Complete Streets—not Honda

Ann Foley
Monday February 13, 2017 - 04:51:00 PM

“Home is everything you can walk to.” -- Jerry Spinelli, author

“The paradox of transportation in the late 20th Century is that while it became possible to travel to the moon, it also became impossible, in many cases, to walk across the street.” -- Joell Vanderwagen, transportation consultant

By approving the Honda dealership on Shattuck Avenue between the complicated intersections of Ward and Stuart Streets, the City would encourage more car use in a particularly congested area AND turn its back on the serious traffic problems that pedestrians, bikers, buses, and drivers have long faced on this segment of Shattuck.  

At the ZAB meeting, I argued from a cyclist's perspective how traffic flow will make it hazardous for cars and trucks to stop and wait in the middle of a busy 2-lane road to turn left into the proposed Honda entrance. As the vehicle waits for a break in northbound traffic to make a left turn, it's obstructing the flow of traffic merging in behind it from a busy 2-lane highway backed up at a light. Drivers will swerve around the waiting vehicle and pass on the right--using the biking, parking, and bus stop shoulder of the road. Trust me. Drivers are always in a rush to get through this congested area. They're reluctant to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, let alone for bikers trying to cross Shattuck on Stuart or to turn in any of 8 possible unregulated directions at the intersection. 

Nearly every time I bike or walk through the Stuart/Shattuck intersection, I witness some type of close call. Just last Friday, I was on my bike waiting to cross Shattuck at this intersection. A large southbound SUV stopped at the crosswalk to let me pass. I hesitated a few seconds, unsure whether the driver was waiting to turn or waiting for me to cross. In those seconds, a small car whipped around the right of the SUV and sped through the intersection, almost swerving into me. Another small car followed suit. Why should they line up patiently behind it when there was just enough space to quickly dodge around it? Since it was dark, they couldn't see why the SUV was stopped, and it blocked their view. Meanwhile, the considerate SUV driver had to wait even longer until it was finally safe for me to cross Shattuck. 

I live halfway up Stuart Street, on the Any Mountain side, and my partner and I don't drive. Thirteen years ago, we felt lucky to find this quiet residential neighborhood with many great local businesses within walking or biking distance. Studies show that more and more people are choosing to live in walkable/bikeable urban neighborhoods with a mix of uses, just like this one. So why would we want to destroy Berkeley's valuable resources by increasing vehicle congestion and making the area even more unsafe for residents, drivers, pedestrians, schoolchildren, bicyclists, and bus riders? 

Hasn’t this country spent the past fifty years building housing, commerce, and infrastructure around the auto industry--prioritizing the moving, parking, selling, and servicing of vehicles over the rights of pedestrians and cyclists? The Bates administration upheld this tradition by promising Honda this property in a private deal and rezoning the area for auto sales & repair services. The people who actually live, walk, and sleep in this area had no part in the decision. At the City Council appeal on February 7, it was evident who valued neighborhood feedback and who regarded it as an annoying formality that was “unfair to Honda.” 

Let's not support these charades by allowing an auto sales & repair shop in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. It's time to adopt progressive development standards, master plans, municipal and zoning codes that preserve and enhance walkable/bikeable urban environments. From an economic standpoint, walkable urban places ("WalkUPs") is the new catchphrase in real estate competition, and Berkeley is a prime location for this type of development. But it also requires a forward-thinking City administration that respects and protects its citizens and neighborhoods. 

For example, next year, Berkeley will reconfigure Shattuck Avenue following the "Complete Streets" model. "Complete Streets" will be designed to "mitigate traffic while increasing safety and ease for bicyclists and pedestrians." The plan includes new sidewalks, sidewalk extensions, bike lanes, traffic lights, road-sharing arrows, parking-protected sections of bike lanes, and bus boarding islands so bike lanes can pass to the right of parked buses. Hmm...I know just the perfect place to implement this model. I hope construction makes it down Shattuck as far as Ward & Stuart before it's too late.