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Berkeley Bike Station Contract Extended — For Now

Downtown Berkeley Bike Station in the Shattuck Hotel Building

Downtown Berkeley Bike Station on Shattuck Street

Buried in Tuesday evening’s Berkeley City Council agenda was a resolution to extend the contract on the Downtown Berkeley Bike Station for one more year, at its current terms.

The station moved to its current street-level storefront location in the historic Shattuck Hotel building in 2010 after extensive renovations to the former retail space, and this month is coming up on the end of the five-year initial lease agreement between BART, the City of Berkeley, and the building owners.

According to the city, the contract extension is necessary because “the property manager and BART have not been successful in negotiating a renewal of the lease at or near the current lease rate,” which is considerably lower than the current market rate for retail spaces in downtown.

The current Bike Station was designed and constructed with funding from BART and the city of Berkeley, and the two entities continue to split the costs of operating the service. BART contributes around $130,000 per year for operations, staffing, utilities, and some rent, and the city of Berkeley pays $60,000 a year for rent.

BART has already signed the contract extension with the property owners at the original terms, and the city council approved the contract as part of its consent calendar Tuesday evening.

Also approved at the meeting was a request to apply for funding to expand the Bay Area Bike Share into the East Bay.

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Despite Broad Support, Sunday Streets Berkeley Can’t Grow Without Funding

In its second iteration, Sunday Streets Berkeley flooded Shattuck Avenue with an estimated 50,000 people last weekend in an even more powerful demonstration of the draw of closing streets to cars and opening them up to people.

Since the first event one year ago, political support seems to have only grown, and attendance once again exceeded expectations despite the challenges organizers continue to face in receiving financial support from the city.

“It really is a very important event now in Berkeley,” said Mayor Tom Bates. ”People all want to extend it to have it be more than once a year, and I would certainly be in favor of it.”

Sunday Streets Berkeley received support from the City Council, which set aside nearly $60,000 to help finance one event for 2013 and another in 2014 (each event requires about $50,000 total). While some council members had initially expressed hesitance to approve those funds, the majority were apparently won over.

“There were lots of people with kids, which was wonderful to see,” noted Berkeley Council Member Laurie Capitelli, who championed the city’s grant to help support the program. “I really believe in the concept of Sunday Streets.”

“Open streets don’t survive [without] the city — the minimal level of support is that the city covers traffic, police, etc.,” said Emunah Hauser, Sunday Streets director for Livable Berkeley.

John Caner, the chief executive officer of the Downtown Berkeley Association, remembers being “dumbfounded by the outpouring” when over 40,000 people turned out for the first event last October, where just 5,000 were expected. The Downtown Berkeley Association helped fund this year’s event along with the North Shattuck Association.

As with the launch of Sunday Streets San Francisco in 2008, merchants who initially opposed the events based on fears that removing car traffic would hurt their businesses were quickly won over after witnessing the opposite result.

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Berkeley City Council Hesitates to Fund More Sunday Streets Events

Berkeley residents are clamoring for more street openings following the city’s first Sunday Streets event last October, where an estimated 43,000 people enjoyed 17 car-free blocks of Shattuck Avenue. But the Berkeley City Council has been hesitant to make a full commitment to bring back the events on a regular basis.

Photo: Judy Silber

Livable Berkeley, the sponsor of Sunday Streets Berkeley, has asked the City Council to set aside $59,098 for two more events in fiscal year 2013-2014 (which begins this July). On Tuesday, when the council considered the grant, council members approved only an initial $7,500, with the rest to be considered along with a vote on the entire city budget in June.

Council members roundly agreed the event was a huge success, and acknowledged the health and economic benefits such open streets events bring to the city. But some were reluctant to approve such a large grant just yet, citing the need to fund other city programs.

Sunday Streets Berkeley Director Emunah Hauser said organizers are “very encouraged by the Berkeley City Council’s unanimous praise for the success of our first event, and appreciative of individual councilmember pledges of discretionary funds.”

