Anyone who thinks Berkeley needs an anti-sitting law to bring people to the commercial districts must have missed the Sunday Streets event October 14, 2012. Shattuck Avenue between Rose Street and Haste Street was awash with music, bubbles, strollers, dancers, sitters, walkers, bike riders, sunlight, and joy.
The complete absence of cars is what has makes Sunday Streets a distinctive experience for people whether they walk the length of the event or just enjoy a couple blocks. The traffic lights change from red to green to yellow without any need to pay attention, tense up, or worry about one’s safety. The lights became just another colorful background element on a sunny day, like the balloons.
Children wandered through the streets in complete safety, a part of Berkeley’s community rarely seen downtown. Children, the best show on earth, could walk with their families without the strict supervision city streets usually require, encountering a man playing the piano in the middle of the road, a woman hula-hooping, or a mass of Zumba dancers going wild to the beat.
Getting kids in and out of cars, safety seats, belts, threading them safely through traffic was left behind. Parents could keep a casual eye on their children while talking to friends, watching dancers, enjoying live music, or just watching the passing crowd.
No new, restrictive, possibly discriminatory laws were necessary for this magical moment. All it needed was the absence of cars and their noisy, smelly, environmentally hostile consequences. Around seventy Sunday Streets events are taking place across the nation, making the case city by city that car-based planning is bad planning.
The city one sees from a pedestrian point of view is unique, as any Solano Stroll attendee will testify. But Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley is twice as wide, so the crushed, rushed feeling one sometimes has at the Stroll trying to get through the crowd is gone on Shattuck, a street wide enough to accommodate a collection of interested people around some musicians without impeding bikers rolling by.
If anyone in this town still thinks it needs an anti-sitting law after Sunday, or tries to argue that panhandlers are discouraging people from coming to commercial districts, show them some pictures of this event. And be sure to smile. That’s what everyone was doing together on Sunday, and the effect is spectacular.