Another Model: Berkeley’s Bicycle Boulevard Network

Yesterday I showed some photos of the "Share the Road" Bike Route signs that were recently installed on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn and that sparked an interesting discussion on different possible ways to design and build on-street bike paths. This summer I was in Berkeley, California for a friend’s wedding. NYCSR filmmaker Clarence Eckerson was also in Berkeley recently and we both snapped a bunch of photos of that city’s extensive "Bicycle Boulevard" network. For some more ideas of what might be possible in New York City, take a look:

You see these purple Bicycle Boulevard signs all over town. Driving, you are constantly reminded that bicycles are present. Cycling, you really get the sense that the city has a well-connected network of bike routes. In addition to the numerous purple street signs, the stencils are absolutely huge.

Berkeley also has extensive traffic-calming measures in place. Motor vehicular through-traffic is discouraged from using quiet, residential streets and Bicycle Boulevards as short-cuts with these heavy planters like these. Cars and trucks are forced to stay on the major thoroughfares. This often made driving in Berkeley slow and painful. But it’s great if your priority is high quality of life, safe bicycling and the ability to play touch football on a neighborhood street.

berkeley_donotenter.jpg

On the main shopping strips there is tons of bicycle parking.

berkeley_bike_parking2.jpg

The BART stations also have excellent indoor bicycle parking. I took this photo in San Francicso, however, not Berkeley:

berkeley_bart_parking.jpg

Keep in mind we’re talking about a city with an on-street recycling program and a well-developed, 35-year-old environmental consciousness. This ain’t New York. Though, I see no reason why we couldn’t be doing these things as well.

berkeley_trashcan.jpg

Check out this un-signalized midblock crosswalk. I was actually a little bit scared to use it. "You mean, cars are going to stop for me without a traffic signal to tell them to do so?!? I think I’ll let these guys cross first…" I could see something like this being useful on, 17th Street in Manhattan to connect the northern side of Union Square to the entrance of the Barnes & Noble store. Maybe we’d need a traffic signal in New York, though.

berkeley_midblock_cross.jpg

While Berkeley has all of this great bike infrastructure my main observation was this: New York City is still a far superior bicycling town. Parts of Berkeley are extremely hilly and, in general, it still felt like a car-dominated town. It’s California, afterall. I see far more cyclists on the streets of New York than I saw in Berkeley. You’ve got to think that if New York City built bike infrastructure as good as Berkeley’s, cycling might really explode here. I think that New York City is naturally, inherently a much more bikeable city. A little bit of encouragement  and good design would go a long way.

  • mfs

    I was there in February and borrowed a friend’s bike to look around. It was a really great bike ride, to say the least! Having an integrated bike navigation & safety sign system was great.

  • ddartley

    Yep, “Zebra crossings” in the U.K. are very similar to the ones pictured above–and I have the same reaction as you when I approach one: “No way, I HAVE to yield to the car, naturally!” Of course the local pedestrians use them without even pausing, and the cars actually stop!

    Again, it’s culture… and culture can be changed!

  • J:Lai

    Regarding the behavior of drivers approaching crosswalks – California has a law that drivers must stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks if they have at least one foot in the street. In SF there are actually stings with undercover cops to catch and ticket drivers who don’t comply.

  • david_uk

    Re yesterday’s bike photo in Brooklyn – only got image placeholder in my browser. Can you amend or pm to me? TIA.

  • Clarence

    Also, if anyone is interested, I did a very quick and not very planned out short for bikeTV on BB’s last year. Warning: not as serious as most of my stuff, but you’ll get the point and enjoy.

    http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/BikeTV/iMovieTheater77.html

  • I live in Seattle, also a town of recyclers and organic food eaters, and also a town of drivers. (We aren’t as “green” as we think we are out here.) I choose to live without a car, but I don’t bike much because I am terrified (repeat: terrified) to ride in the street. We don’t have as much of a bike-friendly infrastructure as Berkeley. Plus, there are a lot of hills. 🙂

    P.S. – Love the blog. It was sent to me by a fan of yours who lives in Minneapolis.

  • Managed to get my own URL wrong. Must be all these hills!

  • Boogiedown

    “You’ve got to think that if New York City built bike infrastructure as good as Berkeley’s, cycling might really explode here.”

    Hmmmm…that might explain a lot.

  • peteathome

    I spent a bit of time in Berkeley two winters ago. I got around by bike. I was suprised at how low number of bicyclists were.

    While it’s true that the west edge of town is extremly hilly, most of the city is relatively flat. The only part really affected byt he hills are the western side of the campus and some very expensive neighborhoods in the hills.

    And, of course, the weather is typcially great for bicycling and it is a major college town. So facilities may not encourage much bicycling, based on this example.

    One problem with Berkeley’s facilities is that Berkeley is a pretty small town and these facilities all end at the southern and northern boundaries of town. So you really can’t go very far on the boulevards.

  • One thing that makes a multi-lane street’s non-signalized pedestrian crossing a success is the existence of a pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street. Note the landscaped median strip in the photo above, which provides a safe place for pedestrians to stop. They don’t have to wait until the street is clear in both directions, intead, they can cross halfway, then safely wait for a break in traffic before crossing the other half.

    Note, however, one danger of an unsignalized ped crossing in a multi-lane street is that if one car stops for the pedestrian, an impatient driver behind can wonder, “why is this car stopping and slowing me down?” Then they swerve around the stopped car and can hit the pedestrian.

    Raised in California, I feel entitled to walk in the street, but I definitely keep an eye out for oblivious drivers, and I’m not afraid to shout out Kosmo Kramer’s line, “Hey! I’m WALKing here!”

  • Angus

    J:Lai writes, “Regarding the behavior of drivers approaching crosswalks – California has a law that drivers must stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks if they have at least one foot in the street. In SF there are actually stings with undercover cops to catch and ticket drivers who don’t comply.”

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/27/another-model-berkeleys-bicycle-boulevard-network/#comment-5110

    New York passed a law like this in 2001, whichg also addresses Cedric’s concern above:

    http://www.dot.state.ny.us/pubtrans/share.html#1151

    However, there is pretty much zero inforcement and almost no education, so drivers all believe they have the right of way. If you want to test it, I invite you to come to any of the unsigned crosswalks in my neighborhood of Woodside, Queens and see if you can get any drivers to yield to you.

  • Jim Baross

    Great article and photos!

    1. A part of the reason for NYC having more bicycling – more places to go that are w/in bicycling distance for most folks. Calif and other post-motor vehicle cities are spread out.

    2. About “bike paths”… Your first sentence has the phrase “on street bike paths.” There aren’t any “bike paths” in California that are on street. The term “Bike Path” refers to an off-street facility primarily for bicycling – though pedestrian uses are usually allowed. On-street facilities include Bike Lanes, Bike Routes and Shared Roadways – like the bike boulevards.

    I care about the distinction because in Calif. bicyclists are having to spend big bucks (for us anyway – $45,000 and counting) in legal costs to appeal previous precedent setting court decisions that removed responsibility for the design and maintenance of Bike Paths from cities that installed Bike Path… even when bicyclists are required to use the Bike Path as the only available route. We are mad as hell.

    People using a public transportation facility like roads, sidewalks, even Bike Lanes and boulevards have recourse for damages when injured. Not so with Bike Paths… that’s wrong.

    See http://www.cabobike.org/prokop.htm for more info.

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