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City attorney upholds bicycle restrictions

By John GeluardiDaily Planet staff
Tuesday September 11, 2001

Two years after a Critical Mass ride ended in eight arrests and 36 citations on the University Avenue overpass, the City Council will review an opinion by the city attorney tonight, which upholds the prohibition of bicycle traffic on the span. 

On Feb. 13, the council requested the city attorney’s opinion on the recommendation of the Police Review Commission, which investigated bicyclists’ complaints of police misconduct during the arrests.  

The PRC did not find any evidence of police misconduct, but, based on the opinion of local attorney David Beuvais, did recommend the council verify the legality of prohibiting bicyclists on the University Avenue overpass, the Solano Tunnel and the Ashby Underpass.  

The PRC also requested the Berkeley Police Department be required to write police reports on all accidents involving automobiles and bicycles whether there’s an injury or not.  

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque discounted Beuvais’ interpretation of the law. In her June 1 opinion, she cited the 1952 Grade-Separation Law, part of the Berkeley Municipal Code, and argued that bicycle traffic is legally prohibited on the roadways in question.  

City Manager Weldon Rucker agreed with the city attorney in a September staff report. 

“The concern of the city is the safety of bicyclists,” he wrote, “(and) all of the specified roadways are dangerous for bicyclists.”  

The report also points out that the Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, which is near completion, will provide a safe route across the freeway back and forth from the Berkeley Marina. 

Director of the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union Jason Meggs said the city attorney’s ruling presents a problem because the almost-50-year-old Grade-Separation Law, which prohibits bicycles on the overpass, is written to cover any street that passes over another. 

“According to the letter of the law, the new bicycle and pedestrian bridge would be illegal for bicyclists and pedestrians because it passes over the freeway,” said Meggs who wrote a proposal to rescind the law. Meggs said the law also applies to several other roadways in Berkeley.  

But Deputy City Attorney Matt Orebic said the Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge will not be affected by the law because the grade separation law specifically refers to “streets” and the bridge is not considered a street. 

“The only way to interpret this law is by common sense,” Orebic said, “and it’s clear the bridge won’t require an amendment to the Grade Separation Law.” 

In addition the PRC asked that the BPD be required to Grade Separation Law.” 

In addition the PRC asked that the BPD be required to write police reports on all accidents involving cars and bicycles including non-injury accidents.  

The city manager said in the September staff report that Berkeley police are currently required to write reports on all injury accidents including those involving bicyclists. But the report said the police do not have the resources to write reports on non-injury accidents. 

“Expanding report requirements to non-injury accidents would place an undue burden on the patrol fleet and remove officers from patrol duties in order to accomplish this task,” the report said. 

Meggs, who said he was recently involved in an accident with a tow truck while riding his bicycle, said he was skeptical of the city manager’s reasoning. 

“That’s a convenient excuse,” he said. “When someone is assaulting you with a deadly weapon, you better believe there needs to be a report written.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he had not yet taken a stance on the city attorney’s opinion. However, he did say the city needs to work harder to be friendly to bicyclists and transit users.  

“The city gives lip service to having a transit first policy but there are hundreds of little impediments that discourage people from using bicycles and public transportation.”