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More office space and student housing means more traffic

Steve Geller
Monday January 21, 2002


We hear all this talk about traffic congestion, but not enough people are willing to do anything about it – except complain. 

Reading the weekend Planet (1/19-20), I see that the City of Berkeley might sue UC Berkeley if UC doesn’t deal effectively with the impact of proposed UC Northside development – especially traffic and parking. 

The same day, I saw a notice posted in the Derby Street Market about the American Baptist Seminary of the West, which is on Dwight. The ABSW wants to generate some commercial revenue by constructing a 6-story class and office building, with a 46-car garage. The notice complained about the likely traffic impact. 

Well, what’s the problem? There’s been all this hand-wringing about Berkeley’s lack of office space and student housing. Looks like these lacks are being dealt with. It appears the problem is that the cost of such beneficial development includes more traffic and more parking problems. 

The same issue of the Planet had an article by Traffic Commissioner Dean Metzger. He praised the recent letter from Hank Resnick about how Montpellier, France is dealing with urban congestion. Many European cities have car-free centers; they do it by having big parking garages distant from downtown, and expect people to either walk or take transit to get around downtown. 

Well, Berkeley isn’t surrounded by uninhabited territory. Remote parking structures may have to be built cooperatively with our East Bay neighbors. Space can be found if we re-use some of the “blighted” areas; both Oakland and Berkeley have plenty of those. Berkeley does have some open space down by the Marina; we don’t have to rip up Cezar Chavez Park. 

But public policy consistently goes the other way, toward building more downtown parking. 

Metzger says that he’d support making Berkeley car-free, where everyone walks or bikes, but something has to be done to accommodate cars. 

OK, bring on the cars. Traffic congestion may be the only thing capable of motivating enough people to choose alternative transportation. It seems that, politically, we can’t cut back on parking. But maybe we can increase traffic congestion by “benign neglect”. Let traffic get steadily worse, but keep offering nice transit alternatives, and make sure people know about them. 

So I suggest that the City leave UC alone, and do nothing about congestion. Build parking where people scream the most about it, and are willing to pay for it. UC pretty much has this policy right now. Why should they get sued for being enlightened? 

Steve Geller