Residents Decry Removal of Telegraph Ave. Median Strip

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday January 26, 2007

The city has removed median strips in the middle of Telegraph Avenue between Prince and Russell streets, alarming area residents about pedestrian safety. 

Parents who walk their young children to LeConte Elementary School on Russell every morning have complained that they miss the islands in the middle of the avenue since they provided some safety when they weren’t able to cross the street in the time allotted by the traffic light.  

“When I crossed Telegraph at Russell this morning with my 4-year-old in tow, the walk sign gave us only 15 seconds to cross Telegraph,” LeConte Elementary School parent Peter Shelton said recently. “That’s not enough time for my child, and I doubt it’s enough time for an elderly or disabled person. With the number of schools and medical offices around Telegraph, it’s just a matter of time before a pedestrian is injured or killed. Especially since the straightening of the lanes on Telegraph allows drivers to go even faster.” 

The median strips were recently removed by the city Public Works Department to make room for bike lanes on Telegraph. 

A public works officer told Shelton that the city wanted to have more parking and faster traffic flow on Telegraph as well as a bike lane and therefore the islands had to be taken away. 

“I think this is absurd,” Shelton said in an e-mail to the Planet. “First, we have north/south bike boulevards on Hillegass and Milvia, why do we need one on Telegraph? Second, I thought Berkeley was supposed to discourage car trips to the city center, so why make it easier for people to drive to campus on Telegraph? Third, it totally ignores the safety of pedestrians who have to cross Telegraph anywhere between Ashby and Dwight.” 

Shelton said he is also indignant that there was never any notice or publication of the removal. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, in whose area Telegraph falls, said the city first took away 24 parking spots from the area to make room for the bike lane. 

“When I complained to the Public Works about why the parking had been taken away, they put back the parking but removed the islands,” he said. “I can’t understand why the parking and the median strips cannot exist along with the bike lane. The street is wide enough.” 

Worthington added that both the parking and the medians had existed on the street together for decades. 

“The theory behind the medians was to make it safer for pedestrians to cross,” he said.  

Hamid Mostowfi, city supervising traffic engineer, said it was not possible for parking as well as the median strips to exist along with the bike lane. 

“Bike lanes by standard have to have a certain minimum width,” he said. “With the median, the width was not available. So in order to maintain the width and bring the bike lanes up to standard, the median strips had to be removed.” 

Marjorie Alvord, a Berkeley resident, said that not having the island was a problem, but added that the current parking situation also caused a dangerous visibility problem. 

“The younger kids with slower mobility could have problems with crossing,” she said. “But for me, parking so close to the corner makes it a big problem to see the cars that try to enter the street.”  

Worthington told the Planet that he was hopeful that when the city, county and AC Transit spend millions of dollars to improve the Bus Rapid Transit system, they would also study and improve pedestrian safety on Telegraph. 

“I think having a bike lane on Telegraph is a good idea because it helps to connect with the one in Oakland,” he said. “But the city needs to work in the area of pedestrian safety. It’s not that hard to provide a full network of services for residents which takes into consideration bikes, parking as well as pedestrians. If we can spend millions of dollars on a transport corridor, let’s do the same for pedestrians.”