The College Avenue repaving project, with its clogs and glitches, is just about complete, but area residents and merchants are not ready to sit back in silence to enjoy the slick black road.
There are too many other traffic-related problems that have been smoldering for years.
At a Tuesday evening meeting at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, people who live and work on and near College Avenue met and breathed fire in the city’s direction and hissed at each other during a raucous meeting to address traffic concerns.
Merchants in the area complained that their customers need easier access to their businesses.
Residents argued that motorists speed through their neighborhoods and use them as shortcuts to UC Berkeley and the freeways. And they say that the city has been unfair when distributing traffic calming devices.
Newly-hired traffic planner Jeff Knowles and Director of Public Works Rene Cardinaux took notes and did their best to answer questions at the meeting, also attended by Mayor Shirley Dean and City Council members Polly Armstrong and Kriss Worthington. Cardinaux said that he and Knowles are listening to the residents and merchants’ problems and ideas to help them put together a solution, if one exists.
“We’re trying to figure out the problem,” he said. “We don’t want to use traffic calming devices if there are too many cars. We want to divert them. I understand the concerns, but it has to be a neighborhood-wide study to see if there is a problem.” “We owe them a good hearing, and there’s a lot of wisdom in a group of people,” Cardinaux said. “You just need to cull it out.”
He said that they plan to have one more of the “listening sessions” before he begins to zero in on solutions.
However, the College Avenue area won’t be the only district affected. “You can’t solve a traffic problem in one area without looking at another area,” he said. “It’s not just the (College) neighborhood that has these concerns. It’s every part of the city.”
He said that, ideally, they hope to solve the traffic problems in one area then work their way around the city.
In the College Avenue area, Cardinaux said that the traffic diverters and other temporary devices to slow the traffic, assembled for the paving project, will be removed, and the area will be returned to the pre-construction status quo within the next week. The traffic overflow and the devices used to check the overflow during the three-month re-paving of College from Dwight Way to Alcatraz Avenue, fumed area merchants and residents.
Cardinaux said in the past five years residents have said that the city has neglected their complaints of traffic in the neighborhood, and now that they’re in the spotlight because of the construction, they want to continue a dialogue.
“This is about safety and nothing else!” said a fiery Paul Tuleja, who lives near the Benvenue Avenue and Ashby Avenue intersection. “Benvenue is the only unobstructed residential side street between the Oakland border and the university. Is it any wonder that this intersection is a repeated accident place?”
“This intersection is so dangerous,” he said. “We need a temporary solution while the city works on its four or five-year plan for everyone else.”
Tuleja said he thought that putting in 24-hour right-hand turn only lanes at the intersection, or blocking the street off with bollards – a round concrete barrier the city uses to divert traffic and prevent entrance – to prevent northbound traffic, would help.Hillegas Avenue resident Marguerite Barron questioned the reasons that neighborhoods east of College were blocked off by bollards and diverters.
“Why should neighborhoods east of College be pockets of privilege?” she said.
Several residents said that the diverters do more than just keep cars out.
“I never thought that neighborhoods were about cars. I thought they were about people,” said Mark Chekal.
“We should open our streets and our hearts to the city,” said Edith Yu. “The problem is that all are streets are blocked off... we should open all of our streets so everyone bears the burden of their own local traffic.”
Adrian Custer, a bicyclist, said he was ready to move because of the drivers in the area.
“What needs to happen is you need to educate people,” he said. “And we need better enforcement of traffic laws.”\With his son in his arms, College Avenue resident Dave Walker said that slowing down cars is the real issue. “There is certainly a need for safe streets,” he said. “But diverters create more problems than they solve. If they work so well, why can’t I have them on College Avenue. It’s a residential area and I pay my taxes.” Councilmember Polly Armstrong said that residents have been asking the city to make Dwight Way and Haste Street two-way thoroughfares for years to ease the traffic along College and in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“If that doesn’t happen, you’ll need to give a detailed explanation to these people,” she said to Cardinaux and Knowles.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who just a month ago was being threatened with a lawsuit by the Elmwood Merchants Association because of the traffic problems resulting from the paving project, tried to find a happy medium between residents and merchants.
“The City Council’s job is not to get applause,” he said. “Our job is to find how we balance these things.”
He said that he would like to improve short-term parking for businesses on College and said that limiting the long-term parking by the employees of UC Berkeley and Alta Bates Hospital is one way to do it.
He also said that “pinchers,” the little orange sticks that force traffic into one lane, have appeared to limit traffic speed.
“I’d like to give it a one-year trial program in a neighborhood and give it a chance,” he said. “It’s a step forward.”