Planners Seek to Accomodate Walkers in the City By JUDITH SCHERR

Friday March 03, 2006

Think “transportation” and you’ll probably imagine trains, buses, cars and such. But the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan is focused on a more elemental method of travel. 

“We need to get walking recognized as a mode of transportation,” said Wendy Alfsen, who heads the Transportation Commission’s Pedestrian Subcommittee. 

About 50 residents gathered at the North Berkeley Senior Center Wednesday night to talk about making walking safer and easier in Berkeley. 

Despite a reputation for a large number of pedestrian accidents, “Berkeley is the safest place for walking in California” with a population of more than 60,000 people, transportation planner Heath Maddox told the group. 

Maddox explained the paradox: Given the large volume of walkers in Berkeley—including the 15 percent who walk to work—the accident rate is low, he said. “We do have a high per capita rate of pedestrian collisions,” he further explained in an e-mail on Thursday. “But we have an extremely low “per walker” rate (of collisions), and from the perspective of assessing risk (and therefore danger), it’s the latter that counts, not the former.” 

The citizen planners divided into five groups at the meeting, each focusing on a specific area of the city. They discussed the various impediments they found to safe walking in the city. 

Wide, dangerous and inhospitable streets make people resort to cars, even for short trips, said Matt Nichols, planner with the city’s transportation division. 

The intersection of Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue is wide and dangerous, said people in the group looking at South Berkeley streets. 

Lack of lighting and cracked sidewalks makes walking on Alcatraz Avenue difficult, added Richie Smith, of the Alcatraz Avenue Neighborhood Organization. “Alcatraz is a speed zone,” she said, advocating for a solar speed monitor on the street. 

People in the group examining central Berkeley discussed ways to encourage walkers. While high volumes of people walk along Shattuck Avenue, businesses on University Avenue suffer from limited pedestrian traffic.  

“We’d like it to be vibrant,” said Connie Woods, noting that something as simple as extending the city’s seasonal Christmas decoration program down University Avenue would help bring foot traffic to that sometimes deserted area. 

Others suggested instituting “pedestrian days,” where merchants give discounts to people who come to shop without their cars. 

“We could close a couple of streets and have a pedestrian fair,” offered Susan Scheller. 

A car-free zone was suggested near the train station and another was suggested at the Fourth Street shopping corridor. 

The volume of pedestrians downtown also brings its own set of problems. Some workshop participants suggested prohibiting turns on red downtown—or perhaps all over Berkeley. 

Improving Berkeley’s paths will encourage walking, said Lori Kohlstaedt of the Path Wanderer’s Association. Many of the paths are in disrepair, said Kohlstaedt, who walks down the Indian Rock path daily to catch the bus to work. 

“The city owns the land, it’s a matter of the will to do it,” she said. 

People also looked at reducing the traffic volume. One thought was instituting a shuttle, similar to the Emery-go-round, that would circle Berkeley, targeting people who work downtown and those who work at or are students at the university. 

City planners will take the workshop participants’ comments into consideration when they draft their plan to facilitate walking in Berkeley. Those not attending the workshop can e-mail comments to hmaddox@ci.berkeley.ca.us or mail them to 1947 Center Street, 3rd Floor, Berkeley, 94704. 

Planners will come back to citizens in the fall for input on the plan, then go to the City Council to ask for approval of specific projects early next year. Funding will come from a number of sources, including funds for sidewalk repair and county transportation funds.