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First-Ever Sunday Streets Event Transforms Downtown Berkeley

Some 40,000 people flooded downtown Berkeley on a brilliantly sunny day in October, as the city became the latest in the San Francisco Bay Area to host a “Sunday Streets” event.  Organizers closed 17 blocks of Berkeley’s Shattuck Avenue to cars––and opened them to pretty much everything else. Cyclists pedaled, hula hoops turned, children frolicked, climbers scaled a mobile rock wall, and musicians inspired scores to break out in dance.  Families took leisurely strolls through streets transformed, while restaurants in North Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto” turned a brisk business.  Residents surveyed a demonstration “parklet” that could soon see Berkeley parking spaces transformed into temporary green spaces, and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition showcased plans for a major upgrade to the city’s bicycle network at Hearst Avenue.

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On the Ballot: A Key to Alameda County’s Sustainable Transportation Future

Alameda County could usher in a new era of progressive transportation projects if voters pass a proposed half-cent sales tax increase known as Measure B1 on November 6.

Measure B1 would generate a projected $7.8 billion over the next 30 years for projects selected using a “complete streets” approach aimed at improving the county’s streets, trails, and transit infrastructure to accommodate all modes of transportation. The measure would double the county’s existing half-cent transportation sales tax, with 48 percent of the revenue devoted to improving transit, 8 percent to bicycle and pedestrian projects, and 39 percent to roads and highways. If approved, it would represent an unprecedented commitment to non-motorized transportation.

“It’s sometimes incredible to believe that Alameda County is taking a national leadership role, but they are,” said Dave Campbell, program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “And we’re proud of them, and working closely with them to get this passed on November 6.”

County officials say they were motivated to put together the plan, in part, by the state’s requirement to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving those goals would require a major shift from driving to walking, biking, and transit in Alameda County.

The projects included in Measure B1′s funding plan could provide a dense network of trails, bicycle boulevards and bike lanes, as well as pedestrian safety improvements throughout Alameda County, helping to realize the vision laid out in its soon-to-be approved Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans. Off-street bicycle and pedestrian trails — including the Bay Trail, the Iron Horse Trail, and the East Bay Greenway — would connect BART stations in the eastern and southern parts of the county. Although 39 percent of the funds would be devoted to car-oriented infrastructure like roads and highways, some of those funds would also go toward creating bicycle and pedestrian highway crossings, bringing the potential total of bike/ped funding up to about 11 percent.

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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.

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Alameda County’s Bike/Ped Plans Take Local Approach, But Short on Targets

Image: ACTC

In theory, the East Bay has nearly perfect terrain for bicycling. Streets slope gently east for miles from the Bay, and once over the hills, pedaling conditions are almost idyllic — that is, if you feel safe enough to ride.

The East Bay, like much of the country, was built for cars rather than for walking or bicycling. Navigating fast-moving streets like Shattuck Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, and International Boulevard can be dangerous. And for pedestrians, uneven sidewalks (if they exist) and poorly-marked crosswalks convey a message: no walkers here.

Fortunately, streets in Alameda County could become friendlier for walking and bicycling with its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans, set to be approved early next month. The Alameda County Transportation Commission released the final drafts of the plans on Monday, laying out a new vision to make urban centers and transit hubs easier to reach on foot and bike, and to provide off-road trails to help intercity commuters cover longer distances.

While some cities like Oakland and Berkeley have for years been making improvements like bicycle boulevards, bike lanes, signage, multi-use trails, and sidewalk repairs, the approach taken in the bike and pedestrian plan updates could make cities in Alameda County even friendlier for car-free travel, if local agencies follow through with it.

The plans call for a dense network of bike lanes, bike boulevards, sharrows, and signs, along with inviting sidewalks and crosswalks in much of the East Bay. The goal is to improve 762 miles of bike routes and 2,779 miles of pedestrian walkways by 2040.

