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We need more trees, less metal

Donald Schweter
Monday December 17, 2001


The Berkeley Daily Planet received this letter addressed to Mayor Shirley Dean and the City Council: 

This letter is to support Policy T-35 of the Draft General Plan, in the hope of slanting future development of downtown Berkeley toward grass, trees and people, and less toward yet more shiny, idle sheet metal sitting in glaring possession of public sites. 

More parking downtown will simply render the area more vehicle-friendly. The past year has seen some tragic pedestrian deaths by motor vehicle in Berkeley. One of the worst only a few blocks from our home, that of a lovely young woman crossing Shattuck on a green light, some months ago. Statistically, more vehicles must result in more such incidents. 

Those of us who bike or walk are perhaps asking too much of our elected representatives: ours is, after all, a car culture. No community in this country will in the foreseeable future follow the example of some small European cities to establish a Ringstrasse, within which only public transportation and city-owned ride&leave bikes are permitted. This would give us the most humane and safe environment, but it won’t happen any time soon. 

But we can, at this point, adopt a moratorium on new parking. Traffic history in this, the most vehicularized country in the world, clearly shows that new provisions for automobiles are quickly maxed out, resulting in an exponential demand for ever more parking, still more roads. And our communities stew and steep in the exhaust fumes of ever greater numbers of stalled, idling automobiles. 

We cannot cure the automotive malaise anytime soon, but we can refrain from worsening it, limiting the magnitude of the mess that must be dealt with eventually. Please do not yield to the mercantile and automotive voices; this is a lot to ask, for they are very vocal, well moneyed, and represent the upper strata of the social hierarchy. To ask a political leader to stand firm in the face of all this may well be unreasonable. But Berkeley isn’t just any community. 

We initiated here the national movement that stopped the Vietnam venture; fruit pickers protection and representation began here, back in the ’60s. If a stand against the motor minds of the country is to start anywhere, this is the place, you are the people. 


Donald Schweter