’s husband Mike Wilson said she remains in serious condition this week in the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Several family members are “rotating shifts around the clock,” he said, “to be with her and help calm the desperation that comes with shortness of breath and pain. I’m just so heartbroken.”
It’s not the first time there has been a serious cycling accident in the vicinity. In 2012, a visiting UC Berkeley professor was killed on Bancroft Way just west of Fulton when a dump truck passing alongside him got too close, startling him. Police said the truck did not hit him, but that he ended up taking some sort of evasive action that sent him flying over the handlebars of his bike. He was wearing a helmet but did not survive the crash. Some said the pavement condition may have contributed to the crash.
Primary bike route for Cal
UC Berkeley lists the route, along the west side of campus, as a designated primary bike route. The city’s 2005 bike plan shows a proposed striped bike lane on Fulton from Bancroft four blocks south to Dwight Way, where it would transition to a signed bike route all the way down to Prince Street, near the Berkeley border with Oakland. The city’s “bikeways” map shows the same extension. And the original 1998 bike plan outlines numerous potential bike-related improvements on Fulton, from Hearst Avenue south to the border.
The city’s Downtown Area Plan, from 2012, also notes the importance of the route, as well as the need to expand it: “While there are many bike lanes and routes in Downtown, there are also discontinuities in the bike network in Downtown.… Oxford-Fulton Street carries over 1,400 peak hour bicyclists (UC Berkeley Bike Plan, 2006)” but the lane ends at Bancroft.
Despite its popularity, the Fulton Street bike lane has been left dangling and disconnected in the city’s existing official network, with no defined links to any of the established bike boulevards (shown above in purple and blue, with gray outlines).
The Downtown Area Plan (DAP) noted that 6% of Berkeley residents biked to work daily, which was four times the county average, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The document continues: “In addition, UC Berkeley’s students and staff regularly bike through Downtown to get to the campus destination as 21 percent of University bike trips originate in Berkeley (UC Berkeley Bike Plan, 2006).”
The DAP also asserts the importance of improving the city’s bicycle network to make cycling safer and more convenient downtown. In 2015, the city launched an intensive public process to update the bike plan, and will be presenting some of the findings from public workshops and other outreach later this year. (Staff presented some information about last year’s efforts in October.)
Many Berkeleyside readers responded to the news of last week’s crash with their concerns about the intersection, and ideas about how to make it safer. The southbound bike lane on Fulton ends at Bancroft — the southern border of the UC Berkeley campus — where it merges with a parking lane to become a new right-turn lane. South of Bancroft, there are three travel lanes, which cyclists and motorists must share.
Noted reader Peter Moore: “This is a rough spot where the bike lane on Oxford disappears as it turns into Fulton. There is a ‘Share the Road’ sign there but too often cars ignore it. It is too bad that Berkeley has not kept up with creating safe bike lanes while Oakland and Emeryville have been adding bike lanes all over their towns.”
“The city should immediately remove one of the three traffic lanes and stripe a protected bike lane on Fulton between Bancroft and Durant,” wrote Charles Siegel. “This is something that is obviously do-able and should not require extensive study and planning.”
Other readers also demanded changes, and wondered what it might take to see them.
A reader who identified himself as David was similarly frustrated at what he felt was a sluggish approach to bike infrastructure in Berkeley: “Southbound Fulton is the only reasonable bike route in this part of downtown, and the fact that the bike lane simply disappears before Bancroft is unacceptable. Oakland has been putting in bike lanes, protected and regular, for years while Berkeley simply stares at its navel. There are a lot of these now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bike lane designs across town; how many deaths will it take before the City starts designing complete streets?”
Tuesday, Bike East Bay sent a letter to Berkeley’s city manager asking for action now, without further delay, to improve the bike route on Fulton by extending it two blocks south to Channing Way by May 16, which is Bike to Work Day. Of particular concern, the director of the 4,000-member advocacy group noted, was the city’s failure last year to paint bike lanes on Fulton when the road was repaved.
Executive director Renee Rivera wrote that Bike East Bay has struggled in the past to get “reluctant staff” on board about adding bike lanes at the time of repaving, despite “the City’s own plans which both call for bike lanes and also state that bike lanes should be installed when streets are repaved.”
The extension of the Fulton Street bike lane could require the removal of a travel lane and parking spots. Rivera wrote: “Staff considered our request, but declined to include bike lanes because, they stated, it would cause a delay through having to study potential traffic congestion and/or parking removal as part of the project.”
She said there were 10 reported bicycle-car collisions in the intersection between 2001 and 2014, adding, “People bicycling around the Cal campus need more protection from moving traffic.”
