Police records show high number of bicycle collisions on campus border

Shlomo Bentin, who was a guest lecturer at UC Berkeley, was killed after a collision with a truck near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Fulton Street on July 13, 2012.
Kelly Fang/File
Shlomo Bentin, who was a guest lecturer at UC Berkeley, was killed after a collision with a truck near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Fulton Street on July 13, 2012.

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Though gauging the relative danger of Berkeley’s streets remains difficult, data obtained from the police records show that well over 100 bicycle-involved collisions typically occur each year.

The records show that since at least 2002, Berkeley has seen a growing number of bicycle-involved collisions. In 2011, Berkeley Police Department reported 154 collisions, a 25 percent increase from 2002, when 122 collisions were reported. This year, 60 collisions were reported through June.

The police records of bicycle-involved collisions dating back to April 2001 include two fatalities. In July, UC Berkeley guest lecturer Shlomo Bentin, 65, died when he collided with a dump truck while riding his bicycle near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Fulton Street.

Although police records show an increasing number of bicycle-involved collisions over the years, this does not indicate that Berkeley’s streets are becoming more dangerous. The level of bicycle and automobile traffic must also be taken into account in evaluating any particular intersection.

Dave Campbell, program director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that the number of bicycle-involved collisions in Berkeley may be increasing at a slower rate than the number of bicyclists.

“I think it’s getting safer,” Campbell said.

Berkeley has one of the highest numbers of bicycle commuters in the nation. Only three other American cities with populations of more than 65,000 — Davis, Calif., Boulder, Colo. and Eugene, Ore. — have a higher percentage of bicycling commuters than Berkeley, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

This number is always increasing. In 1990, 4.9 percent of Berkeley residents commuted to work on a bicycle. In 2010, that number rose to 8 percent, according to census data.

In fact, the number of bicyclists on the road is likely to be even higher, since census surveys do not capture bicyclists who ride recreationally or for the variety of activities that fall outside the category of commuting to work.

Annual traffic counts conducted by the city along designated bicycle boulevards provide some insight into the size of Berkeley’s bicyclist population. In 2010, transportation officials found three intersections where more than 300 bicyclists were counted passing through within a two-hour time frame. These intersections were all gateways to the campus: Milvia Street and Channing Way, Milvia Street and Hearst Avenue and Bowditch Street and Channing Way.

According to the records, Adeline Street and Alcatraz Avenue is the intersection with the greatest number of bicycle-involved collisions. Twenty-one collisions occurred at the intersection between April 2001 and March 2011, almost twice as many as at Hearst Avenue and Shattuck Avenue, the intersection with the second highest number of collisions.

The greatest density of collisions occurred along the west and south sides of campus and in the downtown area.

“A lot of the downtown streets (have) so many people and so much traffic (that) we are never going to have a true boulevard experience,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to come up with better designs for downtown Berkeley.”

According to Farid Javandel, the city’s transportation division manager, records of previous collisions are often used by the city to engineer safer streets and intersections.

“The better we can understand the causes of the accidents, the more we can figure out if those would be solved by physical changes to the intersections,” Javandel said.

One example is the northwestern border of campus, which has recently been the focus of a proposal to reduce the number of car lanes on Hearst Avenue between Shattuck and Gayley Road. The “road diet,” as it’s called, would allow for the installation of a center median and two green bike lanes — including a short stretch of buffered bike lane, which would create a physical boundary between bicycles and automobile traffic.

Although Campbell said Berkeley had been reluctant in recent years to undertake projects with structural or design components not pre-approved by Caltrans, the state department responsible for creating and regulating transportation standards, he called the plan “a really creative project.”

“(They’re) putting some creative elements in there that we can replicate in other areas of the East Bay,” Campbell said.

Noting that other cities such as Emeryville have imitated Berkeley’s bicycle boulevard concept — which designates certain streets specifically for bicyclists — Campbell said he would like Berkeley to continue pushing the envelope.

“(The city has) been very resistant for the last five to ten years,” said Campbell. “They’ve fallen back into ‘if Caltrans approves it we’ll do it, and if not we won’t.’”

“We want Berkeley to start taking the lead,” he added.

Contact Dylan Tokar at [email protected].

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  • thump

    As someone who both bikes and drives in Berkeley, I’m often annoyed by how few cyclists obey traffic law, riding against the flow of traffic or cruising through stop signs as though they had right of way. If I recall the statistics correctly, in a bicycle – motor vehicle collision, the cyclist is at fault about half the time. And about half the time the cyclist is at fault, it’s because they were riding against traffic. While I agree drivers should look out more (hence “safety in numbers” that make drivers more aware), I bet more cyclist education would help significantly. I’ve no idea how to accomplish that, though.

  • rohanrsingh

    I find it interesting that in the case of Shlomo Bentin, you say that the bicyclist collided with a truck, rather than the opposite.

  • Curious

    What accounts for the significant drop in collisions in 2010?

  • I_h8_disqus

    The unfortunate part about Berkeley being such a large bicycling city is that most of the city streets are not designed for bicycles. Berkeley may say it is green, but then you go to cities like Palo Alto, Cupertino, or Santa Clara, and you learn what a real green city looks like. Biking in those cities is so much better than in Berkeley.

    • Guest

      Yeah, it’s difficult to integrate bike lanes and stuff into a pre-existing infrastructure designed for, and still primarily used by, motor vehicles. In places like Denmark though they have the road, a curb, a bike lane, and then the sidewalk…it’s too bad the public transportation here (even with BART) is so pathetic that you basically need a car to do anything. Otherwise biking+public transportation makes perfect sense.

      • I_h8_disqus

        If we are going to spend the money, then instead of the high speed rail, I would rather invest in better mass transit in the Bay Area and Los Angeles area. With those billions, we could develop a system of small electric buses that could cover so much more area and so much more often than the current system of huge diesel buses and light rails, metros, etc.

  • I’d love to know what the numbers are by month. It seems to me that the worst riding takes place when the school year begins, perhaps by first-year students who’d abandoned bicycling when they turned 16, but I’m just one observer.

    Collision rates increase when there are more bicyclists (and more pedestrians), but not proportionally. There’s a “safety in numbers” effect that makes it safer overall to use these modes. If they’re replacing car journeys it’s an even bigger win, of course.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    I’d bet a few of these collisions could be avoided if bicyclists didn’t sail through stop signs and red lights.