April 9, 1995
City Planning Department
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: U.C. Neighborhoods Transportation and Traffic Plan -- A Trojan Horse for more Auto Subsidy
With the recent popularity of pedestrians' rights, bicycling, and traffic calming, transportation planners who wish to remain popular with motorists, such as Ms. Sanderson, have been forced to disguise their continuance of the auto subsidy in the new "Traffic Calming" jargon. The U.C. Neighborhoods plan purports to have some worthwhile goals, but then proceeds to implement them through measures that will have the opposite effect.
The alleged "goal" of the plan is to "reduce automobile traffic through southeast Berkeley". The simplest, cheapest, and easiest way to do that would be to reduce the available auto facilities -- chiefly, road space and parking. When there is no place to drive, and no place to park once you arrive, auto use will decrease automatically and inevitably. For example, on-street parking should be removed from all major streets, and the resulting lanes used exclusively for bicycles and emergency vehicles. (Alternatively, Berkeley could show its compassion for the homeless by putting all retired cars in parking places (e.g. in parking garages) and giving the keys to homeless people, so that they would have a protected place to live and lock up their belongings.)
It should also be recognized that the streets are owned by the city; no one should ever be allowed to park for free on public property, even in front of their own house. Free parking is an unjustifiable subsidy of auto users. Since streets need repair only because of car and truck use (not pedestrians and bicyclists!), it should be paid for only by drivers, not from the general fund.
Instead of traffic calming, this plan promotes "improved flow [of automobiles] along major streets". ("Improving flow on the major streets ... is an important part of protecting local streets": this is pure hogwash!) It is patently dishonest to claim that promoting auto use along one street will automatically reduce auto use elsewhere; all that it does is increase the total amount of auto promotion in the city! As has often been demonstrated, there is plenty of "latent demand" to fill up all new auto facilities, without reducing the use of any current facilities.
"Improved" signal timing benefits only long-distance auto driving, since the signals are inevitably timed for constant-speed driving, making them counterproductive for buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Traffic signals and signal synchronization are simply expensive auto subsidies.
"Left turn arrows" (at College and Ashby, and to be added to Telegraph and Ashby) are an affront to pedestrians, who have to wait for left-turning cars before they can cross the street, and whose share of the signal cycle is greatly reduced. This is just another expensive auto subsidy. Pedestrians should always have top priority. Instead of spending lots of money on special pedestrian lights, pedestrians should be allowed to proceed whenever the light turns green, and have the right-of-way over all (motorized and non-motorized) vehicles.
Peak hour parking restrictions near major intersections will simply promote more auto use, since they are designed to open up more street space for drivers. Parking restrictions can only be beneficial when the space is given exclusively to pedestrians and/or bicyclists.
On Ellsworth, it is proposed to eliminate the bike lane, in order to increase available parking! More auto subsidy (free parking)!
"Additional signals ... to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicycles" will do the opposite: currently, bicyclists (provided they dismount) and pedestrians, by law, have the right-of-way at all crosswalks, marked or unmarked. This means that they don't have to wait for more than one car to pass, before crossing the street! After a light is installed, they have to wait for the light to change to green before they can cross, robbing them of their right-of-way. In addition, they usually have to push a button (impossible for many disabled people) to make the signal change, and wait a considerable amount of time.
Speed bumps, likewise, are an expensive, unwise subsidy to the automobile. If we take the long view, which we always should, we will realize that in 10-20 years, we will begin running out of oil (or at least planning for the end of the oil), at which time, we won't have enough fuel to keep all current cars and trucks on the road. We will have to rip out all the speed bumps we are putting in today, to facilitate bicycling. Speed bumps are an insignificant barrier to drivers, but a great annoyance to bicyclists, wheelchair users, and other nonmotorized users of the street.
I wish you would stop using doublespeak such as "making streets work better". There is nothing "better" about increased levels of traffic and auto use. This is a dishonest use of the language aimed at disguising and continuing our society's heavy and unjustifiable subsidy of the automobile.
Since one-way streets are designed to speed up traffic (and do so), all one-way streets in Berkeley should be returned to two-way traffic, slowing it down and allowing bicyclists (and drivers) always to take the shortest route to their destination.
Traffic circles are another expensive and unnecessary (since car traffic will be greatly reduced in the future) auto subsidy. Instead of traffic circles, we should consider making many intersections into mini-parks, removing the pavement altogether. Since the land inside the intersection doesn't border on anyone's home, it is easier to give it up. Actually, I would like to see every other street ripped out and turned into a wildlife corridor. Wildlife "owned" all of our land before we stole it from them, and they deserve and need (in order to travel to find mates, food, etc.) to be an integral part of our cities.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.