Berkeley Embraces Its Inaugural Sunday Streets on Car-Free Shattuck Ave

Throngs of people filled Shattuck Avenue for Berkeley's first car-free Sunday Streets event. Photos: Judy Silber

Seventeen blocks of Shattuck Avenue, normally one of Berkeley’s most traffic-clogged streets, were filled with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people walking, biking and skating for the debut of Sunday Streets Berkeley this weekend.

“It was a huge success,” said Erin Rhoades, executive director of Livable Berkeley, one of the event’s main organizers. “It’s evidence that the community was really ready for an event like that – to be in the right of way, in a way that was totally non-auto oriented.”

For five hours, more than a mile of Shattuck — from Haste to Rose Streets, through the downtown area and Gourmet Ghetto — was car-free, dedicated to human activity and non-motorized transportation. Walking and biking down Shattuck offered an opportunity to explore the neighborhood’s stores and restaurants in a new way, and many merchants took advantage by opening their doors wide and putting out tables on the sidewalk.

“It’s being able to take back a street and not having to worry about cars,” said Berkeley Council Member Laurie Capitelli. “People see their neighborhood in a whole new light. When you’re in a car, you miss a lot of it.”

Rhoades said she approached the mayor’s office with the idea to emulate the success of Sunday Streets in San Francisco, which will hold the last of this year’s ten events this weekend. With East Bay residents regularly traveling across the bay to attend SF’s events, Rhoades sought to bring Sunday Streets home.

“We wanted to see a huge [section] of the community come and experience Berkeley in a different way, to be able to imagine new possibilities for how Berkeley could become more bicycle- and transit-friendly, and become advocates,” Rhoades said.

Pedestrians, bicyclists (and pets) wait to cross at the stoplight at University Avenue.

The idea of major street openings was enthusiastically embraced by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council, as well as local merchants associations, said Rhoades. The idea has spread to cities around the world inspired by the original Ciclovia events in Bogotá, Colombia. And in the Bay Area, similar street openings have been held beyond San Francisco in recent years, including San Jose’s ViaVelo and San Mateo County’s Streets Alive, which now includes 13 cities.

To ensure a robust turnout at Sunday Streets Berkeley, organizers raised about $30,000 for publicity and limited the length of the route to keep activities within an easily reachable distance of one another. Organizers sought to avoid a repeat of the somewhat low turnout at Oakland’s Oaklavia in 2010 — the East Bay’s only Sunday Streets-style event before Berkeley’s — which left Oakland organizers and agencies wary of another attempt.

The strategy appears to have paid off: If there was any complaint among attendees, it was a shortage of room for the throngs of people.

Shattuck’s four lanes, usually reserved for vehicle traffic, were instead filled with kids, parents with strollers, and adults of all ages, including some using canes and wheelchairs. People took free yoga, Zumba, and swing dance classes while musicians provided rhythm throughout the route.

“It just feels good seeing people walk and bike by. It’s like a big park,” said Mike Perlmutter, 36, as he stood listening to Balkan music at the corner of Shattuck and Bancroft Way. Perlmutter said he lives in Berkeley and mostly commutes by bike. “Usually I avoid Shattuck, but today, I’m riding my bike.”

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition demonstrated a preview of the green, buffered bike lanes proposed for Hearst Avenue.

Aiming to encourage bicycling beyond Sunday Streets, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition gave a preview of Berkeley’s first buffered, green bike lanes, which have been proposed for Hearst Avenue. Local bike shops Mike’s Bikes and the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative offered free bike repair; kids pedaled through an obstacle course set up by non-profit Cycles of Change; and “bike rapper” Fossil Fool performed on a bike-pedaled stage.

Although city agencies must negotiate how to pay for the costs of the event, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 (including staffing costs for the police and public works departments), organizers and city officials are already set on planning future events.

Council Member Capitelli, who suggested holding future events along San Pablo Avenue or University Avenue from the bay to the UC Berkeley campus, said he plans to propose a resolution at the November City Council meeting asking city departments to waive the fees.

“We have a tight budget,” Capitelli said. “But communities need to celebrate and do things like take back our streets, and spend time with one another. City governments should support that.”

The Schultz family enjoyed using a safe space on two wheels.
Kids learn bicycling skills on an obstacle course set up by Cycles of Change.
  • Anonymous

    Looks like fun. Congrats, Berkeley!

    Now let’s pedestrianize Telegraph and get some people back into that district for shopping, eating, and socializing.

  • Mario Tanev

    I loved it. It was more artsy than the SF versions. There were musicians on almost every block. The route was quite long, yet still very crowded. Shattuck is pretty wide, and in addition the adjacent parking alleys were also well used (dodgeball, instead of dodge car!). EBBC was also there advocating for some big funding measure that would fund bicycle projects with 1 Billion dollars (Bay Bridge anyone?).  I came with lowered expectations and came back to SF impressed. I hope the Berkeley NIMBYs let it grow to more events.

  • Seriously– a pedestrianized Telegraph is just begging to happen! And a parklet (or two) at Cheeseboard Pizza!

  • Dave Campbell

    Streets should be for people, both to get around and also to socialize and enjoy our city. Sunday Streets allows this, as does the Art Murmur in Oakland. and what do you know-open streets are great for business too! Thanks Berkeley for showing us how it’s done.

  • Anonymous

     Too bad Telegraph has a councilmember, Kriss Worthington, who voted against BRT for Tele and has apparently never met a private developer he liked.  Now he’s running a spite campaign for mayor rather than doing anything positive for his district, just some cheap populist posturing.

    Fortunately other civic organizations are getting on the case.  Look for major changes pretty soon, trying to recover the hip factor that’s fled south to Oakland.   

  • be nice to see Berkeley make some progress again on bike issues instead of resting on that whole ‘traffic-calmed neighborhood streets’ thing. Shattuck and all other major roads in the area need physically-protected bike lanes stat.

  • jwb

    Yes!  How can anyone see dozens of people eating pizza in the median across from Cheese Board and not want a parklet?

  • Telegraph screwed the pooch on that one years ago when their merchants’ association led the charge on Berkeley opting out of BRT.  Oh, and the two largest businesses on Telegraph who were convinced BRT would put them out of business?  They both closed their doors over a year ago.

  • Z. Ahh

    Parklets may come to Berkeley soon – including at the Cheeseboard. See Livable Berkeley’s parklets survey, which includes a concept drawing.
    http://www.livableberkeley.org/

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