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Op-ed: Clever design brings protected intersection to Berkeley

Kids crossing The Alameda
Kids crossing The Alameda. Photo: Bike East Bay

Students at Martin Luther King, Jr Middle School in North Berkeley will soon be able to walk and bike to school much more safely, thanks to a new protected intersection coming to the neighborhood. Over 22,000 cars pass through the intersection of The Alameda and Hopkins Street everyday

Thanks to a clever design by city staff, this intersection will be upgraded to a protected intersection by the end of 2016. This will be the first protected intersection in the East Bay and only the 7th of its kind in the nation. Raised concrete islands will be added to each corner of the intersection, with the island at the southern corner elongated to create a bus boarding island. Read more about protected intersections.

Berkeley actually saves money and expedites the project by upgrading from standard pedestrian bulb outs to a protected intersection. The backstory is that in 2010, Berkeley received a Safe Routes to School grant to add pedestrian bulb outs at this busy intersection. Hundreds of students cross this section everyday, which connects the North Berkeley Branch Library with neighboring parks and schools. Bulb outs shorten crossing distances for walking and place pedestrians where they are more visible to drivers. However, because bulb outs cause water to drain differently on the street, they are costlier to design.

When the project was delayed due to engineering staff constraints, Caltrans threatened to rescind the grant to fix the intersection. To their credit, Berkeley staff jumped into action. They quickly figured that the drainage design challenges are minimized by moving the bulb outs into the street. This move allowed them to maintain existing curb lines and drainage. Then, by moving the bike lane behind the bulb outs – abracadabra! – Berkeley created a protected intersection.

This creative solution demonstrates a big leap forward in technical know-how for Berkeley city staff, possibly inspired by the successful design and construction of the Fulton Street protected bike lane in downtown Berkeley this May.

Thanks to hard work by Berkeley city staff and Bike East Bay’s advocacy, Berkeley could have five protected bike lane facilities on the ground by the end of 2016:

  1. Fulton Street protected bike lane–done!

  2. Hearst Avenue complete street with protected bike lanes–coming December 2016

  3. Protected intersection at The Alameda & Hopkins–coming December 2016

  4. Bancroft Way two-way protected bike lanes–coming this Winter

  5. Dana Street two-way protected bike lanes –coming this Winter

More on Berkeley’s Protected Intersection

We don’t have a great visual of the protected intersection, because the project is happening so quickly. The visual insert below gives you the idea of what happens at each corner of a protected intersection. Note, however, that regular bike lanes rather than protected bike lanes lead to Berkeley’s protected intersection, which is not uncommon.

Each corner of the intersection includes raised islands outside the bike lane that transitions curbside, and a corner raised island to create a tighter right-turn radius for cars, and this is a key feature of protected intersections. The corner island slows turning traffic and provides queuing space for turning cars outside of the thru-lane, allowing turning cars to wait for bicyclists and pedestrians to proceed forward through the intersection without blocking thru car traffic. In wide intersections such as this one, it works. The intersection corner at the bottom of the plan view graphic includes a floating bus board island where ACTransit riders will stand to board and off-board from the Line 25 bus, while people bicycling go behind the bus island.

Berkeley's protected intersection with graphic_0

This piece was first published by Bike East Bay on July 9, 2016.

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Dave Campbell is Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay.