Op-ed: New Heights of Hypocrisy in Berkeley

Nothing is more important than safety. Except convenient parking

A photo op from Sophie Hahn's Twitter
A photo op from Sophie Hahn's Twitter

On May 10th, a major item was up for vote at the Berkeley council meeting that would establish protected bike lanes and many other street safety improvements along Hopkins, a connective corridor in northern Berkeley that is populated with parks, small businesses, and schools. It is also a high-injury corridor, where drivers in recent memory twice killed people. Councilmember Sophie Hahn spoke passionately in favor of the item before voting with an overwhelming majority (8-1) in support of the plan.

She said it best, so here are some of her statements (starting at 5:35:40), lightly edited for length and clarity:

Why do we do this?

It’s for the children. King Middle School is the second largest school in the Berkeley Unified School District, but not just that. St Mary’s High School. A treasured, beloved Catholic high school [that is] one block away. We have a huge concentration of young people here. We have four preschools along the Hopkins corridor. We have elementary schools within blocks of this area.

Somehow we’ve all forgotten one of the main reasons why we want protected bike lanes here is for the children. It’s [so] parents can let their kids learn to bike. And bike to and from school and bike with them. And to the people who say they never see anyone biking there. I’m frequently in this area of myself. I often see families,  especially on the weekends with one or two kids on their bikes. Or one on the bike and one tottering around on a little Schwinn, little pink or purple Schwinn bike. And it’s terrifying. They’re often on the sidewalk because they’re absolutely terrified to ride their bikes. […]

I also want to talk […] about climate. We have a crisis. I don’t know anybody in my district or […] anywhere in Berkeley who doesn’t care deeply about the climate. People weigh it very highly. But to address climate change […] it is going to require us all to make changes in our own daily lives. You drive a gas car? You need to get electric. You drive an electric car, try an electric bike. Maybe you can’t walk and bike all the time. Maybe you can walk and bike some of the time. Eat less red meat. We all have to make adjustments. Climate change. Think about the children. What is the world that we are leaving them? And it is inconvenient. It is inconvenient to adjust to COVID. It’s inconvenient to adjust to fires. Drought. Sea level rise.

Can we adjust to bike lanes in our own neighborhood?

Yes, we can. We can do this. We have to do it. We have to make adjustments that are uncomfortable in our own neighborhoods. Because we have to do our part on this.

On September 28th, the very same Councilmember Sophie Hahn submitted an urgent item to “reconsider” and halt safety improvements in that busiest, most dangerous, and literally fatal part of Hopkins.

Because of a loss of parking.

In addition, this fall Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the rest of the council are asking voters to approve a historic $650 million bond, promising to spend a large portion wisely and prudently on street safety improvements. Yet with this “reconsideration” the mayor and council are now considering wasting $400,000 on more process, plus unknown giant sums on redundant construction by delaying safety improvements on this part of Hopkins past the 2023 paving date, if any safety improvements do end up somehow coming.

Whatever leadership the city seems to have demonstrated in May, it’s in short supply now.


Chris Lee-Egan is a Hopkins Street resident and local Berkeley activist


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