Peter Jansen, WW2 vet, pro-bike anti-authoritarian

Peter Jansen
Pete Jansen (left) at age 80, with Alex Zuckerman, another avid cyclist and long-time Berkeley resident, at the 40th anniversary of Velo-Sport Cyclery in Berkeley in 2003. Photo: courtesy Jansen family

Peter Brandt Jansen, 1921-2014

San Francisco Bay Area native and 70-year Berkeley resident Peter Brandt Jansen died January 8, 2014. He was 92.

Pete called himself “a realist” and said in his later years that the declining state of the world inspired his longevity: he wanted to live long enough to be able to say “I told you so!” and, in that, he largely succeeded. (He also wanted to live to 100 so he could get free cheese and scones at The Cheese Board, but The Cheese Board removed that incentive when it recently discontinued its senior discounts!)

Pete was born in San Francisco, raised in Berkeley and in an unincorporated area of San Mateo County that became Menlo Park. His family raised chickens. He noted that when he was born, California’s population was roughly 3 million; it had grown more than ten-fold in his 92 years. He was a critic of theories linking economic health to growth and consumerism, knowing the earth to have finite resources.

He was twice a UC Berkeley graduate, earning a degree in forestry before enlisting to serve in World War II. He worked briefly in a Pacific Northwest lumber camp. After the war, he returned to Cal for a degree in civil engineering. This time around, he met the love of his life, Marion, who was also attending Cal on the GI bill. They met on a blind date of sorts, a trip to the Coconut Grove ballroom in Santa Cruz, Pete displacing another gent on a double date because Pete had the car. They were married at Lake Tahoe in 1948 and celebrated 65 years together last September.

As a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, he rose to the rank of lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps, and, although proud to serve his country, became disillusioned with the military-industrial complex and protested against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In 1960, he had protested the presence of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco and witnessed first-hand police injuring protestors by clearing them from the steps of City Hall with fire hoses. When police from all over the Bay Area were called to Berkeley to “maintain peace” during the People’s Park riots in Berkeley in 1969, Pete asked a visiting officer in riot gear: “What are all the mercenaries doing here?” He was a devoté of Bob Dylan, Malvina Reynolds, Turk Murphy and the Good Time Washboard Three.

During his long career as a highway engineer with the California Department of Transportation (now CalTrans), he was a pioneering advocate for bicycles. He was largely responsible for incorporating a bicycle overcrossing in the Highway 92 – Interstate 280 freeway interchange on the Peninsula in the early 1970s, long before such cycling accommodations were popular. He was critical of America’s love affair with cars and the huge public infrastructure costs to support them.

Pete loved the outdoors. In his youth, he hunted deer with a bow and arrow. He introduced his sons to camping, backpacking and stream fishing in the Sierra Nevada. His son Mark, in turn, introduced Pete to bicycling, and Pete became quite the cyclist, eventually completing the Markleeville Death Ride (129 miles over five high-altitude Sierra Nevada passes in one day) twice, and the Davis Double Century (200 miles in one day) three times, the last time in his late 60s.

In his last decade, Pete would listen to Berkeley-based KPFA radio too often for his family, and when out in public, sported a grimy old bicycling cap adorned with a small political button declaring “It’s about OIL!” He was an advocate of medical marijuana, loved San Francisco’s oldest downtown restaurant, Tadich Grill, for its Oysters Rockefeller and bartender Paul’s superb martinis, and in Berkeley hung out often at the original Peet’s coffee shop at Vine and Walnut, the North Berkeley Senior Center and the downtown Berkeley YMCA, where he continued to work out well into his last half-year of life.


Pete is survived by his wife of 65 years Marion, sons Mark and Eric, daughter-in-law Jolie, and granddaughters Zoe, Greer and Lila. He had a sharp wit to the end, and his friends, family and other caregivers admired his humor, humility and gentleness. A celebration of life is being planned for sometime this spring. (If you knew Pete, please contact his family for information.)

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or KPFA.

Feel free to share your messages of condolence and/or memories of Pete Jansen in the comments.

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