Two Lanes on Marin Avenue? A Design for Road Rage! By RAYMOND A. CHAMBERLIN

Tuesday December 14, 2004

On Tuesday, Dec. 14, the Berkeley City Council will be asked to approve city staff’s recommendation to re-stripe Marin Avenue west of The Alameda for only two auto lanes, plus a center left-turn lane and two bicycle lanes, absent an environmental impact report (EIR). The City of Albany has already approved the project for its portion of Marin.  

The Dec. 14 date was selected to keep most of Marin’s users’ objections to the project out of the loop. Only a small fraction of such users were ever officially notified, by the cities of Albany and Berkeley, of how each was to modify Marin within its respective boundaries.  

This project is a thrust of the East Bay bicycle lobby to expand its bike-route system under the veil of a 5-mph speed reduction on this arterial. The current high speeds and dangerous driving on Marin certainly needs curtailment, but it’s clear from the official write-up of the project, still online at www.albanyca.org/news, that the redesign will 1) jam up traffic during commute hours, 2) cause cars to divert onto feeder and residential streets, and 3) likely create a more hazardous course for pedestrians crossing Marin.  

Albany’s police chief, having given up on using speeding tickets to slow Marin traffic, insisted only an engineering solution would do the job. But traffic crowding and physical impediments to speeding are inherently hazardous and not substitutes for law enforcement. With curb changes visualized in the next phase, this “study” phase is offered as only a simple, reversible pavement-striping project. However, some 40 concrete structures must be removed from the centerline of Marin to accommodate the advertised left-turn lane, with their replacement upon any decision to revert after the trial period. 

Fire and police personnel have stated their concerns about emergency-vehicle travel on the reconfigured Marin, but their concerns were disregarded in the consultants’ writings on the project, as noted in residents’ letters to the Council. 

Most of the traffic and noise data claimed as excusing the need of an EIR are either inadequate or based on inappropriate computer simulations. Often single results are differently massaged to read “more than one-minute” or “up to one minute,” depending on the particular political point of the moment. I drove Marin and two other routes that would bypass the projected traffic-riled version of it. My times on the alternate routes equaled the consultants’ calculated longer travel times on a lane-reduced Marin. See www.znet.com/~raych/MyEvaluation.htm , a more technical discussion than this. Apart from the issue of time, these routes would avoid the constant start and stop on the modified Marin. 

On this wholly residential arterial, the opportunities for turning left into driveways are very frequent. Envision two well-calmed drivers in the center lane, each unaware of the other’s choice of targeted driveway. Oops, their projections overlap, so it’s back to their respective through lanes or executions of dangerous diagonal left turns.  

And all that pedestrians get to improve their safety in crossing Marin is a potential bone-breaking impact speed claimed as 5 mph lower than before. No overpass, an admittedly expensive item, but one feasible and not unaesthetic as erected at the Marin BART crossing. No additional pedestrian-controlled traffic lights. Removal of all centerline safety features in order to permit the center-lane hazard of left-turners streaking across crosswalks while looking for holes in oncoming traffic, or of others misusing this lane for passing—likely worse than the second-travel-lane problem pedestrians currently face.  

Even most bicyclists are slighted by this project’s design! Still cramped by cars traveling at probably the same speed as before during non-commute hours, pedestrians poking out from between cars to get into their parked cars and doors opening for drivers entering or leaving their parked cars would continue to threaten them. Only substandard bicycle lanes will fit into the reshuffled Marin. Only daredevil cyclists would use the reconfigured Marin. The commute diversion routes referenced above would be superior to a bike-laned Marin for your ordinary bicyclist. How has this easily foreseen fiasco been so smoothly dumped upon us? By 1) today’s scarcity of public money, 2) excess laxity in criteria for public grants, and above all, 3) inadequate resistance to infiltration by bicycle extremists into positions in city and district governments and green organizations. 

Presently, bicycle activists run Berkeley’s Transportation Commission, known around City Hall as the Bicycle Commission. The bicycle recreational lobby, which sees itself as a church of ecological salvation and its fanatic disciples as superheroes in Spandex, seeks a flexing of its muscles, not paths needed by civilized bicyclists. These zealots see road constrictions not as safety measures taken in the interest of pedestrians, but as means to get large numbers of motor vehicles, eventually all of such, off all the rights of way they feel are their inheritance in this, as they perceive it, post-private-automobile era. The Internet is filled with the fantasies of these vastly overspoken, underwheeled ideological blokes who, in most of their power plays, are not seeking safety, not even their own. They fantasize that choking traffic will cause a significant number of commuters to switch to public transportation or. . .you guessed it. . .bicycles! Give me a brake (but no derailleur)!  

One source of funds for this game is grant money from clean-air-seeking organizations such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), a source Albany has tapped for implementing their initial phase of the Marin project. The BAAQMD bit on the road dieting line a few years ago, when Oakland was to change its portion of Telegraph Avenue from four to two lanes. But the bikers had overstated, in their grant application, the number of transportation-mode switchers, and the grant was withdrawn. May Albany’s present grant likewise be reconsidered.  

City staff claim the Marin project will be subject to dismantling at the end of one year. But at the Berkeley Transportation Commission’s October 21 public hearing, staff conceded that no limiting criteria had been set for determining continuation of the project after its yearlong trial.  

So raise your voice at the City Council meeting of Dec. 14—or better still, use your City Hall connections to move this Marin issue to a City Council meeting after the holidays, when it can be addressed by many more of those it would affect. Don't just peg this project as another politically correct Berkeley happening.  


Raymond Chamberlin lives in the Berkeley hills.