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More signs could make cyclists safer

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Saturday July 06, 2002

Berkeley will see more of those bright purple Bicycle Boulevard signs soon if a resolution is passed by the City Council Tuesday night. 

The resolution, recommended by the office of the city manager, is a part of the Berkeley Bicycle Plan, a program adopted in April 2000 to make the city safer for cyclists. 

“It’s a small step forward but the signs are an essential component to changing the atmosphere and attitudes on the streets,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.  

Cyclists in Berkeley have long complained that the city has not done enough to support a bike-friendly environment. 

Currently, signs are posted on only one of the city’s seven designated Bicycle Boulevards, Hillegass Avenue in south Berkeley. If the resolution is passed, as is expected, signs will be installed on the remaining streets, including Ninth Street, California and King streets, Milvia Street, Virginia Street, Channing Way and Russell Street. 

The Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition and the Pedestrian Safety Task Force say the signs are a start but that more work needs to be done. The groups argue that additional traffic-calming measures such as adding traffic circles need to be taken.  

“There is a great desire to have the Bicycle Boulevards expanded and for changing the cycling environment in the city,” said Peter Hillier, assistant city manager for transportation.  

Hillier says that installing the signs and adding additional markings to the boulevards are the highest priorities of the office under the Bicycle Plan. In addition to the signs, plans are under way to add arrows and stencil work to the pavement of the boulevards, directing and informing cyclists and drivers alike. 

While the signs indicate a step forward in the process of making the city safer for cyclists, Hillier realizes that signs alone will not satisfy bike advocates.  

“Our next question is how to introduce other traffic-calming elements to enhance the cycling environment,” he said. Ironically, the most effective method of slowing motorists down – speed bumps – is banned in Berkeley.  

Members of Berkeley’s disabled community argue that speed bumps are dangerous and can cause pain to elderly and disabled people when they ride over the bumps. 

The moratorium on speed bumps, however, has led officials to consider traffic circles placed in the middle of intersections that would force motorists to slow as they drove the circle. According to Hillier, one such traffic circle at the intersection of Ellsworth and Derby Streets has been a success so far in south Berkeley.  

Officials have also considered bulb-outs, which extend a sidewalk or plaza in a bulb-like shape into the street. Bulb-outs create a shorter distance for pedestrians to travel when crossing the street and cause traffic to move more slowly. 

Most local residents expressed at least some concern related to bike safety.  

“I try to avoid certain streets like Telegraph and just take the side streets. But I don’t see a big need for safety measures right now,” said Daniel, a Berkeley resident who did not want to give his last name. 

According to UC Berkeley student Erica Holt, more bike lanes and signals for bike riders would be an improvement. “If they made some changes I’d feel more comfortable riding my bike as a form of transportation. Right now I’m scared to ride my bike in Berkeley,” she said. 

Supporters of the Bicycle Plan hope to eventually provide cyclists with a way to travel from north to south and east to west through the city on a path separate from cars. 

Efforts have been made to discuss bicycle safety issues with the Berkeley Police Department, says Worthington. According to the BPD, pamphlets have been produced and workshops have been held in the past on bicycle safety. 

Though the total cost of the sign project is estimated at $51,450, the city has received grants of $17,150 from the Bay Area Air Quality Management Fund and $17,150 from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency Fund.