July 17, 1993

Berkeley City Council

2180 Milvia Street

Berkeley, California 94704

Re: I-80 Soundwall (the Return of the Berlin Wall)


Thank God for (City Traffic Engineer) Chuck DeLeuw, for vandalizing the Ecocity Builders' soundwall sign (showing the height of the proposed soundwall) before it could be vandalized by real vandals! We really need people like Chuck, to protect us from ourselves.

There is really nothing wrong with the soundwalls, except that they would go in the wrong direction: they shouldn't run parallel to I-80, but rather across it. I suggest one at Ashby and one at Gilman.

A wall is a wall. Walls are meant to divide the community. They are a collosal waste of money. I can't think of a good use for one. We finally got rid of the Berlin Wall, after how many years? Decades? Why do we want to erect another one?

I don't care how you "design" it, if it is to block the sound of the freeway, it will also block our view of the Bay, one of the premier attractions of Berkeley. The freeway has already reduced our access to the bay shore to practically nil. Only people who drive have convenient access to the bay, and even that has been denatured to such an extent (by rip-rap, roads, landfills, marinas, parking lots, docks, pollution, etc.) that there is hardly any attraction left. Anyone who could call such a mess a "state park" is crazy. A state "Freeway Park" is more like it.

As anyone who has taken elementary physics can tell you, a rigid wall doesn't reduce sound, but only change its direction. The noise bounces off in an "elastic" collision, with no reduction in its energy. Some people will receive less noise than before, some more. As with all pollution, no amount of cleanup after the fact can reduce it to insignificance; pollution can only effectively be reduced by not producing it in the first place, just as we did by removing lead from gasoline. The only way to effectively reduce the noise from I-80 is to get rid of the motor vehicles!

The sound wall is a half-measure, a short-term, near-sighted boondoggle that we will just have to tear down when we finally accept the real solution: get rid of the cars and freeways, and try to rescue the remains of the natural world that we have so stupidly paved over. This is not a radical idea. In fact, it is inevitable! in 30 years, we either won't have any oil left, or it will have become so expensive to get it out of the ground that we will have restricted its uses to only the most essential tasks. We won't have enough fuel to keep all these noisy behemoths on the road any more, and we will undoubtedly need the land underneath the pavement more than we need the pavement itself.

Already, we have destroyed so much farmland that the produce in our famous Farmers' Market has to be trucked here from farms 50 to 200 miles away! For once, let's do the right thing, and stop pouring good money after bad into the auto subsidy rathole. Once again you are planning to spend public funds to fix a problem caused only by motor vehicle users. You don't need to spend $40,000 for a consultant to design a "nice" soundwall. The money would be much better spent helping Urban Ecology pursue its lawsuit against the expansion of the freeway itself.


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.