She asked for the city to take a harder look at its bike plan when making paving decisions and other road improvements, as part of its commitment to a “complete streets” policy: “These policies not only move the City of Berkeley in concrete ways toward identified goals for mode share, emissions reduction and more, they also help the City use scarce resources efficiently by rebuilding a street only once, not twice.”
She also asked the city to have a Public Works staffer with decision-making authority about paving meet at least quarterly with Bike East Bay so that “improvements for walking, bicycling, and all roadway users be incorporated into all repaving projects.”
Rivera wrote that the city is, however, looking into a bike lane on Bancroft as part of plans to repave that street, and thanked planning staff for their willingness to work on these issues with a collaborative spirit. Bike East Bay is working with city planners “to design and build new bikeways on Bancroft Way (right where Megan’s collision occurred), Milvia Street, and Hearst Avenue, where protected bike lanes are expected to open in 2017,” according to a statement posted on the group’s website.
But Rivera said it’s up to the city manager to “Complete the long delayed bike lane” on Fulton in a timely manner.
“I ask you to take immediate steps to make Berkeley’s streets safer for everyone in response to this heartwrenching collision,” she wrote. “A bike lane on Fulton Street may have made a significant difference in this case.”
Rivera also referenced new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines put out by the governor’s office last month that would “no longer require an Environmental Impact Report or any kind of environmental evaluation for doing a road diet to stripe a bike lane. Such projects are now exempt,” adding, “This shifts the discussion of potential traffic lane removal from a legal arena to a local political arena, and as far as Bike East Bay is concerned, Berkeley City Council has decided the political issue by approving the Bicycle Plan unanimously in 2000 and reaffirming it again in 2005, both times with bike lanes on Fulton Street in the Plan.”
Read more about the proposed changes from Streetsblog California.
Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay’s education director, said CEQA reforms from several years ago mean traffic studies “are no longer required in order to implement a bike lane that is identified in a bike plan.” He said the city of Oakland has already used that CEQA exemption for a bike lane and “road diet” on 17th Street at Telegraph Avenue.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Berkeley takes all of these concerns seriously, and described last week’s crash as “very tragic.”
He said the city is looking into whether it would indeed be possible to extend the bike lane “with neither technical studies nor public process,” as described by Bike East Bay. He said some of the CEQA guidelines described above are still in draft form, and does not believe the city’s existing bike plans “have provided CEQA clearance” for the lane extension.
He said the degree of environmental or public review could also change depending on what type of bike lane is considered on Fulton, and that the environmental review standard is somewhat in flux as the state considers changes to how it measures traffic impacts.
The new guidelines would look at “vehicle miles traveled,” as opposed to the current measure, the road’s “level of service,” or congestion level, according to Streetsblog California. “Under the new CEQA rule, environmental studies will use measurements that better correspond to actual environmental costs and benefits. This realigns the CEQA process to foster better transit, more walking and bicycling, and less driving.”
Chakko said the city looked at the “accident history” of several streets — not individual intersections — and found 22 reported cycle-involved crashes on Fulton, 55 on Hearst Avenue, 76 on Milvia Street, 50 on Bancroft Way and 121 on Shattuck Avenue.
The city is working, he said, to put improvements in place on the four latter streets, which “will make each of those streets safer to bicycle on.” There’s also a project in the works to install 37 bike-sharing stations, with 400 bikes, around the city, with a meeting coming up later this month. And he said the bike plan update as well as a Complete Streets Implementation Plan should be done this year.
Last year, when kicking off the bike plan update, staff focused on completing an analysis of the existing conditions and needs in the city’s cycling network; infrastructure and programming recommendations to promote cycling and increase safety will be rolled out to the public this spring in a series of workshops, Chakko said. This summer, the project team will take the public feedback and incorporate it into a draft of the updated plan, to be released in the fall. The draft will then go to the city’s Transportation Commission and is expected to be adopted by the Berkeley City Council in December.
Those who wish to know more can visit the Bike Berkeley project website to sign up for updates and get additional information. Both the bike plan and the complete streets plan will help the city take a more systematic approach to improvements needed around town, said Chakko.
“We do whatever we can to design safer roads for everyone, though we know, generally speaking, that careless driving, driving while texting or other poor behaviors on the roads can lead to devastating accidents,” he said. “We want to make it safer for bicyclists, wherever they are in Berkeley. The bicycle community obviously feels very strongly about being able to bicycle on a wide variety of roads, and that’s obviously something we listen to as well.”
See the city webpage focused on biking in Berkeley. Connect with Bike East Bay. Public comment will be accepted by email on the new state CEQA proposal through Feb. 29 at 5 p.m. Have a question about a local public safety incident? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographs and videos are always appreciated.
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