The East Bay lends itself well to modes of transportation other than driving. Here is a guide to the whys and hows of biking in the East Bay, and Berkeley in particular.
Driving in the East Bay is an activity that can range from merely aggravating to nearly futile. Among other things, there are the ever-present threats of traffic jams, lack of parking, and having to share the road with aggressive, over-caffeinated drivers, which push the act of driving ever closer to a Hobbesian state of nature: nasty, brutish, and (with luck, mercifully) short. Nowhere more so than in Berkeley are the problems with driving in the East Bay apparent. For example, unless you have a Nobel Prize ( and thereby a prime reserved space on the UC Berkeley campus) the only reliable thing about finding a parking spot is futility. And then, of course, there are the numerous one-way or dead-end streets throughout the town.
So why not save yourself the trouble? After all, bike riding is fun! Your movement is the product of your own pedaling, not simply from stepping on the gas. Bikes can go places cars cannot (such as straight across campus), and have no fuel costs. Parking is as simple as finding an open space on a rack. Moreover, the Berkeley’s Office of Transportation website claims that “Berkeley ranks as the safest place with a population over 60,000 in California for biking and walking.”
First, you’re required to obtain a California bicycle license to ride in Berkeley (free for UC students, $8 otherwise) However, I have never seen a rider cited for not having a license. After that, and the purchase of a good lock, you’re free to go wherever you wish.
If you don’t yet have a bicycle, or if your bike breaks down, Berkeley has no shortage of bike shops. For example, the Missing Link Bicycle Co-op (1988 Shattuck Ave.) sells new bikes and gear. At their Annex across the street (1961 Shattuck Ave.), the co-op sells used bikes and repair services.
Unfortunately, the paths of bike lanes through the streets of Berkeley often meander erratically. It is sometimes hard to go from point A to point B following only the designated bike lanes. You should, however, try to follow the bike lanes as much as possible, if only to avoid the stress that comes with riding in a busy street while cars whip past.
A useful website to help a rider plan a course along bike lanes is http://bicycling.511.org. ( a government-sponsored one-stop-shop for transportation-related information; e.g. traffic and bike lanes.) The site includes a Google Maps-style zoom-able street map of the entire Bay Area annotated to show the three types of bike paths: streets that have bike paths on them; streets with little traffic, but no bike path, deemed safe for riders; and dedicated pedestrian/biking paths. The site also has printable maps with the same information.
As should perhaps be obvious, you should be particularly aware of road-safety precautions when on a bike. The roads of Berkeley, particularly when narrow, can be dangerous for the unwary rider.
Another useful site is BicycleSafety.com. The website’s main page—titled “How to Not Get Hit by Cars”—lists 10 different types of collisions and how to avoid them. The types of collisions range from the “Red Light of Death” to the “Wrong-Way Wallop,” and are presented along with practical advice like “Don’t ride against traffic.” Also good to keep in mind: bicyclists must obey the same road rules that govern cars.
Once you have arrived at your destination, you must make sure to securely lock your bike to a bicycle rack. Unlocked or improperly locked bikes do get stolen, particularly when left outside overnight. Theft should not be a constant concern. Hopefully you will enjoy years of bicycling in Berkeley.