Public Comment

The Alameda’s Sensible Improvement Plan

By Alan Tobey
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 09:06:00 AM

I was not surprised to read Zelda Bronstein’s impassioned attack on another rational city plan to improve the safety and functionality of one of our neighborhood streets—this time the four blocks of The Alameda between Solano Ave. and Hopkins St. The plan would reduce the number of traffic lanes in each direction of this unbusy road segment from two to one, allowing for a separated left-turn lane and bicycle lanes.   

It was Ms. Bronstein who was primarily responsible in 2004-5 for the months of unnecessary delay, and the tens of thousands of dollars of extra expense for superfluous “studies,” that preceded the similar restriping plan now in place on Marin Avenue. Her new commentary seizes on the merely modest decrease in average speeds on Marin since the change as proof she was correct to oppose the plan then, and points to two pedestrian fatalities (both attributed to substance-impaired drivers) as conclusive proof of increased danger.  

However, Ms. Bronstein apparently chooses not to recall the hysterical arguments in opposition that she was vigorous in raising at the time. Opponents’ primary conclusion, unsupported by the city’s careful study, was that reducing automobile lanes would produce “gridlock all the way down Marin” that would cut off car-dependent hills dwellers from their accustomed rapid access to the freeway—an outcome which never came to pass. Nor have cyclists or left-turners from Marin been endangered by “impatient motorists” who would surely disobey the striping. Instead the street has, in fact, become safer for both drivers and pedestrians and much more usable for cyclists—just as expected. 

Unable to win on the merits of the issue, Ms. Bronstein once again is resorting to blaming city hall and the mayor for simply going ahead with a sensible and now-proven plan with minimal fuss. Here’s what she wrote with similar intent in her Daily Planet commentary of Dec. 10, 2004: “The immediate issue for the Berkeley City Council is not the merit of the project but the adequacy of the planning process. To give this proposal the final go-ahead now would amount to governance by fiat.”  She was not willing then, nor does she seem so now, to simply leave routine public-improvement work to our paid professionals with a routine amount of public input. Apparently multiple public hearings and months of expensive added delay are again warranted so that every possible “concern” can again be over-studied to death—for exactly four blocks of one neighborhood public street with far less daily traffic than Marin. 

In 2004 Ms. Bronstein complained of “The Stealth Plan to Bicycle-ize Marin Avenue,” and apparently now sees the same looming public danger for The Alameda. But the City of Berkeley is not just serving cyclists with these improvements. It is actually working toward the wider committed goal of more “complete streets”: thoroughfares that optimally serve the needs of pedestrians, bus riders and cyclists while also improving safety for drivers. We need more of these complete streets for the proven benefits they bring, and we now have the real-world experience to install them without years of public hearings or more hysterical overreaction in the name of “public participation.”  


Alan Tobey is a Berkeley resident.