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Sunnyvale Latest City to Consider Anti-Harassment Law for Bike Riders

A groundbreaking law adopted in Los Angeles almost one year ago that allows bicycle riders to take civil action against drivers who harass them continues to generate local and national interest, with Sunnyvale becoming the latest city to consider enacting protections.

“So many (drivers) seem to think it’s like basketball rules: no hit, no foul. If they don’t hit you, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” said Kevin Jackson, a longtime member of the Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC). “In their minds, it’s not something they feel they have to ever explain to a cop or anything.”

But under a proposed ordinance expected to be adopted by the Sunnyvale City Council on July 17, drivers who threaten or distract bike riders could be taken to court and would have to explain themselves to a judge. Fashioned after the Los Angeles law, it would make drivers liable for damages starting at $1,000.

“Sunnyvale wants to encourage people to ride bicycles rather than drive motor vehicles in order to lessen traffic congestion and improve air quality,” the ordinance states. “Riding a bicycle on City streets poses hazards to bicyclists, and these hazards are amplified by the actions of persons who deliberately harass and endanger bicyclists because of their status as bicyclists.”

Jackson said city staffers, including the police department, were initially opposed to studying the idea based on some misunderstandings. But they eventually agreed to look into it, produced a report that won praise from advocates, and recommended that an anti-harassment law be adopted. The ordinance’s initial reading passed the Sunnyvale City Council June 19 by a vote of 6-1, with Councilmember Jim Davis, an ex-police officer, opposed.

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Hit-and-Run Berkeley Driver Caught on Camera Injuring Two Bicyclists

Footage of an egregious hit-and-run crash where a driver injured two bicyclists in Berkeley was posted online by one of the victims yesterday. The man who recorded the incident, identified on Youtube as “Bruno,” wrote in the video’s description that police have found the car and the owner, but that he is “waiting for the return of the police on the case.”

Calling the video “horrific,” East Bay Bicycle Coalition Program Director Dave Campbell told the Oakland Tribune that the incident highlights the need for a bike lane on Tunnel Road, especially since drivers often speed up on the approach to a nearby highway. Caltrans and the cities of Oakland and Berkeley are working on putting in a bike lane, according to the Tribune.

Still, as Campbell noted, “No amount of engineering is going to stop the kind of reckless driving like we saw in Concord.” So the question remains: Will Berkeley authorities prosecute this clear case of reckless endangerment, or let another all-too-common case slip through the cracks?

Update: As Christopher Kidd pointed out in the comments, the victims could also potentially file a civil suit against the driver under Berkeley’s new bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance.

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Berkeley Enacts Law to Protect Bicyclists From Driver Harassment

Last week, Berkeley became the second American city to implement an anti-harassment law to protect bicycle riders and allow victims to sue offending drivers in civil court.

The ordinance will be followed by an educational campaign later this year, and proponents hope it will garner greater respect towards people cycling on the city’s streets.

“This ordinance is about educating motorists about how to be responsible users of the roadway,” said Dave Campbell, program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC). ”We have roadways that have not been designed for safe bicycle usage by planners and engineers. That in and of itself encourages bicyclists to disobey the rules of the road, because the rules were never written for them, and when motorists start treating cyclists as second-class citizens, that even further encourages [that behavior]. This is about changing that.”

Los Angeles was the first city in the country to adopt a bicyclist anti-harassment law last July, after which L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti proclaimed: “If L.A. can do it, every city in the country can do it.”

City Council member Kriss Worthington said he was inspired by the L.A. law to help address harassment complaints he’d received from his Berkeley constituents.

“A woman felt that she was being harassed and neither the police nor the district attorney were taking it seriously,” said Worthington. “When I heard that L.A. had adopted this ordinance, I was so excited. This was something that had been in the back of my mind for a couple of years, knowing that the police department is very busy and are focused on preventing violence and major crimes, so the likelihood of getting attention to this was not high, so this seemed like a wonderful idea of a tool to give people to protect themselves.”

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